Buffalo is a sports town.
We have the Bills, the Sabres, the Bisons, the Blizzard, the Bandits. And in every newspaper, magazine and television broadcast, you hear about "The Game." The stories are well written and informative, but something is missing. Where are the women?
A study of national newspapers found that only 20 percent of articles in the sports section covered women's athletics. In addition, men were five times more likely to have a photograph in the paper. Television coverage has been improving, notably with ESPN2, but a whopping 75 percent of television coverage still goes to men. And radio gives a mere 5 percent of air time to women's sports.
And while many girls and women enjoy the professional and amateur sports featured in the news, the question remains, can they relate to these teams?
What page offers role models for girls with a passion for competition? Where are the pictures and articles depicting strong women who excel on the field, on the court and in the water? Where can a girl see a woman who is competing at the professional or amateur level? Where are the heroes?
Women have been on the professional circuit for years with sports like tennis and golf. Today, women are penetrating professional sports in areas that were once considered to be for men only. Our own Buffalo Ffillies, a semi-professional soccer league, and the short-lived Buffalo Nighthawks, a women's professional baseball team that folded in July, are two examples. And women compete at the amateur level in countless areas, from swimming to boxing to race-car driving.
With the launch of the ABL and the WNBA, women's basketball is quickly becoming one of the most popular spectator sports for both men and women, proving that it is not men that create an exciting game capable of generating revenue, but rather superior talent and a drive to compete.
Right in our own back yard, the University at Buffalo boasts six Division I women's teams and a long list of club sports. The women's swimming and basketball teams have been ranked at the top of their conference, and the track and volleyball teams have equally impressive records. People in the community should be aware of the accomplishments of these teams.
Western New York high schools are brimming with accomplished female athletes, many of whom will go on to compete at elite collegiate levels. In 1971, there were only 294,015 girls participating in high school sports. That figure rose to 3,536,359 in 1995 and is anticipated to be close to 5 million by 2000. We should applaud and encourage these girls.
In addition to the health benefits associated with exercise, high school girls in sports are less likely to experiment with drugs or have unwanted pregnancies and are more likely to graduate and have higher levels of confidence and self-esteem.
Boys grow up watching strong, wealthy sports figures, while girls are bombarded with images of super models. Often the world of women is divided into fat and thin. There is no third category to chose from: Strong.
With one in three high school girls involved in sports, there is an overwhelming demand for female role models. How can a girl dream of becoming the next Michael Jordan when she is missing his primary characteristic -- maleness? Having a female role model enables girls to see their dream as a reality.
Title IX has been the prompting catalyst in the growth of American women's sports. As Title IX makes women's athletics more of a reality, let us keep pace and tell people what we've done. Have a place where girls and women of all ages can see their contemporaries competing or practicing a sport they love. Feature women who are pioneers, naturals and role models.
Women are not trying to "beat" men in terms of media coverage. There is no magic ratio or quota of men's to women's stories to be attained. In fact, treating women's sports as if they were an offshoot of men's programs is inaccurate and misleading. And by placing women's competitions against the backdrop of the football and baseball giants, they are doomed to fail.
Women have demonstrated their talent and drive in athletics for more than a century. And just as it is important to create opportunities for females to participate in sports, it is equally important for us to reinforce these efforts with adequate media coverage.
While it is possible that women's athletics will never reach the same magnitude of some men's programs, the commitment and passion of these women is equal to or greater than their male contemporaries. They deserve adequate, if not equal, representation.
WENDY BLACK is head coach of women's rowing at the University at Buffalo and director of WinSports, an organization that promotes women's sports in the Buffalo area.
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