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How coverage and viewership of womens’ sports has changed

Running & Fitness
Saturday, February 19, 2022

Having been involved with sports for so many years, sometimes you need to look back at the advances that have taken place in equipment, rules changes and influence of television on the growth of sports coverage. One of the most popular sections of any newspaper is the sports section, including our own Daily Record coverage. This is often where you can get a more in-depth look at sports versus a quick glance of a replay of some spectacular play. Reading about sports allows time to digest what happened and where individual statements from players are not on a time clock because of broadcast schedules. While this article is not as much about running or fitness, it sometimes helps to look at where sports are now but also the how and why sports are such a major part of society today. This is particularly true with girls' and women's sports. 

Watching coverage of events in the Olympics of both men's and women's sports got me thinking about the advances in girls' and women's sports. Girls and women athletes today have little knowledge of what it was like in the women's sports in the '50s and '60s. A girls' high school varsity basketball game had to clear the gym floor so the junior high boys' basketball team could practice. It started in 1972 with the passage of Title IX, which stated that there will be no discrimination between the sexes in sports. Prior to Title IX, the budget for women's sports was near the 1% total of the athletic budget. Even at Southwest Texas State back in 1973, the women had more of a club-sport level and played the games of basketball and volleyball in Hines Gym. Hines Gym had minimal lighting and maybe three rows of bleachers next to the sidelines. Volleyball had to contend with the iron support beams on the ceiling for setting up spikes.

It was just the way things were done and part of the blame came from the women who were leaders in the physical education fields that pushed the idea that hard training and competition was not “ladylike” and discouraged athletic participation. But a few of the younger women knew better and pushed for more support for girls' and women's athletic sports. Even with the passing of Title IX change was slow to come. Almost all sports were controlled by male athletic directors. Since this was the way sports were conducted and nobody really paid any attention to women's sports, it went unchanged. That changed when Sports Illustrated magazine published a three-part series on the status of girls' and women's sports back in May 1973. Now the public was able to see the scope of what women's sports were up against. It was a real "eye opener" for the public to see the inequality between men and women in athletics. Then in 1974, Sports Illustrated did a follow-up on the changes. It was still a large discrepancy but budgets were improving and participation from girls and women was exploding.

While Sports Illustrated was primarily a magazine subscribed to by people that had an interest in sports, another big push came when Time Magazine published an article on June 26, 1978, titled “Comes the Revolution” and how women were transforming American athletics. Now the information was made aware to more of the general public. A few important milestones also helped the advancement of women's sports. Kathryn Switzer is credited to be the first official entry into the men-only Boston Marathon. She was almost body-blocked out of the race by race director Jock Semple but fortunately, Kathryn's boyfriend at the time was a linebacker from UCLA and returned the block that sent Jock flying into the crowd. Switzer later started the Legg's Series of races all around the world and was instrumental in getting the Olympic Committee to include the women's marathon. It was ironic in some manner that the next longest race was the 800 meters. 

Of course, national television coverage of Bobby Riggs versus Billy Jean King tennis match was watched nationwide. When Billy Jean beat Riggs, it gave a real boost to showing that women can compete on an equal level with men. Then Sports, Inc. magazine devoted an article on February 1, 1988, on the viewership and economic impact of women's sports. Runner's World in June 1990 came out with an article titled “The Women's Movement” and the race was on for women to start running. And even Science Magazine in March 1986 had an article about Rachel McLish, a Texas gal, becoming the first Ms. Olympia bodybuilder, beating out Bev Francis. Bev Francis was more the muscular woman and could deadlift 476 pounds. Girls and women are still making advances and getting more recognition for their sports but sometimes it is well worth the time to look back and see how far we have come.

San Marcos Record

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P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666