New Girl on the Block

Introducing the First Lady of ESPN The Magazine.

By: Erin Callahan

Everyday male and female athletes, college or professional, wake up at unreasonably early hours and start the grind. While balancing school, family, traveling, and a social life, athletes everywhere are working their hardest to get noticed; They watch what they eat, participate in two a days, and find a balance of time to themselves. No matter male or female, each athlete works equally hard and puts in the same amount of hours to achieve their goals. If all of this is true, why is there such a large difference between male and female sports?

Men have always led the sports world. In 2014, Sports Center gave women’s sports 2% of their airtime. This number hasn’t budged. Men are faster and stronger, which creates a want, dare I say it, a need to watch male sports. Many people love to watch J.J. Watt run full speed to sack a quarterback. They get so excited to see Aaron Gordon’s fancy slam dunk and listen to the crowd go wild. Nothing beats a hat trick by Alex Ovechkin or a Bryce Harper walk off homerun. But where is the excitement for women?

Where’s the excitement for Danica Patrick being the most successful woman in American open-wheel racing? Lindsey Vonn is one of two women to ever win four skiing World Cup Championships, but not very much enthusiasm. The Seattle Storm selected Sue Bird with the first overall pick of the 2002 WNBA Draft, and she has been a seven-time WNBA All-Star, but who knows that? Of the 100 most paid athletes only 2 were women.

Women athletic coverage has not budged on television in many years. TV is a powerful medium between the athletes and us. The LA84 Foundation did a study on the broadcasting differences of male and female sports. A local Los Angeles TV station was studied and found that during a six-week sample men received 92% of airtime, women received 5%, and gender neutral received 3%. That 5% included women as the subject of jokes and as sexual objects. The station did comment on women, but it was rarely as their athletic potential. One in particular spoke about women spectators in bikinis. What more do women have to do to receive proper recognition and respect?

Just a few weeks ago ESPN took a step in the right direction. No, they did not air more women’s sports or refrain from showing embarrassing videos of collegiate women taking selfies in the stands. ESPN hired Alison Overholt, a woman taking control of a major sports magazine, ESPN The Magazineifwt_espn-mag

Overholt first joined ESPN in 2005 as an editor and made her way up to senior editor after a few years. She worked closely with ESPN to develop ESPNW, a brand designed to market to women sports, and became the founding editor. Overholt appeared on NPR’s 30 under 30 rising stars list, which shows her hard work and determination was paying off. She is breaking through the glass ceiling everyday and paving the way for women in the sports world.

With a female editor at the top of the food chain, will women begin to get more exposure in sports? According to communication scholar Nick Trujillo, hegemonic masculinity may keep that from happening.

Hegemonic masculinity is, according to Trujillo, “the connection of masculinity to toughness and competitiveness, as well as the subordination of women”. This idea becomes hegemonic when it is widely accepted in a culture. American culture responds to hegemonic masculinity. This can be seen in terms such as “man up” or “boys don’t cry”. Masculinity is a social construct meaning that the individuals in the social realm have created the term. Many may not realize that social construction until what people are watching on television or reading in the papers is examined.

Trujillo outlines a few features of hegemonic masculinity including: physical force and control, occupational achievement, familial patriarchy, frontiersmanship, and heterosexuality. The best way we can examine each of these features is through the eyes of sports. Women are seen as subsidiary because they do not have the same amount of force and control as men. This is due to the biology that separates males from females. Men and women are built differently making men naturally more powerful, tough, and fast. This can be interpreted as why male sports are more interesting to watch. Although Overholt may not have the same biology as her male counterparts, she is able to translate force and control into her powerful editing skills.

Although society is making a shift in gender roles, including the “stay at home dad” controversy, it is still seen that women and men are in completely different spheres. The men are in the workforce and have their own work to do while the women have their own work, which is typically feminine duties including cooking and cleaning. According to the occupational achievement feature of masculine hegemony, in the sports world, there is no place for a woman because of the division of labor. This means that different groups have their own specialized tasks and roles. There is a distinct line that women typically do not cross, however Overholt has crossed this line and is beginning breaking the idea of hegemony in sports. By beginning to lead the way in the sports world, Overholt can be viewed as breaking down this division of labor. She has broken through a class ceiling and is in one of the highest editing positions.

Patriarchy is what our society was built upon and therefore makes it hard for a woman to overcome that. This patriarchal idea comes from modern times when women were supposed to stay at home, while the men were supposed to work to support their families. This male dominance occurs because the men are the breadwinners, while the women typically stay at home to conduct the necessary work including taking care of the children and family. Due to the rise of the stay at home father and sensitive dads, many began to question if they were still hegemonic. It was decided yes because they get to be close with their children but skip out on the pain that the mothers may deal with. With Overholt’s new position, she is able create her own matriarchal view. This is due to her new power of the position as editor of ESPN, The Magazine. As a female, Overholt is holding a primary power and is able to control many situations.

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Men love to be outdoors, right? To fit in with hegemonic masculinity a man must be able to enjoy getting down and dirty in the mud and woods. When we watch TV most of the sports commercials are men playing football with “U” shaped jeans feeling super comfortable. Or we see them dripping in sweat made out of Gatorade. Finally, to go alone with the masculine frontiersman, men aren’t sissies. They are supposed to be strong, burly, and heterosexual. Sports icons almost always fit this role, which creates an ideal for the masculine man. They should be successful with women and never be too intimate with another man. This is what makes it hard for a woman to achieve high ranks in the sports world. Overholt has achieved this by keeping her head held high and pushing through the barriers. When news broke out, the hashtag “kicking glass” went viral. This is because it is so uncommon to see a female at such high rankings in this setting.

Hegemonic masculinity is so appealing in the sports world because many idolize it as a culture. It is important for people that athletes fit these features because it would be too weird if they didn’t. With Overholt being the new editor and chief, we will have to wait and see if more females end up making a big break similarly to her. This is huge news for females all over the country and something that a lot of women are going to be looking to when pushing themselves to achieve high expectations and roles.

It is also interesting to see how Overholt is a mother of a young child. Today, there is a large opportunity gap between men and women. Often times women miss out on opportunities due to their age of possibly having children or already having children. ESPN took a huge leap with this new hire and it is leading the way for women everywhere. The balance that Overholt has in her life is what many women are striving to achieve.

Overholt acknowledged this and said, “The number of notes that I got from women who I don’t know at our own company who said, it’s really important to us to see the mother of a young child succeeding in an executive role in our industry.”

Being a woman in an industry that is mainly dominated by men is a tough challenge, but Overholt is breaking the barrier and succeeding in every aspect. She hasn’t noticed her gender affecting her achievements and career, but she feels honored to have reached such a prestigious position and encourages women to reach for excellence.

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