Research shows female athletes underrepresented, erroneously portrayed in media
January 20, 2017   //   By:   //   Achievements, Research and Academics

After graduation in May, Nick Christie, a communications major, hopes to be employed in sports marketing, media and public relations. So, when he began research into the portrayal of female athletes in print media for communications research methods, he was surprised to find there were few women featured.

Intrigued, he continued the research as part of his Honors in the Discipline studies, exploring how female athletes are portrayed in all media. In November 2016, Christie presented his research, “Selling Sexy or Selling Your Sport: Female Athletes in Print Advertisements,” at the Mid-Atlantic Popular Culture Association Conference in Atlantic City, N.J.

As he already knew there would be incongruity in the portrayal of female athletes, he “made sure it didn’t skew his research,” he said. Christie worked closely with Colin Helb, his academic advisor and mentor, to pull data from books, databases and magazines.

“It speaks to Nick’s analytical mind that he sought to do this,” said Helb, associate professor of communications. “… to seek out a popular culture project and be highly critical of the subject.”

I played devil’s advocate with his research.”

“I played devil’s advocate with his research,” Helb said of the graduate-level research done as an undergrad.

In his research, Christie was most surprised to see the way female athletes are underrepresented. Athleticism, he said, was almost secondary to feminine traits.

Christie found that, to be taken seriously as athletes in media, women have to come across as masculine and aggressive. If they are portrayed as “reserved, quieter; this can be seen as less skilled, less competent.”

On the other hand, Christie said, male athletes are straightforward for media to portray.

Outside the United States, media has been able to move past the bias, the student said. New Zealand, for instance, has made great strides to show woman in a more equal manner.

While at E-town, Christie has held internships as a game day intern and as an assistant to the professional staff with Hershey Bears Hockey. He also has worked with Soccer Shots of York, Pennsylvania, coaching soccer for children 2 to 8 years old. However, he said, his dream job is to be in sports marketing with a professional soccer team. “I’ve been a soccer guy ever since I could walk,” he said.

About the Author :

E.A. (Elizabeth) Harvey is the communications manager and news editor at Elizabethtown College. She has worked in the Office of Marketing and Communications since 2008, after more than two decades as a newspaper feature writer. She holds a bachelor's degree in corporate communication from Elizabethtown College.