Report: White WNBA players received twice as much coverage as Black players in 2020 season

Last summer, Risa F. Isard, a research fellow with the Laboratory of Inclusion and Diversity in Sport at the University of Massachusetts, was scrolling through Twitter when a thread by WNBA fan Michael McManus (@getdisdance) caught her eye.

The thread was about the media’s centering of 2020 No. 1 overall draft pick Sabrina Ionescu (SI) and other white WNBA players, and how discordant that was given the predominantly-Black league was dedicating its 2020 season to the #SayHerName campaign, lifting up the often-overlooked stories of Black women who are victims of police brutality.

“If women’s basketball is only marketable with a white face you may have to ask yourself what role do you play in making that true,” McManus tweeted. “If we are going to call out systemic racism and white supremacy, we have to do it in all facets of society.”

Isard provided Power Plays with a list of the top 10 most-mentioned players from last summer. Four of the top five players are white, as are five of the top 10. The WNBA as a whole is over 80% Black.

  1. Sabrina Ionescu
  2. Breanna Stewart
  3. Sue Bird
  4. A’ja Wilson
  5. Diana Taurasi
  6. Satou Sabally
  7. Angel McCoughtry
  8. Chennedy Carter
  9. Candace Parker
  10. Courtney Vandersloot

Here are the biggest takeaways from the study, as first reported last month in an article for Sports Business Journal:

  • A’ja Wilson received *half* as much coverage as Sabrina Ionescu.
  • White players got more than twice the mentions as Black players. 
  • Black players dominated awards, but white players dominated conversation. Black players won 80% of the postseason awards (MVP, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Most Improved Player of the Year, and Sixth Woman of the Year.) But the top three most talked about players in the league were white.
  • The commissioner got more attention than Black players. (!)
  • Gender presentation mattered much more for Black athletes. White athletes who presented more masculine received more than five times the amount of mentions (212) as Black players who presented as more masculine (41).
  • WNBA press releases only showed bias towards top performers. Isard and Melton also analyzed official WNBA and team press releases, and discovered that those press releases did not show racial bias; rather, they only showed a preference towards players who scored more points.

Cooky and Messner’s latest report, “One and Done: The Long Eclipse of Women’s Televised Sports, 1989–2019,” discovered that “in 2019, coverage of women athletes on televised news and highlight shows, including ESPN’s SportsCenter, totaled only 5.4% of all airtime, a negligible change from the 5% observed in 1989 and 5.1% in 1993.”

And I wish it went without saying, but it doesn’t — media coverage of Black players needs to not only exist, but respect Black players enough to spell and pronounce their names correctly! Britni de la Cretaz recently wrote about the mispronunciation problem in Vice, and Khristina Williams of Girls Talk Sports and WNBPA president Nneka Ogwumike called out the disrespect on Instagram. (More)

When many people think about sports broadcasting in the US, ESPN is the first thing that comes to mind. The flagship SportsCenter news and highlights show is often a close second. Yet in 2019, just 5.4 percent of SportsCenter’s airtime was devoted to women’s sport, a figure which falls to just 3.5 percent when that year’s Fifa Women’s World Cup is excluded. (More)

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