The Entertainment of Sports

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Sports Illustrated Kids: Thinking Like A Man

In the United States, women are relentlessly being placed in a subordinate position to men in many aspects of their lives. Reproduction rights and workplace harassment have stood out as the major issues plaguing women’s inequality. Additionally, men continually outnumber women and girls in sports. Even with the issuance of Title IX in 1972, female athletes are still receiving 41% fewer participation opportunities in high school sports than males. Females are discriminated against in sports by coaches, college funding and societal norms. As demonstrated by the magazine Website, marginalization of the female audience, the Internet has the ability to widen this gender-based gap. While the Website completely disregards the female audience, Sports Illustrated Kids prevails in its well-developed design and original content. The site could be significantly improved with the accommodation of females. The Web Marketing Association, an organization devoted to honoring high-quality Websites, awarded a 2006 WebAward for Outstanding Achievement in Website Development in its Sports category. According to the WebAwards’ criteria and the Webby Awards’ criteria, another international Website awarding organization, SI Kids is an excellent site. It achieves its purposes of informing and entertaining its audience of eight to fourteen year old boys. As presented by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, eleven percent of American Internet users go online to check sport scores and information daily. It can be correctly assumed that most of this audience is male. Therefore, Sports Illustrated Kids is merely marketing to its most popular and valuable consumers. The users of the SI Kids Website will not only become loyal sports fans, but they will also become loyal Sports Illustrated readers. Although it is a marketing technique, the deliberate discount of female athletes and characters on the SI Kids Web site devastates the attempts to improve the female participation in sports.

Despite its failure to include the female demographic into its target audience, the Website succeeds in different areas. One particularly strong area is the design of the site. The Web Style Guide, an online book offering criteria for valuable Websites, explains that, “the fundamental organizing principle in Website design is to meet the users’ needs.” When using the Internet, boys must be provided with a site that is simple, yet stimulating. This is easily achieved on through the structural and navigational elements of design. Structure and navigation is used by the Webby Awards as one of its judging categories. The Webby Awards states that structure and navigation, “…allow you to form a mental model of the information provided, where to find things, and what to expect when you click.” A user must feel at ease while using a site, but must not become bored. Simplicity is evident in many aspects of its structure. For example, the majority of the page exists in the top portion of the window, leaving a minimal amount of the page that is left unseen until one scrolls down. This is important because the site does not try to force too many choices on the user. If the user does not scroll down, all that will be missed are the supplemental links at the bottom of the page, including the Private Policy and Customer Service. It is extremely unlikely that users will ever need or want to access these links.

Structure, along with navigation, refers to the organization of the site. It is important that users know where they are going when they click on links and do not get lost within the site. This is what the Webby Awards describes as “transparent.” Navigation is key to the user friendliness of a Website. It also has to take the experience its target audience has had with the Internet into consideration. This being said, navigation has to be easy because it is assumed that the target audience does not have much experience with the Internet. Navigation away from the homepage is essential. The Web Style Guide reports that it is most efficient to put navigation links at the top of the page. The SI Kids Website features its links at the top of the page, making them obvious and accessible. Also, the links do not feature pull down menus like many Websites have. Instead users must be guided through several pages until one can reach the ultimate page he or she is looking for. While it may be a nuisance for older experienced Internet users, a step-by-step process will help children understand where they are going on the site. A perfect example of SI Kid's organization can be accessed with the “Scores” link. When clicking on scores the user is brought to a page that offers links for scores, players, teams, schedules, stats and standings for each of the following leagues: MLB, NHL, NBA and NFL. After choosing MLB Teams, one is brought to a page in which each team is represented by a logo and its name. This is extremely helpful for children who may be able to recognize the Chicago Cubs logo easier than finding the name of the team listed with the others. Though this may seem elementary, visuals accompanied by writing are crucial for younger children for they are more able to identify pictures than words. SI Kids is a successful site because it recognizes the importance of putting the audience first when considering its design.

While the design of the site is well developed, it is clear that the content of the SI Kids Website discriminates against females. The WebAwards and Webby Awards criteria do not address discrimination in material presented by the Website. Explained by the Webby Awards, “Good content should be engaging, relevant, and appropriate for the audience.” Thus, the content can contain defamation, but remain “engaging, relevant and appropriate for the audience,” and still receive an award. SI Kids is an example of this. The site is composed of two major content areas, the informational component of sports news and the entertaining component of games. Unfortunately, both of these areas, which contain intriguing and original substance, are plagued by gender-based discrimination. The informational component of the Website is relevant and valuable for the targeted user. Although the site is limited to the mainstream sports, baseball, basketball, football and hockey, it is a logical choice because these are the sports to which young males are attracted. The statistical information that is provided is concise and relevant. For example, the Broncos team site includes the final score of the previous game, the opponent of the next game, the AFC West Standings and an abbreviated amount of team and player statistics. This basic information that even beginner sports fans can appreciate. The statistics also carry authority because Sports Illustrated, arguably the most credible sports magazine on the stands, owns the site.

The focus on the MLB, NHL, NFL and NBA clearly omits female athletes. It can be argued that women’s sports do not attract large audiences, but to young girls, the number of people who watch the WNBA is irrelevant. Girls need women sports players to serve as role models. Female athletes rarely receive coverage in the media. According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, which was founded by Billie Jean King, female athletes only receive 6.3 percent of airtime in early evening and late night television sports news. Also, when women are present in sports media, they are sexualized. For example, Anna Kournikova posed provocatively in Sports Illustrated in 2000. To improve, SI Kids should carry news, photos, videos and statistics for female athletes, from tennis players to football players. Many girls would be astounded to hear that there is actually a Professional Women’s Football League.

According to The Webby Awards judging criteria, interactivity is an important aspect of the content of a Website. The Webby Awards claim that a great site “…insists that you participate, not spectate.” Through games and fantasy leagues, SI Kids asserts its ability to engage the audience. The site boasts many creative games including Flower Boy, in which one can control an ice skater who picks up flowers that are thrown on the ice, while other skaters are performing. In addition, the site attempts to promote a healthy lifestyle with games such as Snack Master in which players must feed the character healthy snacks. Offering more than 30 games, one would assume that SI Kids would provide an abundant amount of options and opportunities to include females into the content, yet the site fails to do so.

The games offered by SI Kids blatantly cater to a male audience. The “Ultimate Athlete Builder” is perhaps the best example of this bias. Users can choose the hair, arms, body, shoes, legs and “bling” to design the ultimate athlete. The only athlete that a user can design is male. While one can change the color of his skin, the user cannot change the character from a man to a woman. Racial issues are addressed, but gender is strictly avoided. In addition to this game, the majority of the other games only have male characters. In fact, there are more gender free games than games with female characters. Consequently, boys are the ones playing most of the games. The majority of male usernames in the top scorers prove this. Featured are usernames like Brendan, Chris, Shane, Mike and Ryan. In one of the two games that feature a female character, the top scorer is named Lizzy. Another game with multiple female high scorers is a racing game that features a pink VW Beetle with a yellow flower on the roof. This implies that girls are more likely to play and enjoy games with female characters. The problem of causality occurs when trying to determine why there is a lack if female participation on the site. Does the Website deter girls or do girls not have the desire to access the site? Regardless of the causality, SI Kids should include more games with female characters.

While much research has been conducted on the representation of races and genders on television and in movies, the Internet is a new medium that has yet to be looked into. Sports Illustrated Kids is an outstanding site based on criteria from the WebAwards and the Webby Awards. Unfortunately, it takes a step backwards in the effort to promote the equality of men and women. SI Kids targets a male audience, but it is evident from the “High Scores” usernames that girls are visiting the Website. Therefore, SI Kids needs to adjust its content to cater to a female audience. According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, high school girls who play sports are less likely to have an unwanted pregnancy, are more likely to have better grades and are more likely to graduate. Sports are beneficial for the health and well being of females, yet sports media continually disregards the importance of the visibility of female athletics.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Future of Sports Journalism: Goodbye To Our Local Sports Anchors

Instead of creating a blog this week, I have decided to expand my horizons and see what my fellow bloggers are writing about sports. And after waking up at 2:30 am on Saturday to watch Lee, Kirk and Chris at ESPN’s College Gameday at the Coliseum, I have decided to focus my search on sports journalism. I have commented on two blogs that both refer to the findings of a study at the Center for Sports Journalism at Penn State. This study shows that sports directors, anchors and reporters feel that their segments on local news programs are losing importance and could eventually be cut. On the first blog on which I have commented, I have suggested an up-and-coming form of sports journalism. On the second blog, I have argued that local sports coverage will not save the sports segment of television news. While niche programming, like ESPN and CSTV, is the future of sports on television and is leaving the local station's sport segment in the dust, the Internet arguably serves as the best arena for sports journalism.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Gender Struggles On the Green: Michelle Wie's Attempt to Play With the Boys

Michelle Wie’s recent performance in the Omega European Masters has acted as a catalyst for fans and critics to discuss the appropriateness of a woman’s participation in mens golf events. Not only did she miss the cut for the European Masters, but she also finished last in the tournament with a final score of 15 over. Many golfer’s and golf enthusiasts complain that Wie is not good enough and, therefore, should not compete with men. Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell said about the tournament, "She had no chance round here. And I just don't think women can compete against the men." But even with this rough event and criticism, the 16 year old from Hawaii is not giving any signs that she is going to stop entering in men’s events. After her last round this Friday she told reporters, "My view is that to get better on the men's tour and to be a better player, I have to keep playing men's events.” For the well being of the sport of golf itself, Michelle Wie should continue playing, or at least trying to play, in men’s tournaments.

Michelle Wie’s participation in men’s events is critical to the future success of golf. Golf as a spectator sport cannot rest solely on the shoulders of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. Dan Jenkins, writer from Golf For Women magazine, supports Wie’s decisions in his article, If You Let Her Play, stating, “Golf fans are hungering for something unique, different, intriguing.” A woman in a men’s tournament has proven to satiate the hungers of golf fans. Tournaments in which Michelle Wie plays, undeniably attract a larger audience. So why shouldn’t she be able to play in men’s tournaments? Many reply that Wie will take the place of a deserving young male player. Skill, not gender should determine an individual's right to play in an event. Additionally, people believe that she is just not strong enough as a golfer to compete with men. Prior to this year's tournament, George O'Grady, the European Tour chief executive, described women playing in men's event, a "gimmick." While it may have been a "gimmick," Michelle Wie's participation gained attention for the European Masters, and according to Sergio Garcia, the previous champion of the European Masters, "Anything that helps the game of golf is good, no matter what."

Those golfers who are enraged by a woman playing in a men’s tournament may soon feel relief if Wie continues to play poorly. No one is willing to subject him or herself to the embarrassment of being cut from every tournament. This Friday was Wie’s ninth cut of ten attempts to play in a men’s tournament. In addition to ruining her confidence, Wie will not receive the support of sponsors if she continues to lose. She returns to play against men this week in the 84 Lumber Classic in Pennsylvania. Her future involvement in men’s events greatly relies on her ability to play the game. So, until she can’t stand losing anymore or sponsors stop inviting her to tournaments, I say, you go girl.