Social media representation of female athletes

Written by: Daelynn Aerni | Freelancer, Cameron Wright | Freelancer

Has one ever used sports as a method of escapism to follow one’s dreams or passions?

That is why so many people watch sports: as an escape from the stresses of everyday life and enjoy skillful athleticism from people who represent them. While many are able to watch

their favorite players in sports and relate to those athletes, a lot of people are unable to see

themselves represented in sports, especially women. 

Some of the bigger issues in women’s sports that so many athletes face are the negative social media impacts and the significantly lower viewership rates. Social media continuously misrepresents female athletes, focusing mainly on the image athletes should portray instead of covering the athleticism and skill these women constantly demonstrate.

It wasn’t until the 1900 Olympics that 22 women were allowed to compete alongside

men in the games, however they were still not able to compete in the more physical sports like

shotput because women were still viewed as “fragile and gentle.” 

The Women’s National Basketball Association wasn’t created until June 1997, when the National Basketball Association Board of Governors approved the idea of a women’s professional league. After fighting for their place at the table in the world of sports, female athletes are still berated with criticisms of not only their athletic performance, but of their representations of femininity through the platform of social media. 

As the women’s movement so famously started in the mid 1800s, there has been little progress in women’s sports compared to the men’s associations. Celebrating their 28th season in 2024, the WNBA still does not have nearly the amount of media coverage compared to the NBA. In 2019, women’s sports coverage was 5.1 percent of all sports coverage on TV and 5.4 percent of all sports coverage online.

This statistic is not just indicative of the WNBA but of all women’s sports. How are younger generations supposed to find escapism and identity in the sports they love if half of the world’s population is not covered by the media in the first place?

With limited media coverage as well as false narratives being placed into public opinion, potential business partners, teams and coaches, female athletes have to take matters into their own hands by amplifying their sports how they see fit. 

Sports tend to see a low number of women in leadership roles, therefore, athletes in women’s leagues do not get to see the same level of representation at the executive level as male athletes  do — leading to a gross oversight in ignoring inequities and injustices. In the end, female athletes are typically their own best advocates because male-dominated leadership frequently ignores their achievements.

This is significant to how women’s sports have become more popular because, instead of relying on unreliable media to share the importance of women’s sports, women have taken it into their own hands to make women’s sports more known and accessible to watch nationally. 

For example, with the work and spotlight being put on younger athletes like Caitlin Clark, Angel Reese, JuJu Watkins and Paige Bueckers, the game with this generation will translate from the NCAA to the WNBA. Another example is the recent addition to NBA All-Star weekend with the three-point shooting contest between Sabrina Ionescu and Steph Curry, which helps in promoting female athletes and their sports to huge audiences who love the same sport, just with male athletes. 

For instance, the average NBA game on TNT averages around 1.5-2 million viewers, compared to the 3-point contest, which has around 5.4 million viewers. If the media can showcase how amazing these women are in their skill and competition, more people will be inclined to tune into the broadcasting of the sport.

The media creates boxes for female athletes to fit into, whether they like it or not. These

boxes could include the sexualization of the female athlete or creating narratives of aggressive


A prime example of this is the Angel Reese and Caitlin Clark controversy from the 2023 NCAA championship. Throughout the game, Reese and Clark showcase their extreme skill and competitiveness with not only their basketball skills, but their sportsmanship as well.

Both players were seen making gestures and giving a bit of trash talk to each other, which

is a normal, competitive quality in the world of sports. However, after Reese made a

gesture to her ring finger during the fourth quarter, representing how she would soon win the

championship ring in the tournament, the media became outraged. 

Reese was depicted as an aggressive, unsportsmanlike player who was “classless” and an “idiot.” Reese came out with a statement at a press conference after the game, highlighting the difference between her sportsmanship and Clark’s. 

In a CNN interview, Reese stated, “All year, I was critiqued for who I was. I don’t fit the narrative. I don’t fit the box that y’all want me to be in. I’m too hood. I’m too ghetto. Y’all told me that all year. But when other people do it, y’all don’t say nothing.” 

As we saw in real-time, Reese was immediately labeled and put into boxes because of one

gesture, despite other players doing the same thing. The media tends to pin female athletes against each other and weaponize them.

So many efforts are being made to change the narrative about women’s contribution to

the sports world, including inspiring the change to hire more women’s college and WNBA

coaches across the nation. By increasing the number of women in the sports world and giving more women decision-making positions, they will be able to gain more power over their

platform and be able to represent themselves how they want to be represented, not how the

media caters to the male gaze.

This is why we would like to reach out to the Western community to bring light to the challenges that women in sports face daily. By addressing younger audiences, we hope to break this cycle of sexism and misrepresentation in women’s sports.

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