For those of us who missed the 2014 Espy Awards in Los Angeles, we spent the following morning catching up via Twitter, Instagram, Google and the like. Who wore what, which athletes cliqued up, who won the Arthur Ashe Award?
On Thursday morning at my desk, I googled “ESPYs 2014” and began my mission of catch-up with the first USA Today article my search returned, “10 Takeaways from the 2014 ESPYs.” After skimming the list of only male accomplishments, performances, and speeches, I would have been left to believe that ESPN actually separated the award show by gender this year, had it not been for the mention of Drake’s being friend-zoned by Skylar Diggins. I clicked on another link, this one of photos from the red carpet, continuing my search for the women that had to have attended. In the entire photo stream, I found three photos of Maria Sharapova, one of Erin Andrews with her date, and one of Lolo Jones. Most of the women in the photo stream were dates of professional male athletes, but these were clearly not the women I was looking for.
I continued to click on link after link, becoming more and more frustrated with my pressing question — WHERE WERE THE FEMALE ATHLETES AT THE ESPYS?
Here’s where it gets tricky. I decided to go the actual source, the official ESPYs website, to get a list of every nomination for every major award category. Out of preference, I looked over the women’s award categories first (Best Female Olympic Athlete, Best Female Athlete, etc.). At this point, I was in fact happy that women played a role in the award ceremony, but enraged that nowhere on the internet had I been able to read about these women — their accolades, their experiences, their night at the ESPYs.
On top of the minimal news coverage of female winners (tell me it makes sense to only report the Male Athlete of the Year), the actual breakdown of awards and female nominations in these categories is disturbing. Having moved past the mere SEVEN award categories specific to females, I read through every nomination for every award not specific to gender, such as Best Moment, Best Upset, Best Team, Best Fighter, Best Game to find almost a complete absence of female nominations. By my calculation, in the 13 categories where both males and females can be nominated, women were outnumbered 49-4 (shoutout Ronda Rousey, Paula Creamer, UCONN Women’s Basketball, Inbee Park). Appalling. Apparently only the world’s most astounding male athletes are capable of having remarkable comebacks or championship performances.
Although women still, in 2014, receive, comparatively speaking, minimal coverage on Sports Center and in sports news (when was the last time you picked up a sports section of any newspaper with a woman or female team on the front page?), female athletes are doing incredible things. I do not have to devote paragraphs to these incredible things, because the women breaking international records, winning Olympic medals, and achieving national championships (cough cough Serena, Maria, Maya, Candace, Morgan, Hannah, Minda, Meryl, UCONN) deserve the right for their accomplishments, as opposed to me, to speak for them. But if we’re getting technical, as the world’s leading sport news network for men and women, it is ESPN’s job to speak for these women and their accomplishments, especially as the specified awards ceremony dedicated to celebrating excellence in sports performance.
By the numbers, ESPN and the award show completely dropped the ball. In most conversations about gender, sport, and the media, people attempt to make an argument of public interest, i.e. WNBA players would be paid more if as many people liked to watch the WNBA as they do the NBA. (No one likes to watch fundamental basketball, am I right?) Professional softball would be a thing if people cared about it. And who wants to watch women’s golf, tennis, gymnastics, lacrosse, soccer, or the Women’s College World Series? I’m not here to debunk these ignorant and miss represented arguments, but rather to point out that even these arguments can’t justify the underrepresentation of female athletes and their accomplishments at the ESPYs. The award show is not about public interest. The award show’s mission is very clear — to recognize excellence in sports performance, regardless of nationality or gender. Four female nominees in 13 categories, out of 53 nomination spots total, is not recognition.
I’m motivated by the hope that this oversight does not go unnoticed. It matters that there are no news stories devoted to the women of last night’s event. It matters that women performing at the highest levels are not recognized in the same way as men doing the same. It matters that our society is disinterested in one gender’s competition and accomplishments, yet completely enthralled in the same matters of the opposite gender. But it really matters if no one notices the discrepancy.
To the women who were nominated for 2014 ESPYS, you deserve more recognition than you could possibly receive in the society we live in, and to the female winners at the ESPYs last night, congratulations. I’m still trying to find you.