Women and Sports: Whose Team is the Media On?

TRIGGER WARNING: This blog contains coarse language and discussions of sexual harassment against women.

Actress Ashley Judd is an avid fan of the Kentucky Wildcats and March Madness. And like any avid sports fan, she gets often gets riled up while at games. On Sunday, March 15th, she tweeted that the opposing team was “playing dirty & can kiss [her] team’s free throw making ass” (Judd 2015). She never could have expected the type of response that her simple tweet would receive. In an article written by Judd herself, she reports receiving tweets “calling [her] a cunt, a whore or a bitch, or telling [her] to suck a two-inch dick” (Judd 2015). This is not the first time Judd has received sexual abuse over the internet, and she has since attempted to press charges against her offenders (Judd 2015).

So what is really going on here? Some argued that she deserved what she got because her original tweet was offensive towards the opposing team (Judd 2015). Others stated that as a celebrity, she has to have a thick skin against what is merely an incident regarding “internet trolls” (ReviewTechUSA 2015). But this horrifically common incident of online sexual abuse is actually part of a bigger issue: what roles should women have in sports, and how should they be portrayed in these roles?

Curt Schilling, a sports analyst for ESPN, published an open letter on the internet after his daughter received sexual harassment over twitter after he had announced that she would be pitching for a university softball team in the year to come (Mullen 2015). He slams the internet trolls, saying, “What part of talking about a young woman, my daughter or not, makes you even consider the possibility that this is either funny or makes you tough?” (Schilling 2015). Despite this, it is clear that he does not fully understand the severity of what is at hand when he let the perpetrators off the hook by saying “guys will be guys… guys will say dumb crap, often” (Schilling 2015). This statement can be interpreted as Schilling knowing his audience, and reaching out to the males reading his open letter and identifying with them so that they will listen to what he has to say about online sexual harassment. However, what Schilling does not realize is that by saying this, he delegitimizes the trauma of sexual harassment by writing it off as “just a joke” or “dumb crap.” Another disturbing conclusion drawn from this article is the idea that men do not realize how serious sexual harassment is until it happens to someone close to them, such as a daughter—and by then, it is too little, too late.

The reason that I bring up Curt Schilling’s open letter is because when juxtaposed with the Ashley Judd article, there is one imminent similarity: when women become involved in sports, it is used as an excuse to victimize them regarding their gender and sexuality.

Ashley Judd makes an interesting comment when she states that her uncle, who also made comments about the opposing team’s dirty plays, was “[immune] from abuse” because he is “a male sports fan” (2015). Melissa Jacobs, a professional sports writer, agrees wholeheartedly with Judd by writing, “If you’re a woman talking about sports on social media, the only way to avoid harassment is to fake your gender. If Kentucky fan ‘Judd Ashton’… suggested that Arkansas was playing dirty last weekend he might be told he’s a moron or to fuck off, but he would never receive the sexually-charged threats that people directed at Ashley Judd for doing so” (2015).

It is interesting to note that while society has moved forward in many ways regarding gender equality, the world of sports remains very heavily dominated by males. Even at the high school level, the “standard story,” which is the “classification of humans into two distinct types of human on the basis of sex and gender” (Aulette & Wittner 2015) portrays the males as the football players and the females as the cheerleaders, showing off skin and dancing in their mini skirts on the sidelines. These gender roles exist partly to enhance capitalist systems—the belief that people prefer to pay to watch males play sports than to watch females play sports, and that having scantily-clad women to cheer them on would further attract the male viewer (because that is who is assumed to be the spectator when it comes to sports) to feed money into the sports industry.

Female sports games are also seen in opposition to male sports games—an example of binary thinking, categorizing factors “into two exclusive opposites” (Aulette & Wittner 2015). A study by Michael Messner showed that when comparing the commentary on women’s games and men’s games, reporters repeatedly emphasized the pink logos and the gender of the players in order to give a “necessary sense of clarity for the viewers” (Messner et al. 1993).

Furthermore, when women do play sports, they are marketed in a way that emphasizes their sexuality over their actual talent. “Unlike male athletes, female athletes do not have the luxury of being primarily portrayed as performance athletes, as coverage of their beauty and sex appeal usually overshadow highlights of their on-field endeavors” (Liang 2011). This overt hypersexualization occurs because having the qualities of a successful sports player—tough, strong, and physically able—is seen as masculine and not in line with emphasized femininities, the “dominant images of the supposedly ideal woman; includes dependence, sexual receptivity, motherhood, and subordination by men” (Aulette & Wittner 2015). Thus, female athletes are sexualized and objectified in the media to counteract their “masculinity” that they gain from playing sports. In a gender studies tutorial run by Maria-Teresa Matani, we compared how females were portrayed in sports magazines as opposed to males–it was quite clear that the males were usually the ones in sports gear and actually doing things, while the females wore skin-tight clothing and were objectified by the camera (Matani 2015).

Nothing showcases this emphasized femininity and hypersexualization more than female tennis players. I want to draw attention to Venus Williams in particular—there are a few clear systems at play in the techniques used to market her. She is sexualized not only because she is a female, but also orientalized because she is black. Although orientalism is a term that originally applied to the east, any groups that are “others” can also be orientalized in the media by portraying these “other” groups as exotic, passive, and sexualized, and often the target of fetishization (Alden 2015).

So what is there to be done about the exclusion of females from the realm of sports? One thing that everyone can do is show solidarity by supporting both female and male athletes. An example of solidarity between athletes is when Sidney Crosby, who is very well respected in the hockey world, attended the women’s hockey match between USA and Canada to cheer on his fellow athletes (Digital image 2014). If male athletes continue to show their support for their female counterparts, this will have a huge effect on how the media sees female athletes—hopefully, by finally seeing everyone as equals.



Alden, Joddi. “Globalization, Colonialism, and Orientalism in Visual Culture.” Queen’s University. Kingston, Ontario. 29 Jan. 2015. Lecture.

Alter, Charlotte. “Ashley Judd Speaks Out About Twitter Abuse and Rape.” Time. Time Magazine, 19 Mar. 2015. Web. 7 Apr. 2015. <http://time.com/3750788/ashley-judd-speaks-out-about-twitter-abuse-and-rape/&gt;.

Ashley Judd Is Pressing Charges Against Internet Trolls. Perf. ReviewTechUSA. YouTube, 2015. Film.

Aulette, J., & Wittner, J. (2015). Gendered Worlds (3rd ed.). New York, New York: Oxford University Press.

Digital image. Tumblr.com. 12 Feb. 2014. Web. <http://gfhockey.tumblr.com/post/76431172838&gt;

Jacobs, Melissa. “Ashley Judd Isn’t Alone: Most Women Who Talk about Sport on Twitter Face Abuse.” The Guardian. The Guardian, 19 Mar. 2015. Web. 7 Apr. 2015. <http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/mar/19/ashley-judd-women-sports-twitter-abuse&gt;.

Judd, Ashley. “Forget Your Team: Your Online Violence Toward Girls and Women Is What Can Kiss My Ass.” Identities.mic. Mic, 19 Mar. 2015. Web. 7 Apr. 2015. <http://mic.com/articles/113226/forget-your-team-your-online-violence-toward-girls-and-women-is-what-can-kiss-my-ass&gt;.

Liang, Emily. “The Media’s Sexualization of Female Athletes: A Bad Call for the Modern Game.” Student Pulse. Student Pulse, LLC, 2011. Web. 7 Apr. 2015. <http://www.studentpulse.com/articles/587/the-medias-sexualization-of-female-athletes-a-bad-call-for-the-modern-game&gt;.

Matani, Maria-Teresa. “GNDS125 Tutorial.” Queen’s University. Kingston, Ontario. 1 Jan. 2015. Lecture.

Mullen, Shannon. “2nd NJ Man ID’d in Curt Schilling Tweet Case.” App.Com. Asbury Park Press, 4 Mar. 2015. Web. 7 Apr. 2015. <http://www.app.com/story/news/crime/jersey-mayhem/2015/03/02/adam-nagel-accused-schilling-daughter-tweets/24270373/&gt;.

Schilling, Curt. “The World We Live In…Man Has It Changed. ADDENDUM!” Curt Schilling’s Official Blog. WordPress.com, 1 Mar. 2015. Web. 7 Apr. 2015. <https://38pitches.wordpress.com/2015/03/01/the-world-we-live-in-man-has-it-changed/&gt;.


  1. thelazyriser · April 10, 2015

    this is a very interesting article about what I believe to be a huge issue in present day society. The fact that people would justify the sexual abuse Ashley Judd received over the media by saying that she should have thicker skin or not be commenting her opinions, is so wrong and contributes to victim shaming, putting the blame on Judd as opposed to the people victimizing her. I like how you tied this into the way women are portrayed and victimized by the media, I found it interesting how you spoke on how this situation would be different if it were a man who had made those tweets as opposed to a women. This provides a glimpse into how women are treated by the public, they still are facing abuse simply because of their gender. Overall I really enjoyed your article!


  2. lazybreakfast95 · April 15, 2015

    I much enjoyed reading your article on this issue as I wrote about the same topic. I like how you incorporated the idea of capitalism and that more people prefer to watch males play and therefore female sports are looked down upon. This is something that really gets under my skin, because e as a female athlete myself, there currently are many efforts in making female sports more popular. For example, there is a new women’s hockey league now that is called the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) which is intended to be equivalent to the National Hockey League (NHL). However, due to this underlying fact that females are intended to always be beautiful and not to be aggressive they are having issues with increasing their attendance and popularity. After one year, progress has been made and CWHL teams are pairing up with NHL teams to gain more interest. My question to you, is do you think that this pairing of male sports and female sports increases the idea of patriarchy and misogyny?


  3. 4pce · April 16, 2015

    I really enjoyed reading your take on the case involving Ashley Judd and her experiences on Twitter. The issue surrounding Venus Williams I found particularly interesting, as she is a perfect example of intersecting systems of oppression. Her position as a woman of colour places her in a precarious place in terms of her potential career options. As we have studied this term, white privilege allows the white racial group to have a higher rate for financial success and stability. African American peoples are commonly seen as gaining success in either the music industry (however only in particular areas such as hip hop, R&B, and rap) or the sports industry. This link to African Americans and the entertainment industry can be linked back to colonialism and the consistent pattern of black slaves in the United States who were used as entertainment for their white owners during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.


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