How the media covers male athletes vs. female athletes

Amanda Levine Sports editor

Samantha Show turned on a high and inside pitch to break a 1-1 tie against the University of Florida with a solo shot to left field. The senior pitcher looked at the ball fly, then slammed her bat down in celebration and ran around the bases. 

Show sparked the attention of the sports world after a video of the bat flip went viral on Twitter in the chase for the NCAA Women’s College World Series. Oklahoma State had never been to the NCAA WCWS until Show helped lead them to its first appearance by pitching a complete game and hitting two home runs. The Cowboys pitcher received both praise and criticism for the way she carried herself on the field.

The WCWS is one of the biggest stages for softball players, gaining a lot of media coverage.The National Pro Fastpitch has a small deal with ESPN in which the sports network will broadcast a total of 16 games, six being aired on ESPN2 and ten games on ESPN3. As the New York Times reported, Major League Baseball has a $5.6 billion deal with ESPN. Every week ESPN hosts Sunday Night Baseball in addition to coverage of other games throughout the week. ESPN’s coverage of the WCWS is encompassed in its deal with the NCAA which broadcasts games like the Division 1 college football championship, the men’s and women’s March Madness tournament and the men’s college baseball tournament. In 2011 Reuters reported the deal is $500 million, extending through the 2023-2024 season.

The WCWS is one of the few times girls and women get to watch softball players compete at an elite level. For most viewers, the NPF isn’t even broadcast on a channel they can watch. Access to ESPN2 and ESPN3 are dependent on the television provider. Whereas in MLB, its season is 162 games long, totaling to 5,184 games in one season. 

Show is one of the most popular players in the tournament. Alex Scarborough, a college sports reporter for ESPN, wrote an article about Show and her playing style. “Samantha Show favors bluntness, so rather than dance around it, let’s just state facts right off the top: She can be bit of a jerk sometimes,” Scarborough wrote.

When women show emotion in any aspect of life, it is often met with criticism. Here we see a college woman, competing at one of the highest levels in her sport, celebrating a home run and being met with criticism. Why criticize her when we see bat flips in MLB all the time? 

One of the most popular players in baseball is Bryce Harper. Known for his larger than life contract ($330 million over 13 years), his playing abilities and his personality on the field, Harper gained lots of praise for his bat flip against his former team the Washington Nationals.

“Yoooo that bat flipped like 8 times 😂😂. Can’t love this enough. Bryce Harper my favorite player now,” Cameron Wolfe tweeted.

“BRYCE HARPER TO THE MOON AND THE BAT FLIP. RIP DC,” Starting 9 tweeted with a video of Harper’s at bat.

“Sucks that the entire city of D.C. has to change their addresses to ‘Harperville,’ but what can you do, pretty sure it’s in the constitution that a bat flip like this must bestow district naming rights upon the flipper,” Emma Baccellieri, a Sports Illustrated staff writer, said over a tweet.

In his first at bat against the Nationals, fans booed Harper. In his fourth at-bat of the night, the left-handed hitter homered to right field. Harper watched the ball sail, took a few steps and tossed the bat to the side. 

In a Washington Post article by Scott Allen, the headline said “Bryce Harper’s bat flip was (thank u) next level,” bridging together a popular Ariana Grande song and the bat flip. When Show flipped her bat, in a playoff game, Scarborough writes, “When she hits a home run — and she has done that a lot this season — she’s not bashful. She oozes attitude.” 

Show did receive support and praise from sports journalists. Natalie Weiner for SBNation wrote, “Oklahoma State’s Samantha Show is your new queen of bat flips.” Cut4’s Matt Monagan wrote, “There may not be a better practitioner of the bat flip right now than softball superstar Samantha Show.”

Although these two articles praise Show for her bat flips and personality, such positive coverage of female athletes personality is rare. There is an obvious difference in coverage women receive versus men. The clear distinction between how the media talks about Harper versus Show isn’t surprising. Though there is more of a push to be inclusive to all athletes, the way we write about those players matters too. If Show has “attitude” when she flips a bat, but Harper’s toss was “thank you next level” what does this tell girls and women pursuing a career in sports?

It tells them they can’t have an attitude when playing the game they love, even as they are criticized for wearing makeup and dying their hair

“But after the team’s 3-0 loss to Norway in their opening game, (Francisca) Ordega logged on to Twitter to find that people were blaming the defeat on her makeup, nails and long hair — it didn’t ‘make her run well,’ one user wrote,” Allison McCann wrote in a New York Times article. 

Female athletes have to play hard, but not too hard, but they have to play fair, and not act “arrogant”. It is the media’s responsibility to write about male and female athletes the same way. We are the ones to hold people accountable so let us hold ourselves accountable. Athletes have to put up with high stakes games, play well and deal with criticism from fans. Female players, regardless of the level of sport, shouldn’t have to deal with sexist and demeaning comments about their style of playing. Criticize them for not playing well, not because they aren’t playing by your rules.

Contact Amanda Levine at [email protected]