By Emily Bayci
AWSM Intern 2011, University of Illinois
Photo by Steph Langan
When Shelley Smith of ESPN was a young reporter she was practically offended when asked to write about women’s sports. It was considered the lesser beat and was not as well respected as covering men’s sports.
“Now it is a blessing to cover women’s sports,” said Smith, an avid supporter of women’s media.
During a panel discussion titled, “What a Woman Wants,” held at the APSE and AWSM convention Friday panelists and participants discussed the consumption of sports content by women and how it has grown through the past 40 years.
The panelists credited the growth of women’s interests in sports along with the gains of women in sports to Tile IX, which passed June 23, 1972.
It was a generational migration, Smith said.
Young girls started playing sports so then their parents became interested and that interest followed athletes to the collegiate and professional level, Smith said.
“I became a sports fan because my mother and grandmother were huge sports fans,” said Amy Mortiz, sportswriter at The Buffalo News and president of AWSM. “I grew up in the Tile IX era.”
The panelists decided that sports media was ever evolving and that women’s interests in sports went beyond the simple recap. Women enjoy reading the stories behind the stories, the strategies and nuances behind the game and different angles, Mortiz said.
It’s not only women but men who have an additional interest in stories beyond the game, said Mike Harris, sports editor of the Washington Times.
“I think men want to know more about athletes too,” Harris said. “It’s a change in our attitude too, ‘Hey people care about this stuff and it is really great.’”
With the combined interests of men and women, the discussion became heated when people discussed the necessity of sites such as ESPNW, a separate entity of ESPN.
Mortiz brought up that components of ESPNW could be folded together with the main website.
Dr. Andrei S. Markovits, co-author of Sportista, a new book coming out Saturday, said that women had an entirely different viewpoint of sports than men, that they are interested in every type of gossip about the team and are more enthralled by human content than the numerical information and statistics.
Many audience members disagreed and said that women’s and men’s interests are often interchangeable. Many articles on ESPNW are promoted on the ESPN page. The separate entity provides another outlet for readers to find information and doesn’t cater to any specific gender group.
However, the site helps generate interest and involvement in women’s sports, Smith said.
“Women need better and more than what we give them,” Smith said. “We deserve better and we deserve more, that’s why I think we have it”