In the early hours of Friday August 13, newspaper printing presses across the country were humming with news from the 2004 Olympic games in Greece. Everywhere, newspapers were featuring the picture of the Iraqi soccer players in a joyous embrace following their stunning 4-2 victory over Portugal.
But at USA Today, the presses were churning out a very different message.
On the front page, USA Today featured a story on "U.S. gymnasts look bound for glory." Despite its title, the article turned out to be only about female gymnasts. No mention of the men.
In the Sports section, the first page was graced by photos of swimmer Katie Hoff and volleyball players Kerri Walsh and Misty May. Again, the male athletes were nowhere to be seen.
Swimmer Michael Phelps, seeking to eclipse Mark Spitz’ record of seven gold medals, is arguably the most talented American athlete competing in this summer’s Olympics. But at USA Today, gender counted for more than talent, so his story was buried on page 4F.
And the miraculous Iraqi soccer win? That piece was neatly tucked away on page 2C, below the fold.
Overall, women’s sports ruled. And men’s athletics were practically an afterthought.
How did USA Today’s coverage of the Olympics become so biased? That question can be answered in two words: Christine Brennan.
Christine Brennan, the person who organized the articles, is the well-known sports reporter at USA Today. Brennan is a doctrinaire feminist.
Brennan does not hesitate to ridicule men’s athletics. She has referred to college wrestling as "malarkey" and football programs as "bloated." Once Brennan wrote a smark-alecky column on why men should swoon over women’s figure skating.
Of course, Brennan believes that female athletes should be paid the same as men, despite the fact that professional women’s sports is a proven money loser. Look at what happened to the now-defunct Women’s United Soccer Association. And the Women’s National Basketball Association is barely staying afloat.
But when women choose to not fill the stadiums and arenas, Brennan blames the sports editors who don’t create new beats to cover female athletics. "The sports world is changing, and we’re barely reflecting this. There is no excuse for this," the hyperventilating Brennan exclaimed.
But above all, Brennan is an unabashed supporter of Title IX. In a 2002 interview, Brennan described Title IX as mandating "proportionality and equality for men and women in terms of having opportunities to play sports."
If you’re looking for an example of loopy logic, it doesn’t get any better than that.
Because the 1972 law that prohibits sex discrimination in schools doesn’t say anything about "proportionality." Proportionality is feminist-speak for "quotas." Proportionality is the highly controversial term that the Clinton administration used to justify the elimination of hundreds of men’s swimming, golf, and wrestling teams.
According to the Independent Women’s Forum, males are twice as likely as females to participate in collegiate intramural and club sports. And at ESPN, male viewers outnumber females three to one. So how can anyone expect that women will want to participate in sports in numbers that are "proportional" to their college enrollments?
I’m an unabashed fan of women’s tennis and figure skating. I love the artistry and grace.
But many of the Olympic sports have little to do with artistry or grace.
Cycling, rowing, running, and swimming all come down to one thing: speed.
And events like shot-putting and weight-lifting are tests of brute strength. Despite Ms. Brennan’s good intentions, she would have to admit that in those departments, men outclass the women.
Radical feminists believe that women should achieve complete statistical uniformity with men. Experience proves that feminists are willing to resort to heavy-handed tactics such as propaganda-like media coverage and heavy-handed quotas to reach that goal.
But the truth is, if women don’t get involved in athletics in similar numbers as men, that has nothing to do with discrimination or patriarchal oppression. That’s about women exercising their right to free choice.
Carey Roberts [send him mail] is a researcher and consultant who tracks gender bias in the mainstream media.