Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Powers, Angela

Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)

Legacy Department

Department of Communication


Women athletes; Olympics; Women in mass media


This thesis is the result of a study of media portrayal of female athletes who competed in the 1984 and 1996 Olympic Games. A content analysis of Sports Illustrated feature articles was used to analyze the types of sports in which females were featured, the length of articles that feature females in sports that are socially considered sex appropriate and sex inappropriate, and the number of gender stereotypic physical descriptors used to describe female athletes as compared to male athletes. Sports Illustrated was selected as the sample base because it is the best-selling sport publication. The time period of 1996 was used because women have gained a great deal in the sport arena in the past several years, including the development of women's professional softball and basketball leagues, as well as the addition of many new women's competitions in the Olympics. As a comparison, 1984 was selected since it was more than 10 years previous the first time period, yet not so distant that the coverage of the athletes would be of a different style. The objectives of this study were to determine if female athletes are being trivialized by the sport media in two main ways: (a) by devoting less and shorter articles to females in sex inappropriate sports as compared to females in sex appropriate sports, and (b) by describing female athletes in more gender stereotypic physical terms than male athletes. A secondary objective was to determine if there was any change in the type of coverage given to female athletes between 1984 and 1996, specifically concerning the types of sports featured and the number of gender stereotypic physical descriptors per column inch. Although there were no significant changes in the type of coverage given to female athletes between 1984 and 1996, the data did indicate that female athletes continue to be described in more gender stereotypic terms than male athletes, and that females who participate in sex appropriate sports are featured more often than are females who participate in sex inappropriate sports.


Includes bibliographical references (pages [44]-57 [i.e. 47])


56 pages




Northern Illinois University

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