Weber, Jonetta D., and Robert M. Carini. “Where Are the Female Athletes in Sports Illustrated? A Content Analysis of Covers (2000-2011).” International Review for the Sociology of Sport 48.2 (2013): 196-203.
Abstract by Juliet Day
Weber and Carini argue that, although women are represented in Sports Illustrated, the magazine still fosters social inequality between male and female athletes. They expose the double standard Sports Illustrated exhibits by documenting how it portrays men versus women on its cover. They reviewed every Sports Illustrated cover from 2000 to 2011 and from 1954 to 1965 and tracked how many men were on the cover versus how many women. They excluded Sports Illustrated’s annual swimsuit issue because “women were not portrayed in an athletic manner”. They then divided the women into two groups: athletes and other women (an anonymous woman, a sports fan, etc.), as well as whether the women were pictured by themselves or with men.
Women appeared on 4.9% of Sports Illustrated covers between 2000 and 2011 (n=716) and only 2.5% had women as the primary image. This is over 50% lower than the percentage of women on the cover between the years of 1954-1965 (n=588), which was still only 12.6%. One explanation as to why the percentage of women represented has decreased since the 1950s is that Sports Illustrated narrowed the scope of the sports it covers from a wide range of sports to mainly featuring basketball, football and baseball.
Weber and Carini then explore how women were portrayed in Sports Illustrated when included, and what message the magazine sends about gender. For example, they note the difference between an athletic looking woman holding sports equipment on the cover, to a scantily dressed, seductive-looking woman. While Sports Illustrated promotes sports as a way to achieve health and fitness as well as personal empowerment, women are not necessarily depicted solely for their athletic abilities but rather for how they look or how they are posed. They cite as an example, the case of skier Lindsey Vonn, who was photographed on her skis, but posed in a provocative way, as opposed to a male skier photographed in action. Lastly, Weber and Carini assert that their data is consistent with that of other similar studies about female athletes portrayed in both Sports Illustrated and in other media.