Skills, not sex appeal, should be story
If you have any doubt that women sell magazines, take a stroll to your local newsstand, where you'll see dozens of female faces looking back at you. Soon one of those covers will be Golf Digest, which will feature marginally famous Paulina Gretzky wearing a bikini top and white tights in an upcoming issue.
The last time an LPGA Tour player was on that magazine's cover was in 2008. Women who play golf for a living can't get picked out of a lineup, but a woman engaged to PGA Tour player Dustin Johnson? Whose Instagram account is tracked by TMZ? Here's your cover, Ms. Gretzky, suitable for framing.
So why don't female athletes warrant many of these sports covers?
The Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport found that even though 40 percent of athletes are female, they account for only 4 percent of the media coverage. Moreover, it found that they were more likely to be portrayed in a sexually provocative way when they were in the spotlight.
Stacy Lewis, who is currently No. 4 on the LPGA money list, spoke up about the lack of coverage for the women who golf professionally. So did Hall of Famer Juli Inkster, and thank goodness they did. It's easier to be pleasant and hope the sting goes away, but these women have worked hard to establish a living wage in golf.
By advocating on behalf of her peers, Lewis makes us all take a little more notice. They shouldn't be playing in anonymity.
The LPGA, started in 1950, is the oldest continuous professional league for women in the United States, but it has always played in the shadow of the men's game -- at least in this country.
Some of the women doing well right now have some compelling stories to tell. Australian Karrie Webb joined the tour in 1996 and tops the money list. The Kraft Nabisco Championship this week has former prodigy Michelle Wie and pioneering South Korean Se Ri Pak near the top of the leaderboard. Those are three noteworthy players off the jump.
They shouldn't have to squeeze into Gretzky's golf tights to be acknowledged. Athletes, even female ones, should be covered because of their accomplishments. We have no trouble doing this with men, but with women, ideas of sexuality and attractiveness come barreling in.
It's one thing if marketers use those criteria to decide who gets an endorsement -- which is part of the reason Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams are generally on the Forbes list of the top 100 athlete earners. But it's different when it comes to editorial content.
Female athletes aren't there to sell magazines the way spokesmodels are. They should be as much a centerpiece as the men in the game. If these women aren't as compelling as the men, it's because their stories aren't yet out there to the same extent. That's on us.
LPGA players have every right to feel insulted this week, but this issue has a silver lining. It has served to bring attention to a game that could do with more. Perhaps the outcry from inside and outside the tour will make editorial boards ask a few more questions about how they cover women. And that could ultimately bring more focus to women like Lewis and the athletes she competes with.