Sharon Vasquez, a defensive back for the Pittsburgh Passion of the Independent Women’s Football League (IWFL), helped the United States beat Canada 66-0 in the first International Federation of American Football Women’s World Championship in Stockholm, Sweden on July 3rd. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which has a deplorable reporting record on women’s sports, surprisingly gave front page notice to the all-star, publishing a front-page feature in the sports section last Friday.
However, the opening words of the article are dismaying:
When Sharon Vasquez started playing tackle football, her husband was skeptical.
“I gotta see how she does first before I even say anything,” was how she described his attitude.
Six years, one world championship and a defensive Most Valuable Player Award later?
“He pretty much knows that I enjoy it and he’s just, ‘Whatever you want.’ “
An article on a male football player would not address any doubt that his spouse initially had towards his game because men are considered to be default athletes. While they may document the support that the male athlete’s family has given him throughout his career, they wouldn’t write about it as a surprising factor, like this article treats Vasquez.
The media continues to treat women’s athletic news as human interest stories – “soft” news written in a vaguely surprised tone that women can rise to the top of their game in any sport they pursue and that their families may be completely supportive of them. This treatment perpetuates gender stereotypes and is the reason why women’s sports aren’t yet being taken seriously. Consequently, women’s athletics suffer in reporting – we will probably not see any further news on the IWFL, nor the other women’s professional sports leagues unless 1) the featured player is from a local team, and 2) the featured player has a compelling personal story that makes readers feel warm inside.
We congratulate Ms. Vasquez for her outstanding achievement and for her pioneering role in the promotion of football as a women’s sport, and we look forward to the day when sports sections will cover women’s athletics on an equal basis as men’s sports.