In the sports section, here in Boston ‘it’s like women don’t exist’

Boston’s sports scene is known for its die-hard fanatics, so much so that many claim that Beantown is the greatest sports town in America. But sports media coverage is lacking in some areas – a fact that became abundantly clear to one woman on November 26, 2021. After looking at the sports section of the Boston Globe, the Reverend Laura Everett was shocked to find that out of 12 full pages, not one a women’s sports team was not mentioned. So she took matters into her own hands. Everett, who serves as executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, joined All things considered host Arun Rath to unpack her new venture: Boston Women’s Sports. What follows is a lightly edited transcript.

Arun Rath: You tweeted that the date we mentioned, November 26, 2021, about a year ago, marked the beginning of Boston Women’s Sports’ “villain origin story.” Unpack that phrase for us.

The Honorable Laura Everett: I’ve noticed a real dearth of coverage of women’s professional sports here in Boston for a while. But that one day for me, I looked into [Boston] The Globe and I couldn’t believe our eyes that not one professional women’s team here in Boston, New England, not one of our national US teams, was covered at all. Women don’t seem to exist. It was the day after [soccer player] Formiga retired from the international game. This is a player who is so essential to the women’s game that there has never been an Olympic tournament without her. So from that day on, I began a gender audit of the Globe’s sports section, and the results were uncomfortably biased. Professional athletes in women’s leagues did not exist here.

Rath: I’m sure it wasn’t the first time you flipped through the sports section of the Globe that day. Was that shocking to you or how much of an awareness was it?

Everett: I think it was an eye opener to actually put the numbers and then put the pictures behind it. What I started doing was flipping through the pages to see how long it took for a story about female athletes to appear. And then I started using the pictures on my phone just to block out all the stories about men and to see where the women were visible. It gave a real visual of how few women actually existed in the pages of the Boston Globe, and it really made me more aware.

You know, before all of this, I’ll admit that I didn’t pay that much attention to the Boston Pride, our local professional women’s hockey team. But now I count myself among the fans.

Rath: Because the newspaper is online, that research is right there for you. As you dug into it, give us some details beyond that one day. What are some of the broader patterns you’ve seen?

Everett: You know, I first started to notice that it wasn’t just limited to The Boston Globe. The Boston Herald, The Boston Globe, frankly, our two local NPR affiliates are also not good at reporting on women.

There’s also a trend for girls’ high school sports to get decent coverage, and even some college teams. But the idea that professional female athletes in the WNBA, NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League) and PHF (Professional Hockey Federation) deserve equal coverage just doesn’t exist. So it’s really hard to find out when those women’s professional teams play, what the results are.

And then anything about stories about local athletes who left for other teams. Athletes like Shea Pettit, a Roxbury native who plays for the Phoenix Mercury, or even an athlete like Aliyah Boston, a senior at the University of South Carolina, who is currently one of the top basketball players in the NCAA. We have so much local talent coming out of Boston. What lags behind is coverage.

Rath: As much as I really want to ramble along with you here, I have to get busy because you mentioned public radio. We have two public stations here, and in this show I routinely throw myself into sports when there is time at the end of the day, and I very rarely talk about the women’s teams.

Everett: Yes, that’s a real question I have for all of you at GBH. I listen and hear you call out the scores or upcoming Red Sox, Celtics, Bruins and Patriots games pretty regularly. But I don’t think I’ve ever heard you mention when the Boston Pride played or how they did in their last game, and I wonder why that is. Which decision depends on which professional teams to invite and which to leave out?

Rath: Yes, that’s a fair question. I promise you it’s something we’ll think about going forward because we covered Boston Pride, but we don’t cover the games in as much detail as we should. So we’ll talk more about this and you can come back and rate us.

Outside of this area, tell us about the feedback you’ve gotten since taking this one on and has anyone else and the media had any response to that in terms of taking ownership of it?

Everett: Well, look, this is something that comes from a place of joy, not anger. I really don’t think women’s sport is a charity. It’s an investment opportunity. These are elite athletes, and you’re watching because he has incredible skill, tenacity and athleticism. And so the investment is timely. It is worth our energy and our attention. The reason for watching Pride may be a feminist commitment for some, maybe a dollar commitment for others. But right now, it’s because it’s really a winning team.

So while it angers me that a Globe columnist complained on December 23rd that Boston hasn’t had a championship in the last four years, Bob Ryan is wrong. It was. He just wasn’t paying attention. The rest of us had a heck of a time as the Boston Pride won two Isobel Cup championships in a row. And so what is available to all, including Saturday and Sunday at Warrior Arena, is a back-to-back championship with the Boston Pride.

Rath: So I can’t speak for other media organizations, but I think it’s generally true that when we see areas that aren’t covered, I think at the root most of the time is the perception that there’s no audience that’s interested. As great an idea as it is, can you drop it for us?

Everett: Absolutely. You know, I think that’s like saying the WNBA doesn’t deserve coverage because it doesn’t get the same numbers as the NBA, but the NBA started 50 years before the WNBA. The NBA started at a time when men could buy their own tickets and women couldn’t even apply for their own credit card. So if you have a product that only men can buy, of course there will be a bigger audience for it.

Last year saw $75 million in new investment for the WNBA. I wouldn’t be surprised if, in the near future, we see a WNBA team for Boston. Women’s sports fans are some of the most devout. What we lack is opportunity. There is a huge investment opportunity here. What doesn’t follow is coverage.

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