NOW's Media Cheers and Jeers

Title IX: The Good, The Bad, The So-So

by Lisa Bennett-Haigney,
Membership Administrative Assistant

Editor's note: We welcome submissions by members for NOW's "Cheers and Jeers" column on the media's coverage of women and women's issues. Thanks to Title IX, which marks its 25th anniversary this year, more women than ever are playing sports, and we now have two professional women's basketball leagues. What a great opportunity for the media to feature some real female heroes, right? Let's take a quick look to see if they're up to the challenge.


First the bad news. The annual Sports Illustrated "swimsuit issue" hit the stands, and this is the first stand-alone version all bikinis, no sports. In this format, the issue hovers somewhere between the Victoria's Secret catalog and Playboy magazine. We all know that this spring ritual has nothing to do with sports or swimsuits, but there are some intriguing "breakthroughs" this year.

How about that cover: Tyra Banks has the dubious honor of being the first African American woman to appear solo on the cover, in a photo depicting her enticingly tugging down her bikini bottom. After last year's cover timidly approached the race barrier by depicting Banks along with a blonde, white model, this year's cover ends that controversy!

As if to answer where the "sports" went in this issue of Sports Illustrated , women athletes have now joined the supermodels in the beach scenes.

Steffi Graf, one of the all-time tennis greats, sheds her publicity shy image. Photographed in a variety of bikinis, Graf's poses include one with her head up, hands on hips, leg, calf and arm muscles well defined, a fierce warrior -- standing on tip-toes with legs spread wide. Another shot depicts the normally staid Graf frolicking in the surf: "See guys, I am fun!"

The accompanying article seems to mock Graf's stated belief that Sports Illustrated swimsuit photos are art, while noting her rejection of inappropriate bikinis and uncomfortable poses.

Gabrielle Reece, ace beach volleyball player, is also included in action shots. But Reece is already a successful model, and her article discusses how sex appeal has helped market women's volleyball.

While it is at first refreshing to see strong, athletic women instead of malnourished models, the message is overwhelmingly clear: forget their skills and sports achievements, these women must also be "dazzling off the court," to quote the magazine. Look no further than the ridiculous back-page cartoon of women playing sports in bikinis and, in the case of the basketball players, topless (but strategically covered).

To give Sports Illustrated and its publisher your review of this year's swimsuit issue and advice on entering the women's sports magazine business write to them in care of: Time, Inc., Time & Life Building, Rockefeller Center, New York, NY 10020-1392. Letters to the Editor may also be sent to letters*

Visit Linnea Smith's Website at to read about her campaign against the swimsuit issue.

Sports Illustrated and publisher Conde Nast announced they will begin publication of sports magazines for and about women this year. Whether there will be a men's "swimsuit issue" has yet to be revealed.


For some real talk about women in sports, kudos to USA Today for its continuing coverage of women's professional and college basketball in its sports pages. Women's basketball games frequently make the cover of the sports section, with photos, and game results are regularly included in the box scores.

In honor of the 25th anniversary of Title IX, the law that prohibits sex discrimination in schools, USA Today ran a three-part series summarizing the gains that have been made in women's collegiate sports. The newspaper printed the first analysis of reports from 303 NCAA Division I schools, rating their compliance with the law.

The news is both disappointing (for every $1 spent on women's college sports, $3 is spent on men's) and encouraging (the number of female athletes has increased 22 percent since 1992). The series debunks the theory that men's sports are big money makers and should therefore receive a much larger piece of the pie. And the paper gives voice to the female athletes who benefit from Title IX and the athletic directors who work to broaden women's opportunities.

If you missed it, the entire series is available on USA Today's Website at Drop them an appreciative line at USA Today , Editor, 1000 Wilson Blvd. Arlington, VA 22229 or e-mail

What about your local media? Are they recognizing women's athletic achievements? Do they give equal ink and air time to women's and girls' sports? If not, take action by contacting the sports editor/director and demanding better coverage.

Cheers and Jeers

Women's participation in sports has long been championed by sneaker giant Nike. The best of Nike's television advertisements include powerful images:

Young girls asking for the opportunity and encouragement to play sports so that they might become stronger, healthier women.

Professional women basketball players confidently joining in a pickup game with the boys.

Title IX's sports equality clause being recited by premier women athletes, many of whom won gold medals in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

These are the lump-in-your-throat or stand-up-and-cheer kind of messages that make you forget you're watching a commercial promoting Nike products being bought up in record numbers by women and girls.

Which brings us to a much-needed jeer.

Investigators have reported gross labor abuses in Nike's Asian factories, where most of the workers are young women. These allegations include verbal abuse, sexual harassment, corporal punishment and subminimum wages. Full-time workers often make $1.60 or less per day.

At one Vietnam plant, women reportedly were made to run laps until they collapsed -- as punishment for not wearing regulation footwear. Nike officials said the plant manager was placed on leave pending the outcome of an investigation.

Last year, Nike officials denied news reports of shocking labor violations in its Asian plants involving women and child laborers.

Nike seems more than anxious to spend mega-advertising bucks wooing us with its woman-positive, women-friendly messages, knowing the payoff in consumer dollars and good image-building. The rest of the Nike story seems to be behind the scenes, in the factories where those shoes and socks and shorts and shirts we wear are made.

Write to Nike at One Bowerman Drive, Beaverton, OR 97005. Or call 1-800-344-Nike. Demand immediate, public improvements at ALL of its plants, with inspections permitted unannounced by international human rights groups. Demand respect for all women -- not only the women buying their products.

Just do it.

Coming up next: Was Ellen a primetime victory for lesbian rights?

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