Female Sports Personalities

Female Athletes

I have a question about the lack of coverage women’s sport gets and I’m just gonna throw it out there: is there a lack of coverage because there’s a real lack of female athletes with personalities?

I preface this by saying, if you read this site regularly, you already know I am the biggest cheerleader for the womenz and am on a constant mission to empower women through sport, so you know, I’m not dissin’ anyone here, but just putting forward a genuine concern.

When I think about female sporting icons, one of the first to come to mind for me is Flo Jo. If anyone got people excited about women running around a track, it was her. It wasn’t just her impeccable style – she had a passion for the sport that just oozed from her. There was something vibrant and utterly captivating about her. We all wanted a piece of it.

Where is this generations Flo Jo? I look at our female athletes and think, sure, there’s a lot of talent, but where’s the personality? We don’t have a female equivalent of Usain Bolt. We don’t have a big personality who will draw in the crowds, who’ll make people want to engage with the idea of women’s sport being exciting.

Is this because being confident and out there and larger than life are not qualities that are encouraged in women? If a woman talked about her abilities as much as Bolt does about his, would that actually be considered off-putting? Perhaps female athletes are told to dial it down, just focus on the work and keep their mouths shut.

Maybe that’s why Jessica Ennis has been held up as such a champ. Ennis seems lovely, but let’s be honest, pretty dull. I don’t feel her passion. She’s nice and pleasant and crucially, it would seem when it comes to women’s sport, attractive, so she’s trotted out as a spokesperson. But she just doesn’t seem to have much of a personality.

Rebecca Adlington the British swimmer has been constantly bashed during and after the 2012 Olympics for not being attractive enough (that kind of BS is a whole other blog post in itself but my blood pressure can’t take it right now). I would’ve respected Adlington more if she’d have stood up to it and said ‘So what if I’m not a looker? How about you suck on my bronze medal?!’ Easier said than done, sure, but it’d just be so great to have a female athlete counteract that level of utter nonsense with something (other than getting a nose job).

Nicola Adams is one of the few athletes who came out of the 2012 Olympics who did have a real personality but I wish they’d just let her have it. They’re trying to mold her into something that I’m not sure is quite her. Let her personality live. Stop getting her to do all these cheesy events and charity functions. There’s a real chance, if you just let her be herself here, that people may actually want to watch women’s boxing.

At the moment, love her or hate her, Ronda Rousey is kind of flying the flag for female sporting personalities. Not scared to speak her mind, she seems to be about much more than just MMA. You follow her on social media and get a sense of her life. Perhaps the very nature of MMA and the UFC leaves more room for her to be herself as opposed to more traditional track and field activities, but I haven’t been this excited about a woman excelling in sport in a long time. Back in December when she beat Miesha Tate and refused to shake her hand afterward, she stood in the centre of that ring, in front of however many thousands of booing fans, and defended her decision. We can debate whether that was the right thing all day but that took some balls. That takes a personality. At least we know she’s about something. At least we know it’s about more than fighting for her. Love her or hate her, at least you’ll have an opinion on her and I venture to say, she’s drawn a lot more spectators to the sport through being unafraid to show who she really is.

I understand that to reach a pro level in sport requires an enormous amount of dedication, so yeah, maybe these athletes don’t have as much time to indulge their record collecting or shoe obsession or science geek side or whatever the hell may make up other parts of who they are, but surely there’s more to them than just their sport? And if it is just about their sport, then show us that passion. Show us why you’re so excited about it – help us understand. Channel Steve Prefontaine and make us wish we could be as poetic about running (or whatever) as you.

There are so many national women’s teams in so many sports in so many countries who do far better than their male counterparts, but don’t get the coverage. By no means am I saying here that all male athletes are fascinating and more worthy of our attention, far from it. But if the coverage isn’t there, I need these women to step up, get up on the soapbox and get people interested and that starts with being interesting themselves.

Sure, they can complain til the day is long that there aren’t enough government initiatives or the media is to blame, and I don’t disagree, but at some point, surely some (good) PR people (who know what they’re doing) could get to these female athletes, bring out their personalities and make everyone sit up and pay a bit more attention.

At the moment, I’m far more drawn to regular chicks who work out, like Follow the Lita, MankoFit, ThruTheBlue or any number of my friends quite frankly, who go hard but have passion and a personality that make their journey that much more interesting. I get that there isn’t as much beaurocracy or risk when you’re not pro and don’t have sponsors, but hopefully women who go pro aren’t made to feel as though they have to scale back the rest of their personality to get ahead.

I don’t have the answers – just thinking out loud. But what do you think? Are we lacking female sports personalities? What can we do to make them more captivating?

N.B One other pro athlete who totally rocks from the core is Fawn Dorr, who should be getting far more attention than she is. If we want sports stars with personality, we need look no further than her.

10 Responses to “Female Sports Personalities”
  1. Jill says:

    I think you hit the frickin’ nail on the frickin’ head with all of your rhetorical questions. Yes, it’s because a woman with “personality” is quickly squashed out of the spotlight because the patriarchy is uncomfortable with a woman with confidence. Yes, it’s because all the things the world so admires in men are actively discouraged attributes for women. Yes, it’s because media attention and worship is reserved solely for women with a particular type of prettiness, whereas for men the media will work with what it’s got until we all just assume the man is attractive, whether he really is or not. Women have to earn attention by being conventionally “hot” while men get attention for their accomplishments and then get labeled as “hot”. It’s just gross.

    I am 100% convinced of this. Every single female sports “hero” these days (at least, any that I know of in the outdoor sports realm that I sort of follow) is so nauseatingly nice-d to death that you can’t even tell them apart. They all have to be pleasant at every moment, supportive to everyone to the umpteenth degree, so utterly and totally pliant for the spotlight and so perfectly NICE all the damn time that it’s all just depressing. I saw a sponsor’s ad about one of these athletes: “This lady has the full package of good looks, talent, and brains!” Gross. Please give me a lady with sass and attitude and a killer drive, for once, not this Barbie’d-up All American Girl trifecta of bullshit.

    The not-so-secret formula for super media stardom is: have this bland, glossy nice-ness thing going on AND pose at least 9/10ths naked in a dude mag. BAM. Instant sports darling thanks to media attention.

    I’m sure the women so adored by the sports media really do have opinions and personalities and, god, SOMETHING else to them besides this veneer of NICE that gets slapped all over them and quick-dried. Then again, I do have to wonder if any of them do, because I’d think a woman with a real personality wouldn’t stand for that shit very long.

  2. kathleen says:

    Just my opinion but I really don’t think it’ fair that people are having a go at Rebecca Adlington. I think her issues go far far deeper and have probably been around a lot longer than when she was propelled into the limelight post Olympics. We don’t know what goes on in an individual’s head and I think Kelly Holmes’ frank admission about self harming and contemplating suicide showed that. Completely off topic I know but just needed to say that.
    Also I don’t think many athletes in any sport go into it hoping that they’ll inspire or get people to watch them. They are doing a job, one that is single minded and requires every little piece of you to reach the top. I’m sure the last thing on their mind is promoting their sport.

  3. Sarah says:

    An interesting angle. I love Jessica Ennis, and she actually comes across to me as shy more than anything. Like, she is amazing at her sport, and that’s what matters to her; she seems like she just wasn’t ready for the huge publicity. You’re right though, some good PR people could sort that, and I’m sure it will come.

    I LOVE Mankofit. Seriously her Instagram brightens my day!

  4. Cathy says:

    I do agree that as women we are not exactly encouraged to be big personalities, and I agree that if a female were to parade around like Bolt does, she’d be shot down by the media and other women.

    However, I don’t agree that we’ve not got athletes with big personalities in their own rights. I totally disagree with Jess Ennis just being ‘nice’: I think she came across really well throughout 2012, and will continue to be a huge part of the UK athletics scene. She’s not a show off,but that doesn’t mean she’s not got a personality. Just because she’s not bolshy doesn’t mean she’s not got personality.
    There are some ace girls around at the moment, with loads to say and, as far as I can see, a ton of personality. Laura Trott, Non Stanford, Lizzy Yarnold, Christine Ohuruagu, Aly Dixon to name a few.

    On the case of Rebecca Adlington, I actually think it’s unfair to say that she should have stuck up for herself more with regards to comments about her nose. She’s 25 and that’s so young to have to take all the sh*t she’s taken. She may have lived her whole live being given sh*t about her nose: we don’t know the background or what she’s had to deal with or anything. It’s not fair to say she should have just batted it off.

    I don’t think it’s right to blame the women for not being ”interesting” when there’s so much against them in terms of media coverage – and that’s not their fault.

  5. Carrie says:

    Have you seen the programme Sky have been doing called Sportswomen? 30 minutes on a Sunday morning showcasing women from all sports. It’s fantastic. There’s no ‘pinkness’ about it but it’s not all “we are women, hear us roar” (which frankly, does my frickin head in; misguided feminism at it’s very core).

    I really think you should take a look. It’s just a genuine no-nonsense look at some great women into all kinds of sport and really shows how fantastic women in sport are.

    With that in mind, I have to question why women in sport need to be ‘personalities’ in the first place? So they’re not as ‘famous’ as their male counterparts, so what? Maybe it’s nothing to do with the media, maybe it’s just that they don’t feel the need to be paraded around and instead just want to concentrate on being great at their sport?

    On the flip side, I do think that Ennis – for example – is a great role-model to the young generations. After all, she’s a hard working and dedicated athlete who isn’t surrounded by drama (as many footballers are). Surely she’s JUST the kind of person we want to represent how women treat their sport?

    Just a thought :-)

  6. Caitlin says:

    Your post reminds me of my response to a thing GQ did about the coolest athletes of all time, and how not a single one was a woman. My thinking was that this happened because the qualities we normally think of as cool are not really appreciated in women. Plus, there’s the fact that the most marketable athletes are often the least “cool” ones, or at least have the least cool persona. Mia Hamm is one that comes to mind. She’s got a squeaky-clean image, which helped her grab a billion endorsements back in the day. I was shocked to discover that she’s actually got quite the salty sense of humor.

    That said I do think things are changing, and Ronda Rousey is a good example of that. I also think Hope Solo is another good example. She gets in trouble for all kinds of things, doesn’t hold back when it comes to speaking her mind, and when I saw the USWNT play last year, she was treated like a total rock star. I don’t agree with a lot of her choices but I admire the hell out of her.

  7. Anne says:

    I had a good think about this. My answer is mainly based on cycling (it’s actually all based on cycling).

    I don’t agree that women’s sport (cycling) doesn’t get as much coverage due to a lack of personalities. Men’s sport isn’t solely covered due to the athletes “having personalities”. For example, Chris Froome has been accused of “not having a personality” (road.cc is full of armchair critics with this opinion!). However, he will get coverage nonetheless, because he’s a great athlete. On the flip-side, Cavendish will get coverage not *because* he has a personality, but because he’s also a great athlete (and a spectacular sprinter).

    If women’s sport were *only* covered because the athletes in question were judged to have “personality”, I’d probably find that a bit patronising (“yeah, let’s put her on telly – she’s bloody entertaining!”). I’d really rather prefer coverage based on performance.

    I suspect the lack of coverage is a combination of “habit”/tradition (“we’ve never done this before, so why should we now?”), the fact that the people at the top making decisions on what’s being covered might, themselves, not be interested in women’s sport, and the fact that the current coverage of men’s sport (e.g. football) already being massive cash cows which executives are wary of losing (they won’t drop the men’s sport – a known quantity – for women’s sport – an unknown quantity).

    How to address this? Encourage women to take part in sport. The more you do something, the more you’re interested in it, and the more likely you are to watch women’s events on TV/elsewhere. At least, that’s how it has worked with me – from a friend asking me “hey, have you considered racing?” to me being incredibly excited about this year’s cycling line-up and learning the top female cyclists names off by heart. And yes, I started racing. Best thing out there :)

  8. Sportswomen would make more of an impact on our consciousness if you could hear them speak. Jane Martinson wrote on the Guardian’s Women’s Blog last week that research from Birmingham University found that six national newspapers actually produced fewer stories about women’s sports a year on from London 2012 than they did before. Article is here: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/womens-blog/2014/mar/13/womens-sport-newspaper-coverage-birmingham-university

    The proliferation of online channels may help, like blogs!

  9. I love this and agree. There aren’t many female athlete personalities and it sucks. I lived for Flo Jo as a kid, especially because I ran track. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the Williams Sisters and Sanya Richards Ross, but there is a lack. I think women are afraid to be colorful because it may be seen as being too aggressive but we really do need to see that! It’s perfectly alright to be a girly girl that also knows how to get down and dirty. I noticed that you’re in England but here in the US the wrestling federation has a show called “Total Divas” where they showcase the women in the wrestling world. I absolutely love the show because we don’t see much of these women when wrestling airs so it’s great that they have a show so, there’s hope but we do have a long way to go.

  10. Dani says:

    Down at the bottom of the earth we have a couple who are celebrated nationally and internationally for their sporting success and supported for their personalities.
    Valerie Adams (unbeaten for a ridiculous number of events in the shotput) who really celebrates and was not afraid to speak up about the controversy surrounding her event at the olympics.
    Lisa Carrington (sprint kayaker- olympic gold) who is a very down to earth humble, girl next door and is again celebrated in our media for her work ethic and attitude of if I work harder than everyone else thats all I can do. ( I have known her for around 6 years now and she is amazing)
    But I will happily admit that the girls are generally asked pretty lame what are you wearing/ how do you look so pretty questions that don’t really leave much room for personality.