Driver Danica Patrick, who dominated the male sport of racecar driving and accumulated a reported net worth of $60 million by age 35, just completed her last NASCAR spin before retiring. But a kiss with her boyfriend, Aaron Rodgers, has been more newsworthy.
On Sunday, Patrick and Rodgers were photographed sharing a kiss at the Daytona 500 in Daytona Beach, Fla., one month after Patrick confirmed her relationship with the Green Bay Packers quarterback. “Yes, Aaron and I are dating,” she told the Associated Press.
According to the AP, Patrick completed her final NASCAR race in 35th place with a multicar crash. “I hope they remember me as a great driver and that I was a woman and it was really cool to watch and be there for,” she told the news outlet.
In November 2017, Patrick announced that her Indianapolis 500 race in May would be her last. She’s reportedly retiring due to health concerns after suffering a dozen concussions over the course of her career.
Why has Patrick’s love life overshadowed her last major race? Science has a guess: Sports coverage is sexist.
According to a 25-year study published last September in the journal Gender and Society, media coverage of women’s sports is lackluster and uninspiring compared with that of men’s sports. Researchers call the phenomenon “gender blind sexism,” and it’s so subtle that most probably don’t notice when it occurs.
Here’s what it looks like: Women athletes appear in shorter news segments and interviews, and sportscasters sound less excited and more matter-of-fact during the commentary. Additionally, men’s performances are described with words such as “perfect” and “beautiful” compared with the rare praise bestowed on women.
“Organized sports has historically excluded women to build interest in men’s sports and perpetuate assumptions that women are inferior athletes,” study author Michela Musto, a PhD candidate at the University of Southern California, tells Yahoo Lifestyle, adding that female athletes are often portrayed as sexual objects, both in and out of uniform.
“The fact that Danica Patrick’s retirement attracts less attention than a photo of her kissing her boyfriend is an example of classic sports sexism,” she says. “Media coverage often emphasizes women athletes’ adherence to the roles of wives, mothers, or girlfriends compared to male athletes, who are rarely described as fathers, husbands, or boyfriends.”
Then, there are more blatant examples. Last week, a San Francisco sportscaster was fired after calling 17-year-old Olympic snowboarder Chloe Kim a “hot piece of ass,” “adorable,” and “fine as hell.” An NBC analyst apologized for suggesting that Olympic skier Anna Veith’s performance was hindered not by her knee injury but by her marriage. Last October, NFL player Cam Newton responded to a female reporter’s question by saying, “It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes. It’s funny.” And last week, a backlash erupted over Olympian Aly Raisman’s unclothed pictorial in the latest Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.
“Although we’ve come a long way, the fact remains that society is more comfortable when female athletes are presented as feminine,” Kristen Dieffenbach, executive board member for the Association for Applied Sport Psychology, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “It makes the idea more palatable and balances out the physicality of sports.”
Patrick’s retirement is a milestone, but headlines like “NASCAR searching for the next Danica Patrick” are part of the problem. “If she were a man, she would be just another great driver,” notes Dieffenbach. “We’re too busy celebrating ‘the first female athlete’ to question why there aren’t more Danica Patricks in 2018.”
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