STUDY: ESPN's Coverage Of Sexual Assault And Violence Against Women Is Disproportionately Provided By Men

A Media Matters analysis found that during the first quarter of 2017, ESPN networks relied disproportionately on male guests to discuss domestic violence and sexual assault. Additionally, about one-third of the minimal coverage across ESPN networks was the re-airing of an ESPN documentary highlighting false rape accusations made against the Duke lacrosse team.

Reports Of Sexual Assault And Domestic Violence By Athletes Were Prevalent In First Three Months Of 2017

Woman Says More Than 50 Women Were Raped By Members Of The Baylor Football Team Over A Four-Year Period. In January, a former Baylor student came forward saying she had been raped by two members of the school’s football team in 2013. Additionally, the woman said, over 30 players raped 50 more students over a four-year period. In February, it was discovered that former coach Art Briles had purposefully ignored the charges. On February 8, the Big 12 Conference imposed a multimillion-dollar sanction on the university for misconduct. [USA Today, 2/3/17; NPR, 2/8/17]

U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Doctor Was Accused Of Sexually Assaulting More Than 100 Women. As of March, at least 100 women were suing former USA Gymnastics physician Larry Nassar for sexual abuse. According to the Detroit Free Press, some of the women who said Nassar assaulted them while working at Michigan State University were preteens. [Detroit Free Press, 3/16/17; The Huffington Post, 3/16/17]

Minnesota Launched Review After Fallout From Sexual Assault Cases. The University of Minnesota launched a review into how the university handles accusation of sexual assault after a woman accused several members of the football team of assaulting her in the fall. The university suspended 10 players; one was later expelled. [The Associated Press, 3/25/17]

Creighton Basketball Player Suspended Following Sexual Assault Charge. In February, Creighton University point guard Maurice Watson Jr. was suspended after he was charged with first-degree sexual assault. Watson reportedly raped a 19-year-old woman. [CBS Sports, 2/27/17]

Men Dominate ESPN’s Coverage Of Domestic Violence And Sexual Assault

ESPN Overwhelmingly Hosted Men To Discuss Violence Against Women And Sexual Assault. A Media Matters analysis found that of 593 unique guest appearances across ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, and ESPN News to discuss sexual assault and domestic violence, 438 (74 percent) were men. Only 155 guests (26 percent) were women.

ESPN Was The Most Male-Dominated Of The Examined Networks During Discussions About Sexual Assault And Domestic Violence. The flagship ESPN station was the worst offender when it came to this gender imbalance; of 127 guests it hosted to discuss sexual assault and domestic violence, 100 were men (79 percent) while only 27 were women (21 percent). ESPNU and ESPN News fared the best, but they still hosted men disproportionately (about 72 percent on each network) when discussing these topics.

ESPN Networks Devoted Minimal Resources To Covering Domestic Violence And Sexual Assault

ESPN Networks Aired Only 30 Hours Of Coverage On Domestic Violence And Sexual Assault. The four ESPN networks in total aired 30 hours, 40 minutes, and 41 seconds of coverage on sexual assault and domestic violence over the course of over 8,600 hours of airtime (or about 0.35 percent).

ESPNU Devoted The Most Time To The Topics, While ESPN2 Was Far Behind. ESPNU spent a total of 12 hours, 10 minutes, and 21 seconds on domestic violence and sexual assault during the first three months of 2017. On the opposite end, ESPN2 spent merely 4 hours, 14 minutes, and 46 seconds on the topics.

The Networks Devoted Only 375 Segments Among Thousands To Covering Sexual Assault And Domestic Violence. Among the four networks, only 375 segments were devoted to covering sexual assault and domestic violence out of tens of thousands of possible segments.

ESPNU Fell Short On Segments Devoted To These Topics. ESPNU devoted 60 segments across 90 days to covering sexual assault and domestic violence. In contrast, ESPN aired 131 segments in total.

Much Of The Networks’ Coverage Of Violence Against Women Highlighted False Sexual Assault Allegations

ESPN Documentary On Duke Lacrosse Made Up About A Third Of Overall Coverage On The Four Networks. Over the three-month period, ESPNU aired the documentary Fantastic Lies, which highlights false sexual assault allegations made against the Duke Lacrosse team, a total of 11 times. In all, the documentary aired for 9 hours, 34 minutes, and 56 seconds in the three-month period, making up nearly one-third of the coverage of domestic violence and sexual assault across the three channels.

The Documentary Made Up Most Of ESPNU’s Coverage Of Sexual Assault And Domestic Violence. Subtracting the over nine-hours of airtime devoted to Fantastic Lies, ESPNU spent only 2 hours, 35 minutes, and 25 seconds covering domestic violence and sexual assault across the three-month period.


Media Matters searched iQ media for mentions of “rape,” “sexual assault,” “domestic violence,” “domestic abuse,” “violence against women,” and “sexual abuse” on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, and ESPN News between January 1 and March 31. Segments were then timed and coded for whether they addressed sexual assault or domestic violence and whether it pertained to college athletes, professional athletes, or athletes transitioning from college to professional.

Media Matters also coded all unique appearances by hosts and guests who discussed sexual assault and violence against women. Guests were identified and coded for gender, profession, organization, and whether they were discussing the topic(s) within the realm of college athletics, professional athletics, or an athlete transitioning from college to professional sports. Hosts were included if they appeared on a program other than their own.

This study included an analysis of all English-language ESPN networks (ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, and ESPN News) included in iQ media.

Graphs by Sarah Wasko.