14.0 Chapter introduction

Are female and male athletes treated equally at the professional and college levels? You might think they are treated equally, as it has been 40 years since the passing of Title IX (the civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in education including athletics) and there is a greater degree of visibility for female athletes visible in sports like golf, basketball, hockey, and tennis. However, Professor Michael Messner’s (2002) [1] unobtrusive research shows otherwise, as does Professors Jo Ann M. Buysse and Melissa Sheridan Embser-Herbert’s (2004) [2] content analysis of college athletics media guide photographs.

In fact, Buysse and Embser-Herbert’s unobtrusive research shows that traditional definitions of femininity are fiercely maintained through colleges’ visual representations of women athletes as passive and overtly feminine (as opposed to strong and athletic). In addition, Messner and colleagues’ (Messner, Duncan, & Jensen, 1993) [3] content analysis of verbal commentary in televised coverage of men’s and women’s sports shows that announcers’ comments vary depending on an athlete’s gender identity. Such commentary not only infantilizes women athletes but also asserts an ambivalent stance toward their accomplishments. Without unobtrusive research, we might be inclined to overestimate the amount of change that have occurred over the past 40 years for women athletes.

Chapter Outline

  • 14.1 Unobtrusive research: What is it and when should it be used?
  • 14.2 Strengths and weaknesses of unobtrusive research
  • 14.3 Unobtrusive data collected by use
  • 14.4 Secondary data analysis
  • 14.5 Reliability in unobtrusive research

Content Advisory

This chapter discusses or mentions the following topics: sexism, racism, depression, and suicide.


  1. Messner, M. A. (2002). Taking the field: Women, men, and sports. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  2. Buysse, J. A. M., & Embser-Herbert, M. S. (2004). Constructions of gender in sport: An analysis of intercollegiate media guide cover photographs. Gender & Society, 18, 66–81.
  3. Messner, M. A., Duncan, M. C., & Jensen, K. (1993). Separating the men from the girls: The gendered language of televised sports. Gender & Society, 7, 121–137.

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