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... Here's a round-up of this week's group blog posts from my Sports, Media, & Society class. For a full description of the "group blogging" course component, see here.

STATEment looked at the round-the-clock coverage of Carmelo Anthony's (NBA) trade last week to the New York Knicks (Here's a great mash-up they link to that illustrates the way the trade has dominated the news cycle).The group considers the way beat reporters have jumped at the opportunity to weigh-in on the Anthony trade: "Beat reporters across the country are excited that something is happening in the professional basketball world; no matter how distant or irrelevant the trade is to their actual beat, they have found a way to tie the trade back into their writing." Using Lowes' work, the group explains the widespread interest in the Anthony trade by considering the ways pressures and constraints facing sports beat reporters have made reporting on the trade more likely. The group provides links to a few stories that emphasize "fluff instead of hard news and rumors instead of facts." 

Lowes argues that journalists employ routines to deal with the pressures and constraints they face on a daily basis. Those routines, in his argument, make some content more or less likely than others. STATEment, then, drew on a useful perspective from class to try to understand why we might see so much attention paid to a specific topic (it can also be used to understand why some sports and topics infrequently make it into print). While Lowes' perspective is helpful, it can't explain everything: during the second half of the semester we will fill in some of the gaps, exploring the cultural dynamics that shape (and, in turn, are shaped by) sports media content. Are there values (e.g., "winning isn't everything, it's the only thing"), norms (e.g., common promotional strategies), and beliefs (e.g., assumptions about gender and sport) that may also provide helpful explanations for the relative attention paid to the Anthony trade rather than other sports or topics? This is where we're headed with things...

To provide an example of this sort of cultural perspective on sport and the media, look no further than this past week's post from another class blog group--Cause and Effects of Sports and The Media! This group looks whether "parity" exists at the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) level of big-time intercollegiate football. After developing their argument, the group says, "In a 119-team league, where half of the teams lose every week, can we really say there isn't fair parity when 60+ teams have a chance to go to a BCS Bowl any given season?" Further, the group questions whether the public would be as interested in college sports if the playing field was leveled via television contract redistribution: "If these contracts were distributed amongst all 11 conferences and all teams had an equal chance of contending for a national title, would we want to watch? Personally, I wouldn't get too excited over Louisiana Tech versus Wyoming in the big game."

Note that while this post addresses economic issues of competitive balance in intercollegiate sports, it also provides a cultural perspective on sports and the media. The group incorporates key cultural assumptions about the relationship between sports and society. For instance, they note that, "The United States thrives on the ideal that all are created equal. Every person has just as much of a chance of being successful as everyone else. Many feel that this same concept should carry over into the sports world, especially in college football." The group also says that, "Everyone loves a David vs. Goliath matchup in sports." From a cultural perspective, we can look at these two statements and consider how ideas like the "level playing field," "the underdog," or a "Cinderella story" are shaped by a broader U.S. culture that celebrates these very ideas. Are sports, then, shaped by our cultural assumptions about "equal opportunity," "upward social mobility," and "pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps"? Furthermore, how does emphasis on these sporting ideals shape the wider U.S. society and culture? Our Jhally reading for Thursday will begin our thinking about sports media as texts that shape and are shaped by the broader socio-cultural context (p. 83-88). 

Another group also examined issues in intercollegiate football, specifically Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban's recent creation of the company "Radical Football" that is aimed at bringing a playoff system to big-time college football. Despite the $500 million figure Cuban has floated as an inducement for implementing a playoff, this group notes that those in positions of power within the college football establishment are resistant to change: "If the higher-ups of colleges and universities, along with government officials and conference presidents, are in no rush to change the current BCS format, then it seems highly unlikely that any modifications will be made in the near future." Fans may want a system that provides all FBS schools a shot at a title, conferring greater legitimacy on the term "national champion," this group's post highlights how the uncertainty associated with potential changes leaves those in position to enact that change clinging to the established though unpopular status quo.

Another fourth looked at the growth and success of a major intercollegiate sports media property -- the NCAA men's basketball tournament or "March Madness." They provide a brief history of the event's relationship with CBS, the media outlet that has carried the tournament since 1982. The group considers some of the promotional strategies CBS has employed, including a shift in focus from "the Final Four" to more expansive coverage (and interest) on the tournament's entirety (i.e., "March Madness"). They also note CBS' incorporation of new technology in their broadcasts and content delivery, the company's new deal with Turner that will bring the entirety of an expanded 68-game slate to TV, and the opportunities for sponsorship and promotion that these technological and organizational moves facilitate. While this group has tried to tackle an topic that would take volumes to fully encapsulate, their post does provide a nice synthesis of important sports/media developments related to the event. As the group sums it up: "The NCAA tournament will continue to expand coverage and find ways to incorporate a larger audience in their package. It captivates viewers and fans for over a month while it brings in multi-million dollar checks to corporations who continue to cash in the tournament's advertising opportunities."

Our Sports, Media, & Society class has talked a good bit this semester about the symbiotic relationship between sports and the media. As Robert McChesney points out, "Media attention fans the flames of interest in sports and increased interest in sports warrants further media attention."

Two blog groups in the class used this insight as a jumping-off point for their posts this week (For an overview of the class' group blog project, see here). One group provided an excellent analysis of the growth in major media coverage of high school sports in recent years. The group used National Signing Day as a timely example of this growth in coverage. They explain that, "Media outlets swarm high school gymnasiums to watch young men who have not yet attended prom (and some who will decide to skip it for college football practice) decide their immediate future." The group goes beyond examples, though, as it looks at why such media outlets have emphasized youth content. They point out the constant gaze of sports journalism toward the future (as with coverage of Sebastian Telfair and LeBron James), the emphasis on those high school sports that feed commercial collegiate programs (i.e., football and men's basketball), and the low-cost events that high school sports coverage provide media outlets. 

The intense interest of the media in high school athletics has been of particular interest to myself; Marie Hardin and I have examined some of the ethical questions raised by this trend in coverage for sports journalism and for sports journalism educators.

Another group looked at NBA player Kevin Love's "numb#rs" campaign, pointing out how symbiosis between sports and the media can occur, not just at the team or sport level, but also at the individual level of the athlete. As the group explains, "[The numb#rs campaign] was a commercial for a cologne sponsored by Love with the premise being that he has the "numb#rs" or statistics to make the all-star team . . . Kevin as an athlete is gaining notoriety and popularity because of the media promoting his product and commercial.  The media on the other hand is going to get people talking about it and checking it out." This is a very sharp observation that highlights not only a symbiotic relationship between star athletes and the media institutions that create and benefit from that stardom--it also shows how that relationship is being forged in a new/social media environment.

A third group looked at the growth in advertising and sponsorship in college sports. This group points out two specific examples of this growth. First, they note the prevalence of blow sponsorship geared toward reminding us that "You're watching the Rose Bowl presented by Citi." Second, they highlight the huge sums broadcasters like ESPN are willing to pay for rights to broadcast big-time college sports. These huge contracts and the growth in college sports advertising and sponsorship may seem tangential, but as this group points out, having college sports events and associated programming like "College Gameday" makes ESPN, "a significant draw for advertising." This group highlights how Home Depot aims to make their mark through the platform provided by ESPN's "College Gameday."

This post also dovetails nicely with our discussions of issues in intercollegiate athletics this week in class. On Monday we looked at the tenuous state of intercollegiate athletics finances and the troubling implications of a win-at-all-cost atmosphere for the academic mission of intercollegiate athletics. The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics' 2010 report, the reports by the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics, and the ongoing work by the folks at USA Today (see here, here, and here) all do a nice job speaking to these issues. I'm also very excited about our guest lecturer for Wednesday; Kathleen O'Toole will talk to the class about her dissertation research, which explores the choices and broader social dynamics of the 1920s and 1930s that saw the migration of intercollegiate sports from educational radio to commercial broadcasting.

A fourth group looked at the collective bargaining agreement negotiations between the NFL and the NFLPA that could result in a lockout if a deal isn't brokered by March 3. The group gives a run-down of the three key issues in the negotiations, including "revenue sharing, rookie wages and an 18 game schedule that the owners have proposed."   

Finally, one group wrote about the implications of a Pacquiao/Mayweather fight (rather than a more anticipated Pacquiao/Mosley card) for fans and for the future of the sport.


Mega-events offer outlet for against-the-grain analysis & critique

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Sports mega-events like the Super Bowl, the World Cup, and the Olympics offer grand stages for the participants (athletes & others), organizations, and institutions associated with each; these mega-events also provide an opportune stage for analysis and critique of the relationships between -- on the one hand -- these very participants, organizations, and institutions, and -- on the other hand -- culture, society, politics, and economics. That is, of course, if those offering the analysis and critique can manage to be heard over the cheerleading.

Several articles have caught my eye recently as intriguing analysis and criticism concerning the NFL and society. Each are, in my opinion, definitely worth a read:

NPR's Michele Martin looks at concerns about football-related long-term brain injury from the NFL down to pee wee. Further, she goes on to point out the social toll our exuberant emphasis on youth sports may have: "this might be particularly insidious in sports dominated by poor kids, especially poor black kids, because the people involved are so busy congratulating themselves on how they are saving the kids from ruin."

The Washington Post's Sally Jenkins considers whether "Jerry World" -- referring to Cowboy's owner Jerry Jones' new $1.15 billion stadium -- is the direction the league should be going in. While Jenkins acknowledges that the Super Bowl can be a valuable source for civic pride, this Super Bowl highlighted for her that "luxury can be debasing." She points out that everyday fans have been priced out of the spectacle, while the taxpayers in most of the NFL's U.S. metropolitan areas have been asked to pick up much of the tab for stadium and luxury box construction over the past 15 years.

Finally, progressive sportswriter Dave Zirin has been on a tear of late (see here, here, and here), highlighting the non-profit, public ownership of the Green Bay Packers by the citizens of Green Bay -- a unique arrangement in U.S. professional sports (NFL bylaws, interestingly, say that no other NFL franchise is allowed to employ a similar ownership structure).

Zirin has been busy of late...

** He's got a new book out, "Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Games We Love." 
** His new documentary "Not Just a Game: Power, Politics, and American Sports" (produced by the good folks over at the Media Education Foundation) is getting attention within academic circles and in major sports media outlets.

-T.C.

Study finds troubling coverage of Paralympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius

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A new study by researchers associated with Penn State's John Curley Center for Sports Journalism examines print coverage of Paralympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius' quest to compete in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The study, recently published in theInternational Journal of Sport Communication, provides a textual analysis of New York Times and Time magazine coverage of the sprinter's case. In January 2007, the IAAF (track's governing body) barred Pistorius from competition, arguing that his "Cheetah" prosthetics provided a "clear mechanical advantage." Four months later, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) overturned the IAAF decision, citing a lack of conclusive evidence as well as new findings that refuted the governing body's ruling; however, Pistorius ultimately failed to qualify for the Beijing games.

Drawing on Foucault's ideas about the body, this study finds that media discourses surrounding Pistorius reinforced "an unjust but seemingly natural body hierarchy" (p. 303), perpetuating a view of the able body as the cultural sporting ideal. Deviant bodies, like Pistorius' and those of other athletes with disabilities, are constrained through discursive mechanisms and institutional structures of biopower that function through the knowledge and regulation of sporting bodies. 

While some media coverage offered progressive perspectives on disability and sport, this study finds that media discourses concerning Pistorius generally revolved around issues of fairness in competition. The New York Times, for instance, suggested that Pistorius' performance begs the question of whether he's "too abled." As the authors of this study argue, though, "[T]he too abled label reinforces body hierarchies rather than challenging them. It is not that Pistorius was too fast or too talented. It is that he, like other athletes with disabilities, is too different" (p. 303).

According to the study, the discourses of fairness in competition (a powerful normative value of sport) positioned Pistorius as deviant--a threat to the values, integrity, even very nature of sport. Other themes identified by the researchers reflect this apparent threat: a privileging of a medical view of disability (rather than the more progressive social view); descriptions of prosthetics that reflect cultural assumptions about "normal" bodies; and particularly troubling use of dangerous "cyborg" imagery. 

This analysis provides a lens on the role of discursive mechanisms in the classification and categorization of bodies that don't conform to a seemingly natural, but ultimately unjust body hierarchy. Media discourses concerning Oscar Pistorius, as "contested sites for meanings inscribed on the body," reflect this tension (p. 288).

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