Tuesday, December 22, 2009

People Who Use Walkers Need Not Apply

In Denver, taking shots at the Oakland Raiders is as much a pastime as hitting the slopes during the winter. So it came as no surprise that prior to Sunday’s Oakland-Denver game, the Denver Post ran a piece detailing the recent declining success of the Raiders under the leadership of owner Al Davis. And Davis, writes author Jim Armstrong, has lost “it”:

He doesn't look the part these days, but Davis was the driving force behind what once was one of the most successful franchises in sports. No, really, we're not making this up. An 80-year-old man confined to a walker once ran circles around the competition.

Of course, Davis is not a player and doesn’t actually need to “run in circles” to effectively do his job. And it’s not clear how using a walker keeps Davis from success in the front office.
Armstrong’s comments – and a related front-page picture showing Davis using his walker – are part of a bigger cultural narrative that suggests sports are not a place for people with disabilities. It’s especially prevalent in the United States, where images of athletes with disabilities are rarely published or broadcast. The end result is a constant stream of images that define the ideal athletic body: a powerful, heterosexual, able-bodied male. The text and images in the Davis story help normalize this idea, and further suggest that whether it’s on the field or in the front office, sports are reserved for the able-bodied.
--Erin Whiteside

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Women in the Tiger affair: 'Usual suspects'?

Robin Givhan of The Washington Post, in a column today, points out the stark differences in the way Tiger Woods and the women who have been involved in the story of his affair have been considered in coverage.
She writes: "While Woods is being portrayed as complicated and troubled, the women are merely types... The golfer has been called a dog, a liar and worse. But he still gets the benefit of being perceived as an individual."
Givhan suggests that the way the women in the Woods' story have been characterized -- as simply "waitress" or "model" (it doesn't take much modeling experience for women, including his wife, to get this label) -- has been done with a "kind of wink and a nod."
It's as though mere mention of these types of jobs -- commonly associated with women -- are enough to indicate a low moral fiber. As Givhan writes, "For the women connected to Woods, their fairly mundane 9-to-5 gigs serve as a smoking gun of bad behavior."
Evidence of Givhan's observation -- the way these women have become objects in the hand-wringing about Woods ("What do we do about Tiger?") is evident in the celebrity press and the mainstream sports press.
An example of an especially troubling storyline is the suggestion that the women with whom Tiger has been involved "set women back" as a group. Would anyone argue that Woods represents all athletes, much less all men? It's a ridiculous assertion and a lazy, ill-informed broad brush with which to approach this story.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

What The Blind Side is blind to

The film The Blind Side is the most recent sports-themed movie to hit the box office. The film tells the “true” story of Michael Oher, an overweight, black teenager with a tragic background who is taken in by a white, middle-class family, the Touhys, and makes it out of the projects and into the NFL.

The Blind Side’s reviews were mostly favorable. Rotten Tomatoes, a reputable movie review compilation site, included reviews that called the film , “incessantly positive because it's about good deeds and its ripple effects” and “potentially culturally offensive and overly schmaltzy, The Blind Side instead threads an almost impossible needle, pulling off a surprisingly moving and inspirational story of compassion, self-discovery and hope.”

Oher’s story as depicted by the film certainly is a touching one. However, aspects of the film are problematic, as critics have pointed out. Christopher Chambers, a guest columnist for the ColorLines blog, called the film “an obvious appeal to white guilt” and asserts that the Blind Side is simply the latest “feel good” film in which “white characters become immersed in and changed by loving blackfolk.”

Melissa Anderson, columnist for the Dallas Observer, makes a similar argument writing that the movie, “peddles the most insidious kind of racism, one in which whiteys are virtuous saviors, coming to the rescue of blacks who become superfluous in narratives that are supposed to be about them.”

These critiques can be taken even a step further. Movies like The Blind Side make an argument, although subtly, that existing institutions meant to help people in Oher’s situation are failures. They promote the idea that private acts of “good” are the only successful means to pull people by their bootstraps and out of poverty. The Blind Side includes scenes of the neighborhood where Oher comes from, a ghetto filled with drug dealers and the threat of violence, a mother who is a crackhead. Oher also has flashbacks of being taken from his mother by (assumedly) social services. A move that, at least according to the film, brought him nothing more than continued misfortune.

So who does save Oher? Well, a rich, white family with charitable hearts, a private (mostly-white) Christian school that gives Oher a chance, a university that gives him a scholarship, and finally the National Football League. Now that’s something whites, especially those who denounce public welfare and social services, can feel good about.

--Erin Ash

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

"Sports Jobs" and Social Relations

Versus Network will premier a new show tonight named “Sports Jobs.” The host is veteran NFL linebacker, Junior Seau, and the concept is a sporting take on the Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe.”

Dirty Jobs has gained tremendous popularity, and a good bit of that is certainly attributable to the program’s grime, guts, and goop (I’ll admit, I had a little Dirty Jobs addiction for a while). However, shows like this also serve an important, even progressive function: they shine light on the labor that makes contemporary society “work,” and they provide a glimpse of social relations often hidden behind market exchanges. As the intro to dirty jobs explains:

"My name is Mike Rowe, and this is my job: I explore the country looking for people who aren't afraid to get dirty—hard-working men and women who earn an honest living doing the kinds of jobs that make civilized life possible for the rest of us. Now... get ready, to get dirty."

I think Rowe has done a terrific job humanizing those individuals he works with on Dirty Jobs. He’s treated people with respect in jobs that few of us would jump at the opportunity to take up. In it’s own way, the show provides a place where everyday work can be appreciated and reflected upon.

Sports Jobs, however, will need to navigate an interesting tension between glamour and labor. “UFC cornerman” will put Seau in the best seat in the house and will literally make him part of the action. The job may lend itself more to “cool” than “confronting,” and—unlike many of the occupations on Dirty Jobs—it may be something many viewers would like to do. “Stadium construction” and “arena floor crew” may be just as interesting, but they also provide a great opportunity to connect our experiences as fans and spectators to the often hidden, working-class commitments that make those experiences possible.

In short, Versus has an opportunity and a responsibility. I’m excited to see a side of sports we rarely get to see “up close;” however, I’ll be equally excited if the show facilitates reflection on the social dynamics that make spectator sport possible.

--T.C. Corrigan

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Blogs to Tiger: We will decide how to cover you, not the other way around

The recent Tiger Woods car crash created a media firestorm—and not just in traditional sports journalism outlets. Celebrity and sports blogs were on the story, as well, and the differences in coverage illustrated the changing sports media landscape.
While traditional media outlets continued to report the “official” statement released by Woods’ web site along with an interview given by the local police, gossip and sports blogs like tmz.com, gawker.com and deadspin.com used a litany of unnamed sources to tell a much more sordid story from the beginning, something Woods is clearly not happy about. After all, the golfer is known for taking great lengths to protect his privacy – and his pristine, non-controversial image.
Traditional sports media outlets have a lot to lose in covering an unflattering story about Tiger Woods – they need access to him in order to be successful, and risking that access has a high cost. Given some of the commentary from sports journalists advocating Woods’ personal life be off limits, it’s safe to say they are aware of those costs. But blogs like tmz.com or deadspin.com don’t need such access, and that separation gives them a freedom that other outlets do not enjoy. Journalism purists may not like the very flimsy attitude such blogs take toward ethics and journalistic standards, but one thing is for sure: these new media outlets are changing the way sports stars are covered – not to mention the dynamics and unspoken rules in the sports media industry.
--Erin Whiteside

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Caster Semenya, the gender binary, and a case for the ‘sport continuum’

If you’re only vaguely familiar with the troubling case of sex-testing in sport and the Caster Semenya case, a new article in The New Yorker by Ariel Levy may offer the most incisive, comprehensive look at the case and the issues around it. Levy masterfully underscores the issues of racism and the power of the gender binary that underpin the tragic events around an 18-year-old South African runner.
In a Q-&-A about the article on the New Yorker Web site, Levy drives home her point about the myth of the gender binary -- and the ways this case has clearly upset it. She writes, “I think what has really got people worked up in the Semenya case is gender, not fairness. I think the idea that ultimately the boundary between male and female is porous is deeply destabilizing … our whole world is organized around gender.”
In the article, Levy addresses the problem – made abundantly clear by the Semenya case -- that the gender binary (defining male and female as rigidly defined, oppositional categories) presents for organizing sports. It has worked masterfully at reinforcing a hierarchy that has positioned women as the athletic underclass. But it’s not truthful, realistic or fair.
This is a case that has been made by sports sociologists for decades. Perhaps the most thought-provoking alternative to understand women and men in relationship to sports has been suggested by Mary Jo Kane, who in 1995 wrote about what she called the “sport continuum” – where we allow fluidity in our understanding of women and men and we also understand that men and women individual may outperform one another and possess varying degrees of strength and speed.
Accepting sport and gender on a continuum would force us to re-organize sport – a Herculean task, as Levy points out in her well-written piece. But as the Semenya case demonstrates: the gender binary as an organizer for sports simply doesn’t work – and the results are unfair and even devastating for the most vulnerable. -- Marie Hardin

Monday, November 23, 2009

Re-framing Title IX

Women’s sports blogs have been abuzz recently with the news that an Alabama softball coach has filed a Title IX complaint against Mobile County schools. In the complaint, coach Tyler Murray alleges that girls sports are denied access and facilities given to the boys football team and also questions the extra summer pay given to football coaches. It will be interesting to keep an eye on the news coverage of this complaint, given the opportunity it provides sports journalists to address the unquestioned cultural superiority of football.

We have argued that in Title IX news coverage, most mainstream news outlets agree with the law’s underlying basic premise: everyone deserves equality and justice. In fact, in our analysis of Title IX op-eds written by national newspapers over a recent three year period, not one opposed the law.

Good news, right?

But even while supporting the idea of Title IX, the op-ed authors in our analysis often described sports as a space naturally owned and defined by men. As one stated, it is time for boys to “share, not surrender, their field.” Narratives within arguments touting the law’s righteousness also saw women as naturally less interested in sports, allowing the writers to develop an argument that essentially positioned Title IX as right and just but not really needed. Why should we dedicate equal resources (and take away from men who naturally deserve them) if there isn’t equal interest and aptitude among women?

In order for opinions on Title IX to change in a way that benefits women’s sports along with “minor” men’s sports, advocates must go beyond simply arguing for gender equality. Suggesting only that women and men deserve equal money does not challenge fundamentally patriarchal ideology that undermines the logic of Title IX. Rather, we must speak about Title IX and sports in ways that disrupt troubling taken-for-granted notions of sports, like the unquestioned supremacy of football in our culture or the idea that boys and men are naturally suited for sports.

Supporting equality is still critically important, but only part of the necessary rhetorical equation. And unless new frames enter the debate, Title IX will continue to be viewed as something that is good in theory but illogical in practice.

-Erin Whiteside

Monday, November 16, 2009

College football promotes military values

When Maryland’s star receiver Torrey Smith caught a pass in the second quarter of the Terps’ game vs. Virginia Tech Saturday, fans saw the familiar No. 82 streak past his defender for a 21-yard gain.
Above that No. 82, though, was not “SMITH,” but the word “COURAGE.”
Maryland’s players were wearing special military-style uniforms as part of a promotion for the Wounded Warriors project, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping veterans transition to civilian life. The uniforms, also worn by South Carolina’s players in a separate game, featured camouflage sleeves and various military ideals printed on the back, such as “DUTY,” “COMMITMENT” and “COUNTRY.”
In some ways, the promotion was similar to the WBCA Pink Zone campaign, which raises awareness about breast cancer with the help of various college women’s basketball teams who wear pink uniforms and shoes on a designated “Think Pink” day.
What’s different is that the pink uniforms and shoes relate directly to the organization. The uniforms worn by the football players, however, promoted military ideals and gave no hint to fans or media members about the actual Wounded Warriors project. In fact, the Wounded Warriors project has its own set of core ideals, such as “FUN,” “INTEGRITY” and “INNOVATION,” but those words were not on the jerseys.
The Wounded Warrior project is not about blind commitment to country, but about helping soldiers re-adjust to life after perilous combat experiences. As scholar Michael Butterworth argues, such promotions are seemingly “innocent” displays, but position the United States’ military as good and just, while at the same time silencing critique of American military policies. In the case here, media accounts were more about uplifting stories from the battlefield and less about the problems soldiers face in returning from war, such as high rates of suicide or post-traumatic stress syndrome. As the Associated Press wrote:

[The Terps' Matt] Grooms spent six months in Kuwait outfitting and fixing transport trucks in Iraq. He was nearly killed by a virus and was rattled by an American missile that exploded too close to camp. Still, he said it was “the best four years I’ve had.”

No one will argue with the value of the Wounded Warrior project. And considering various reports about the struggles soldiers face in readjusting to civilian life, it’s clearly a badly needed program in need of visibility and support. Too bad the promotion forgot to focus on the soldiers who need that support.
-Erin Whiteside

Friday, November 13, 2009

Media execs, Aresco and Bergofin talk at Penn State this week

This was a tremendous week to be a Penn State student if you’re interested in the sports media industry. On Wednesday, Penn State’s Center for Sports Business and Research hosted a talk and Q&A by Versus Network Senior VP, Bill Bergofin. And today the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism hosted a “conversation” and Q&A with Executive VP of Programming for CBS Sports, Michael Aresco. Here’s a quick run-down of the two talks.

Aresco began his lecture by outlining facets of his job, including negotiations, dealing with the press, and the pressure of production and programming decisions. He then jumped into a particularly well-informed philosophical discussion concerning the relationship between sports and society. Drawing on a variety of thinkers, he pointed out that sports provide a “framework for fairness” and “have a fundamental linkage with morality”—they’re “contributors to society’s values, both good and bad.”

This provided a nice launching point for a discussion of the state of college sports. Pulling from work by Paul Gallico, Aresco noted that “big time” college sports didn’t have to develop the way they did. He said that the level college games are elevated to is not inherently bad, but that issues like the facilities arms race and the struggles to keep the student in student-athlete aren’t going away; “If you continue to deny it then you’re going to have issues,” said Aresco. “You need to deal with it.”

Aresco then provided some perspective on the state of broadcast rights, the demand for sports content, and the impact of new media on the sports media landscape. Broadcast networks, he pointed out, don’t have the benefit of cable’s dual revenue sources in subscription and advertising. For the broadcast networks, this has made revenue from new media offerings an imperative area of focus. He provided the network’s shift from subscription to ad-based March Madness On Demand as a great example of the business models that are being worked out in the online environment.

Aresco complimented the questions articulated by the audience during the Q&A session. On the topic of a college football playoff, he discussed the various economic factors that would have to be considered—most importantly the impact of a playoff system on college football’s season-long interest. On the role of the media in shaping the norms and values of sports, Aresco said that CBS is “very conscious of our role as custodians of the games we produce, especially at the college level.” He closed by commenting on the decision of CBS Sports to distribute SEC football on the national level (rather than regionally), noting the interest in regions outside the South and the network’s savings on rights purchases and production.

On Wednesday, Bill Bergofin of Versus discussed the marketing strategies surrounding the 2006 rebranding of Comcast’s Outdoor Life Network as Versus, as well as the differentiation Versus has tried to create between its offerings and ESPN. The senior VP focused on the network’s attempts—successful, judging from Versus’ growth—to tap into cultural and economic currents pertinent to its target demographic. When the economy and the management class were booming and competitive in 2006, Versus was positioning itself and its content as hyper-competitive and testosterone-driven (not a stretch when you’re pushing bull-riding, NHL hockey and cage fighting). With the financial crisis, Bergofin indicated a need to maintain their image, but to recognize the search for meaning and personal fulfillment in uncertain times. A series of entertaining promotional spots for the Network reflected these differing perspectives.

Bergofin was critical of ESPN's treatment of sports. Drawing from blog posts, he suggested that sports fans are tired of ESPN's emphasis on negative stories (Versus doesn't have news and information offerings, so it's not confronted with the same struggles over news and entertainment at ESPN). Further, he described ESPN as the "McDonalds or Walmart of sports", pointing to their massive expansion in channels and offerings. Ultimately, for Bergofin, the hope is to provide the depth of sports at Versus' to match ESPN’s breadth.

Again, this Q&A session was well-informed, and Bergofin even offered some speculation on the impact a potential Comcast/NBC deal might have on Versus. He said that the NBC Sports connection would bring tremendous assets to Versus, but that the slow process of major media mergers means that noticeable changes at the network wouldn’t be apparent for close to two years.

On new media, Bergofin indicated that he hoped Versus could take a different direction than the news and information style familiar on most major sports media sites, perhaps toward more original programming. Depth of experience, again, rather than breadth.

--T.C. Corrigan

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Reebok to women: Get the body that men want

In a new series of provocative ads, Reebok tells women in no uncertain terms what other apparel companies often only suggest under the guise of empowerment: that exercising in the company’s new shoe will make them more sexually desirable to men. One features only a shot of a woman’s breasts “talking” about the woman’s now toned backside -- which came courtesy of the shoes. The slogan: “Make your boobs jealous.” Another features a woman talking about the shoes, only to have the camera leave her face when she bends over to lace them up and pan down to her backside, akin to a pair of roving male eyes. Focusing only on a woman’s breasts, or positioning the camera to resemble wandering eyes are what media scholars call the camera’s “male gaze,” a concept that suggests patriarchal power relationships are reproduced through mediated images. In Reebok’s ads, women are reduced to a series of body parts and rewarded for appealing to the camera’s eye. The (male) camera tells women that exercising will make them objects of male desire. When women began playing organized sports in the early 1900s, critics said sports made women too manly; today Reebok tells women that exercise will make them more desirable. The message may be slightly different, but the end goal of appealing to men is the same. These new Reebok ads, then, are nothing new at all. Rather, they are part of a centuries-old narrative that polices women’s bodies to the benefit and pleasure of men, while denying women a space to find their own motivation for engaging in sports and other forms of exercise.
-Erin Whiteside

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Images that "sell" to young female athletes

Researchers at Bowling Green State University, the University of Memphis and the University of Iowa presented results of a study during the annual NASSS conference today suggesting that adolescent girls involved in sports are generally attracted to images of sportswomen that are athletically oriented -- not those that emphasize traditional femininity. The study, led by Vikki Krane(BGSU) and Sally Ross (Memphis), has implications for the marketing of women's collegiate sports toward the girls these programs may someday try to recruit: active, sports-focused images may be the most effective in attracting girls to sports events and athletic participation. The marketing materials (posters, programs, guides) often used for women's collegiate programs now often downplay these types of images in favor of more traditionally "feminine" photos of athletes.

Net Neutrality and Online Sports Media

With the FCC entering a public comment period on the subject of Network Neutrality, I’ve been thinking, “What would a repeal of Network Neutrality mean for online sports media?” If you’re not familiar with the concept of Net Neutrality take just two minutes to watch this video from SavetheInternet.com (it’s actually kind of entertaining).

So, let’s imagine--without the principle of Net Neutrality--how a telecom company might make bandwidth decisions concerning specific content. Take the Internet provider Comcast and their ownership of Versus.com. Were the guiding principle of Network Neutrality to be removed, Comcast could restrict the bandwidth for consumers accessing sites that are competitors of Versus. Consumers using FOXSports.com, for instance, might have their bandwidth reduced to a level that would make its multi-media offerings incommensurate with Comcast-owned sites.

However, the telecom industry is oligopolistic, meaning that consumers are limited in their choice of services to just a few large corporations. The telecom companies know better than to engage in cutthroat (i.e. genuine) competition. Restricting consumer access to a competitor’s Web site would only result in the same being done to their own. Instead, as an oligopoly, they’d prefer to squabble for market share and erect huge barriers to entry. By doing so they can actually secure near-monopoly-level profits while keeping up the fa├žade of competition (think: Oil, Health Insurance).

Unfortunately for the sports media consumer (not to mention consumers of other cultural content), such arrangements often result in a lack of diverse content. Mainstream media outlets and major sports leagues would be able to leverage their large audiences and associations with telecom companies to make sure that the online experience for their digital offerings remains far superior to niche or marginal sports media outlets and organizations, including those of women’s and Olympic sports. A further possibility is that access to these niche sites could be walled off and restricted to subscription access. It’s one thing for a niche sports site to choose to direct its readership toward subscription-based content. It’s quite another thing if the telecom companies control the subscription system, access, and resulting revenue.

Sports and sports media are more democratic (small d) because of the Internet and the principle of Net Neutrality. The FCC should act in the public interest to promote competition, diversity and localism by standing behind Net Neutrality. This is an important protection for sports fans, sports media outlets, and sports organizations... not to mention businesses, organizations, consumers and citizens.

To get more involved in this issue, check out SavetheInternet, this informative update on the subject by Daily Kos, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, this FCC Blog where you can weight in on the matter...

--T.C. Corrigan

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Flagging the NFL's homophobic culture

Kansas City Chiefs running back Larry Johnson recently made news when he used a homophobic slur in reference to his coach in several posts to his twitter account. The NFL is hardly considered “gay friendly,” and Johnson’s tweets are indicative of an ongoing homophobic culture in the league. To the NFL and Chiefs’ credit, Johnson was suspended for one game. However, as the Kansas City Star’s Randy Covitz writes, the reprimand is vague and notes only that Johnson was suspended for conduct “detrimental to the team,” leaving it unclear whether he was suspended for the slur or criticism of the coach. The NFL and the Chiefs had the opportunity to bring the problem of homophobia in the NFL to the forefront of public dialogue, but chose not to; their obscure language denied a voice to a persistent and troubling problem within the league. When team and league officials fail to acknowledge even the most overt gay-bashing, the persistent and dangerous homophobic culture remains unchecked . No one thing will change the hostile climate, but until a voice is given to the problem, we wonder if it’s reasonable to expect current gay players to come out of the closet.
-Erin Whiteside

Monday, November 02, 2009

Media coverage of Serena Williams' outburst emphasizes gender norms

Serena Williams, in her outburst at the U.S. Open, stepped outside the box of what is considered acceptable behavior for female athletes, according to the most recent report from the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism. We analyzed articles from both traditional and new media sources to answer questions about the way Williams was portrayed in coverage of her outburst. The most interesting findings concerned comparisons between Williams and other male and female athletes. We found that although Williams was more often compared to male athletes, comparisons between her and other female athletes were more likely to be negative. Further, in articles that did compare Williams negatively to other female athletes, Kim Clijsters' (her opponent in the match who went on to win the Open) motherhood was more likely to be mentioned. One Yahoo! Sports article went as far as to call Clijsters the Open's "silver lining" after the "stain" left by Williams' outburst.

This finding is, sadly, unsurprising. Gender norms are valued in our society, and while we might be able to stomach a male behaving “violently” during a sports match, females, even female athletes, are “supposed” to be -- above all -- women. Society needed a Kim Clijsters, a mother and wife who exemplifies our ideals of femininity, to put us at ease after the Williams outburst.

This is not to argue that Williams’ behavior was acceptable or undeserving of punishment. Any athlete who threatens an official should be rebuked. However, if it had been a male athlete, perhaps an opponent of Roger Federer (who recently become a dad), would the media be mentioning Federer’s fatherhood in negative commentary about the male offender?

Posted by Erin Ash

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

SI for Kids: Basic lessons in gender, sport

At the UM Tucker Center lecture Monday night on women's sports and social media, I suggested that the primary function of mediated/spectator sports in U.S. culture is to reinforce gender norms (apologies to Noam Chomsky).
It starts early. Just look at SI for Kids, which disproportionately focuses on men and boys (maybe "SI for Boys" would be a better title) and relies on gender stereotypes in relationship to sports. One feature in the magazine, the "Buzz Beamer" cartoon, is sometimes so overt in its use of gender stereotypes as to be laughable (maybe that's what supposed to be funny). Buzz Beamer's October entry (p. 56) is such an example: apparently Marial Zagunis, an Olympic gold-medal fencer, is capable only of carving "beautiful" pumpkins; her male counterpart (hockey player Alex Ovechkin), of course, is capable only of making the opposite (a scary one).
Obviously, the problem with this kind of message is that underlying it is the assumption of gender binaries. What do girls and boys take away from a cartoon that makes this point? Unfortunately, it's not a message that encourages girls or boys to move beyond traditional gender roles that hinder both from exploring sports activities they might otherwise pursue.

Friday, October 16, 2009

ESPN's 'Body Issue' does its job

According to a report by The Wrap about the Magazine Innovation Summit in New York this week, ESPN boosted subscriptions to its "Insider" (a companion to the magazine) by 400 within two hours of posting its "Body Issue" images online. Newsstand data wasn't released.
Of course. That was the point -- it doesn't take a genius to see how the SI Swimsuit edition and other flesh-baring editions of sports-related titles do on the newsstand: They sell.
ESPN's sex-sells issue was, in my mind, different in some significant ways from the SI swimsuit edition. ESPN had argued that the mag was driven by journalistic motives, and while that's highly debatable, the images do exhibit a range of athletic images. It is much more ambivalent than SI -- alternating back and forth between images that can be read as liberating because they challenge ideal-body norms, and those that reinforce a "hetero-sexy" apologia by female athletes.

Friday, October 02, 2009

HS sports: 'one of the next great markets'

According to rankings, the biggest high school football game in the country tonight will be played in South Florida tonight and will -- courtesy of ESPN -- be aired for the nation to watch. Marketers from Nike and other major brands will be watching because, as an article in the Sun-Sentinel notes, they have "targeted high school sports as one of the next great markets." Nike moved into one of the high schools this week with a full-force marketing campaign aimed at students.
The Sun-Sentinel article suggests that ESPN's exposure of high school sports on a national level may be a "win-win" situation, as schools' travel costs are covered and they get a small sum of money for playing. But Fred Grimm of the Miami Herald correctly takes ESPN to task for exploiting the cheap labor at the high school level. He points out the obvious: ESPN is cultivating a potential goldmine by contriving "big-time" high school matchups, selling the audience and avoiding the astronomical rights fees it pays for college sports.
The implications are sickening. Do we really want to import the problems with academic integrity we have at the college level into public schools? As Grimm writes, "On Friday night, during ESPN's Old Spice High School Showcase Presented By Nike, the commodities will be offered up on national television, along with after-shave and athletic apparel."
On a related note, ESPN has also announced plans to launch a Web site devoted to coverage of girls' high school sports (beyond what it provides on RISE). Again, such a branded ("W") site could be a moneymaker for the net by allowing it to sell eyeballs not typically attracted to its products in large numbers. But it is likely that this idea will end up on ESPN's scrap heap: Making a female-focused, sport-focused media product that sells is an exceedingly difficult proposition (just ask the editors at SI Women or at Real Sports, for instance).

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Will sports save newspapers?

That's what Tim McGuire (veteran journalist, now ASU journalism professor) suggests. He correctly points out the major threat to newspapers by ESPN's regional Web properties in Chicago, Boston, and Dallas. (It is reasonable to speculate that ESPN will do major damage to the Web traffic to newspaper sites in all of these markets.) McGuire suggests, though, that "sports should be the centerpiece of newspaper efforts to rejuvenate themselves" because sports are such an incredible draw.
The problem, though, is that newspapers likely cannot compete on salary with ESPN in regional markets, meaning that it will be very difficult for them to attract (or retain) the personalities affiliated with great sports commentary. And it's the personalities -- McGuire himself mentions former newspaper journalist Pat Forde -- that often draw the fans to sites such as ESPN.com or others for sports coverage.

Friday, September 25, 2009

ESPN to 'tread lightly' in covering youths

ESPN President George Bodenheimer, speaking at a Penn State Forum today, was asked about coverage of high school sports, an area where ESPN continues to expand. He said he believes ESPN has a social responsibility to help protect the integrity and mission of scholastic sports -- and avoid being an "800-pound gorilla." 'We're going to be in it and tread lightly," he said. But at the same time, he argued that the net must be in the game. Large-scale coverage and interest in high school sports is already here, he added.

Sports bloggers, journalists: Not so different

In a new piece posted on the Tucker Center Web site, I share research by the Curley Center that compares the attitudes of journalists and bloggers toward women's sports and Title IX.
It turns out that they're quite similar, which may explain why so much of what we see in new media looks like what we see in old media. Another dynamic driving the tone in the sports blogosphere is the fact that it's still dominated by men -- almost to the exact same degree as that found in newspaper sports departments. What we need to explore is why women, when the institutional barriers to employment are removed, generally shy away from writing and commentating about sports -- despite the fact that Title IX has turned sports into a way of life for millions.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Focus: Women's sports and social media

Research in the Curley Center has recently turned to sports and social media -- especially in relationship to the opportunities and challenges for coverage of women's sports. The Tucker Center at the University of Minnesota is also focusing on this important topic. The Tucker Center's blog has two new entries that look at coverage of women's sports and at social media.
Dave Zirin's entry on coverage of women's sports covers some familiar territory for women's sport advocates as he recounts the stereotypes that are common themes (sexpot or mother, for instance). He doesn't extend his discussion into the sports blogosphere -- although the stereotypes he addresses are, unfortunately, common there, too.
The other intriguing entry on the Tucker Center blog addresses the ways women's sports advocates see social media: as a land of opportunity, a place where women's sports coverage and community can flourish. But is that happening?
There are pockets where great things are happening, including WomenTalkSports.com. But, as I'll discuss soon, we're really seeing more of the same sexism, homophobia and non-coverage of women's sports that "old media" has always given us. The question then has to be: Why?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Sprinting toward the 'big-time' model

The movement of scholastic sports toward the college and professional sports models, in terms of media, marketing, and -- time will tell -- values, continues with the announcement in Sports Business Daily yesterday that "MSG Varsity" will launch Sept. 24 to 3 million CableVision subscribers in New York. The RSN-lookalike will feature a daily news show, a reality show, a call-in show, quiz show and games. MSG Varsity will include an "interactive" channel (where viewers can opt for different games) and a fully loaded Web site.
Who will get the advertising revenue? SBJ writes, "Cablevision is not paying the schools a rights fee for the programming, but describes its relationship as 'an unprecedented partnership' that will see the New York media company donate video equipment, Web templates, training and scholarships to schools that participate."
I hope someone keeps an eye on the 'unprecedented partnership' -- and exactly how the "equipment, training and scholarships" take form.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Women's football makes the sports page!

Both the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune found room on their sports pages recently for coverage of women's football: the Chicago Bliss, part of the newly launched Lingerie Football League. (I only wish I were making this up.) Both papers ran articles and photos in their sports sections featuring photos of bikini-clad LFL players.
The Sun-Times article, which ran after the team's home opener, ran under a photo and "Chicago's Hottest Team" display head. The story featured Mike Ditka (part owner of the league) and a reference to "wardrobe malfunctions" of players ("the top comes off...").
Is this team more interesting to serious sports fans than the
Chicago Force -- the 2008 Eastern Conference Champions in the Independent Women's Football League? The Force received little-to-no coverage from Chicago papers although the IWFL has been around longer and is clearly a much more serious league.
What does it say about the attitudes toward female athletes and women's sports at these two papers that the Bliss story got play in their sports sections while more serious women's sports enterprises go uncovered?

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Sports reporters & gambling: The big picture

Our Center for Sports Journalism survey of sports reporters, published in the International Journal of Sport Communication, has gotten attention recently because of our finding that 4 in 10 reporters told us they gambled on sports -- and one in 20 told us they gamble on sports they cover.
The more interesting finding to us, though, is the relationship between behaviors such as gambling by reporters and their beliefs about the mission and values of journalism. The more sports journalists adhered to a "public-service" mission for journalism (the belief that sports reporters should function as "watchdogs" for the public), the more likely they were to reject gambling and other ethically suspect practices that have given sports journalism a toy-box reputation in newsrooms.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The case to credential bloggers

While the SEC and other sports-related organizations and consortiums are resisting inevitable changes in the ways sports are covered and consumed, we argue, in an opinion piece this week in Sports Business Journal, that organizations should instead look for ways to get bloggers into the press box. Some, such as NASCAR with its "citizen journalists," have already taken positive steps in that direction, having garnered publicity and offered a "carrot"to responsible bloggers. We also suggest that as bloggers get out into the environments about which they're writing, they're more likely to adopt the professional values of journalists who cover sports -- and that's a good thing.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

ESPN's guidelines put boundaries on social media

Given the gaffes made by some journalists in recent weeks and the irreverent Tweets by NFL players (leading to some team restrictions on the practice), it's not surprising that ESPN's guidelines, announced yesterday, put some hard limits on the use of social media by employees. It is likely that other media orgs will look to the net's guidelines, such as, "If you wouldn't say it on the air or write it in your column, don't Tweet it," as a model. The guidelines seem to serve two functions: to keep employees from posting on social media in ways that could reflect poorly on ESPN, and to allow the net to funnel all such networking to its properties, bolstering the bottom line. It's part of the bigger movement by media companies to co-opt and monetize the grassroots appeal of social media.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Women's pro sports 10 years after the World Cup: Is the sky really falling?

I read with interest a series of stories published on ESPN.com late last week about the state of women's professional sports in the U.S. The thesis driving the package: Women's spectators sports are teetering on the brink of an uncertain and perhaps calamitous future.
This storyline isn't new, as Mechelle Voepel points out in her analysis of the WNBA. But unmet predictions of the demise of the WNBA and other women's leagues may offer little comfort when leagues are struggling to survive.
Stories on each of the major women's sports/leagues -- including the WTA, LPGA, WPS, and WNBA -- speculated on individual problems such as poor public relations and marketing (LPGA) and lack of individual superstars (LPGA and WTA). But these problems for women's sports are symptoms, not the cause, for the struggles of women's professional sports to move beyond survival mode. Treating the symptoms does, indeed, keep women's sports in a tenuous position as leagues and teams constantly search for a formula that will have mass appeal.
Women's pro leagues and teams in the U.S. continue to operate in a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" climate where they are blamed for cultural/gender norms that dictate their second-rate status.
Perhaps illustrative of this is a recent column in the Washington Post, where Mike Wise takes the WNBA Washington Mystics to task for not using a "Kiss Cam" during games. He acknowledges the WNBA's marketing tightrope: appealing to homophobic ("family-friendly") fans while simultaneously welcoming its loyal lesbian fan base. He writes: "It's understandable that a financially shaky league is outright terrified it could alienate a chunk of its fan base if two same-sex people shared a chaste kiss on a video scoreboard." Yet he goes on to write about the team's decision: "Goodbye, progress."
Damned if they do, damned if they don't. Women's sports will survive -- thanks to a loyal, although small, fan base that can connect more easily now than ever. But the bar is one set by masculine values for sports. Until that changes, the struggle will continue beyond our lifetimes.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Andrews episode: Setback for women in sports media? Not really

I received an email from a college student working as a sports writer for the Cape Cod Times this summer directing me to her blog post about the Erin Andrews incident. It was interesting to read the take of a young woman -- new to the profession -- about the episode and reaction to it.
Nicole writes that her reaction has been "complicated" -- and I would concur that she isn't alone. The incident is complex on many levels because it involves a high-profile woman, who has been marketed at least in part on sex appeal, covering sports. More importantly, the incident and the reaction to it clearly point to the difficulty we still have, culturally, with how to position and accept women in the sporting environment. Scholar Margaret Duncan has written extensively about the ways female athletes have been trivialized and sexualized, and I suggest her typology of female athletes can be used to understand the way female sideline reporters are also "put in their place." Unfortunately, the Andrews incident was an ugly, taken-to-the-extreme, extension of the way women in the sports arena have been treated for a long time. Look at the trivialized way Andrews and others have been presented over the years --are we really so surprised at what has happened?
In her blog post, Nicole writes about her own experience with harassment and discrimination and goes on to express her anger at "the way female sports journalists are perceived."
She adds about the Andrews incident: "It’s like a 30-year setback."
Unfortunately, Nicole, it's not really a setback. We weren't as far ahead as you might have hoped and believed.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Blaming women for their harassment: The same old story in 140 characters

Christine Brennan's tweet today, implying that Erin Andrews is somehow to blame for the violation of her privacy via a voyeuristic video, certainly lends support to the recent Big Lead blog about Twitter as a tripwire for journalists. Brennan's tweet implied that these things don't happen to women who are "smart" and "don't play to the frat house." She released a statement today attempting to do a take-back. But her original message -- as ugly as it was -- is actually just a variation on a common theme about female sports journalists: That they are sexually charged, locker-room "lookers" who aren't qualified to cover sports. Emphasizing their sexuality is a way to belittle them in the sports context. This myth has been used to justify discrimination and harassment since the first woman entered the profession, and it continues.
Brennan's tweet is evidence of what we've found: Interviews with women who work in sports journalism has found that many of them buy into this kind of rationalization when they see discrimination against their female colleagues. It's regrettable because it serves a power structure that marginalizes women in sports and sports media.
The problem when women in sports are marginalized and belittled is not the women. It's a definition and positioning of sports in our culture that claims them for men.
And that's much, much bigger -- and more difficult to address -- than anything that can fit in a tweet.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Social media and sports: What will stick?

While research shows that sports journalists are finding ways to use Twitter for reporting, we can also see its limits. The Big Lead, in an item about Ric Bucher's decision to back away from Twitter (at least for now), predicts that more reporters will back away from Twitter because of the scrutiny their posts can draw -- "and then, twitter will die."
Twitter is still in its early evolutionary stage as a reporting tool. But sports blogs -- as Robert Weintraub points out in the latest CJR -- have settled into the sports-media landscape not so much as an alternative to but instead as a growing part of mainstream coverage. I believe that this reality explains much of the reason our survey found that many bloggers see themselves as allies, for the most part, with journalists. I'm not sure I agree with a Deadspin post that "If the line between blogs and the MSM appears to be getting blurrier, it's because there never really was a line in the first place" -- but there is little doubt about how fast the line is disappearing.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Bloggers: Filling a gap in sports coverage?

The ongoing skirmishes between sports journalists and bloggers -- the most recent reflected in Mark Cuban's suggestion (in his blog, of all places) that some bloggers be publicly shunned by media organizations -- involve two groups that often work at odds but who generally describe themselves in similar ways.
That's according to a new survey just released by the Center for Sports Journalism at Penn State. The survey involved more than 200 bloggers who provide daily coverage of a variety of sports.
Not surprisingly, most bloggers in the survey were men, and most covered men's sports. Most say what they do is sports journalism -- although most don't use original reporting in their blogs, nor have they applied for credentials to a sports event.
They also hold themselves to different ethical standards than professional journalists; for instance, a very high percentage said journalists should verify information -- but the number dropped when bloggers were asked about their use of information.
It's not surprising that most bloggers we surveyed have never worked in a newsroom, nor do they have journalism degrees. I think what explains most of the gap between bloggers and journalists, in terms of attitudes and values, lies in the original reporting they do. I think that if sports organizations (and journalists) are truly concerned about the erosion of sports coverage via blogs, they should advocate for more blogger access to opportunities to do original reporting. That means more access to press boxes, media conference calls, and maybe even to locker rooms. The challenge is in how to make that happen, of course.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Women's game: Not 'as good' as it was?

A story in the South Bend Tribune today reports that ND women's basketball coach Muffet McGraw, speaking at the annual NACDA meeting, lamented the state of women's college basketball -- ethically speaking -- today. "It's not quite as good as it used to be. I think the pressure to win is affecting people," she said, and later added, "People aren't exactly following the rules" but those who know about it aren't "willing to step forward."
It seems that a logical follow-up question for her is "What specific rules violations to you know about?" She added that there haven't been any "major infractions" in the women's college game of late, but she is convinced an ethics committee is needed.

Monday, June 29, 2009

'Small stories' and Title IX

As fans of women's sports know, the 37th anniversary of Title IX came and went last week with recognition from the White House, Women's Sports Foundation and women's sports advocates but with little mainstream media coverage.
Of course, the passing of the milestone for the law without wider celebration is disappointing -- but not surprising. Title IX still remains controversial, and myths about the law's impact on boys' and men's sports prevail -- especially among young people. Focus groups with teenagers and college students about Title IX, conducted by the Center for Sports Journalism, revealed that these young people shared their suspicion about the law through narratives in which boys and men were victims. Stories about opportunities stripped from male athletes -- whether based on "reality" or admittedly fabricated by participants -- were used to understand the law.
It was surprising to hear these narratives even from young women who have clearly benefited from the law. But these stories, which are simple tales that conform to gender norms, are powerful tools to tear down support for the law.
The answer? We propose that sports feminists everywhere make a concerted effort to inject individual narratives of equality and access for girls and women into the Title IX debate. An example of these is found in the WSF video about Title IX -- but we also need them at lower levels, among middle-school and high school athletes, for instance. These "small stories" of equality and empowerment can -- over time -- change public discourse.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Blaming individuals, ignoring cultures

I read two interesting Web features today that both illuminated our cultural shortsightedness about social issues and sports: Blaming individuals while turning a blind eye toward institutional beliefs and practices that underpin problems.
The first was an outstanding column by Dave Zirin answering Howard Bryant's shrill column about Sammy Sosa's steroid use. In his column, Bryant makes a bizarre charge that Sosa's positive steroids test calls for a "special kind of outrage." He is especially hard on Sosa, on players and on "Mr. and Mrs. Fan." He does not -- as Zirin points out -- take to task an institution (and its management) that has tacitly encouraged drug use for decades. Zirin, whose column will undoubtedly be read by less than a third of those who read Bryant's, raises important contextual questions that position the issue as one going far beyond the decisions of select individuals without cultural and institutional encouragement.
The second Web feature I read today was the discussion on WashingtonPost.com's "The League" about gays in the NFL. Not surprisingly, the column that brought the most response was one by a pastor who made overtly homophobic comments -- he was an easy target. Other columns by more progressive writers argued that NFL players were to blame because they hadn't come out or because individual players have "remained silent."
The problem with these kinds of arguments is that they ignore the very real function of men's football and other male-defined sports (such as baseball and basketball) in U.S. culture: defining (ideal) gender roles. As a culture, we expect the demonstration of masculinity in these sports (that's why "You play like a sissy/girl" is still an effective insult hurled by coaches). Ideal masculinity implies heterosexuality. Our cultural definitions of sport, gender (and, subsequently, sexuality) have -- as one columnist rightly argues -- made it easier for us to elect a black man to the presidency than to foster a culture where gay athletes can play high-level team sports without fear.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Game stories by computer program

Students at Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism may have just invented another nail for the coffin for sports beat writers. Students there are perfecting "machine generated sports stories" (MGSS), a tool that produces computer-generated sports stories using play-by-play data, box scores and other information. According to the release, the tool "can't replace the sports writer who watches a game, gets quotes from players and does analysis." Many sportswriters in legacy media, however, have been replaced -- so they're moving to independent media online. A post on NewspaperShift (PBS) discusses initiatives by some former newspaper journalists to start their own Web cooperatives, bringing together journalists in different cities to offer full coverage of teams and leagues on a single site. The trick, of course, will be in whether such a model can draw enough advertising dollars.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Women's pro sports: Can gender really be taken 'out of the equation'?

The seven teams in the newly launched Women's Professional Soccer league are about two months into their inaugural season, playing in front of crowds that average about 5,400 and in front of viewers tuning into the Fox Soccer Channel. The league's initial success is just part of the reason for high hopes that this league will thrive, according to Commissioner Tonya Antonucci, who spoke to the annual convention of the Association for Women in Sports Media in Philadelphia on Saturday.
Antonucci suggested that the league's strategy -- controlling costs, marketing to a broader array of fans, and having more realistic goals than the WUSA did before it folded -- will help the league survive.
She also suggested that the way the league was built -- by attracting the best players in the world (including the three-time FIFA player of the year, Marta), is a contrast with men's MLS, and that fans will recognize that. In other words, Antonucci doesn't see the WPS competing with the MLS for fans. (The MLS, which has been around longer, draws an average 14K per game.)
"We almost take gender out of the equation in what our brand stands for," she told the group. She said the league has no plans to use "sex appeal" as a selling point for athletes, either. "You embrace who these women want to be," she said.
Antonucci also suggested that because men's soccer in the U.S. competes against another type of "football" -- the NFL, women's soccer has the chance to grow as a spectator sport at a much faster pace than the MLS has. The WPS is operating on the assumption that participants will turn into spectators. Because soccer is so popular as a sport for girls (and boys), there will be ready-made fan base as these players grow older.
If only it were true.
If only it were true that gender can ever be taken "out of the equation" in regard to sports. And if only it were true that girls who play soccer will turn into women who are willing to spend the time (and money) to consume it in large numbers. And that men ("soccer dads") will turn into enduring spectators of a women's professional league.
But research tells us differently. Popular spectator sports in western culture have always been all about gender performance. In other words, gender can't be removed from any sports equation. That's one reason (among several) that soccer will struggle in the U.S. to ever have a sustained, high-numbers following -- it's a gender-neutral sport, and, thus, is less appealing to fans (logically, this quality gives it more appeal as a participatory sport.)
Thus, it is doubtful that the WPS will thrive after its initial splash (and that hasn't been much) -- it will do well to survive more than a few years. I don't say that to be negative as much as to recognize the realities for women's team sports in the U.S.
The naive hopefulness of Antonucci and other backers of the WPS shouldn't be discouraged, however. We need her and women's sports advocates to keep pushing the envelope. But we have to recognize that women's sports as an institution will not thrive until our ideas about sport and gender undergo a fundamental shift -- only then can gender really be out of the equation.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Bloggers and ethical decision-making

A recent post on Eye on Sports Media outlines the response of a local paper (the Athens Banner Herald) and that of a blogger who learned about the DUI arrest of a local personality who provides play-by-play and analysis for UGA sports teams.
The blogger reported the incident; the paper didn't. Eye on Sports Media comes down on the side of the blogger, arguing that the incident was newsworthy and that covering it gives media the chance to point out the recklessness of drunken driving. Non-coverage by the paper "also shows a little bit of media hypocrisy. The media is always more than willing to write sensational news when an athlete or other celebrity is arrested for DUI or some other transgression. They are also all over any news of steroid use by athletes. So what if alcohol abuse and drunk driving is more destructive than steroid use?"
I think EOSM has a point. The man is well-known to local sports fans, and the same standards should apply to him as do with other local sports personalities. I don't know the rationale used by the paper to reject the story.
Dissatisfaction with mainstream media is one reason many fans start their own blogs. As they do, they have to make tough calls about what should and should not be covered -- the kinds of calls mainstream journalists have been making for decades. They can get guidance from a number of sources, including APSE, SPJ and a blogger's code of ethics. As they continue to gain influence, it's critical that bloggers understand the responsibility that comes with the ability to reach a mass audience.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Want to learn more about the WNBA? Naturally, you'd want to know how many moms are on the team...right?

A SportsCenter "Sunday Conversation" today with WNBA legend Lisa Leslie, tailor-made for Mother's Day, focused on LA Sparks players in the role of moms. There are, according, to Leslie, five mothers on the team, who constantly share "mommy information." Leslie emphasized that her role as a new mother is a primary reason for her retirement from sports.
While the news peg for the story -- Mother's Day -- may have driven the focus, the problem with these kinds of features is that they ultimately weaken the image of female athletes in the sports context because these stories are often done to the exclusion of regular coverage of women's sports. We see far too many stories with this kind of angle -- female athlete outside sports. (Oftentimes, it's in a mode that presents athletes in sexualized images.) Although many female athletes are eager to be cast outside their athletic achievements, the more often they're shown off the court, the less credible they're deemed on it -- any day of the year.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Whitlock on the need to examine ESPN

Sports columnist Jason Whitlock, often accused of taking snipes at ESPN for no other reason than that he doesn't work there, argues in a recent column that the network is a "dictatorship" with more power than the leagues it covers. Whitlock adds that bloggers -- "an army of citizen journalists building followings and eroding our credibility" -- are the only place to get critical coverage of the network.
It's true that ESPN has a great deal of influence, but it's not because the number people who watch it exceeds the number watching SpongeBob reruns on any given night of the week. It's because sports journalists have taken their cues from it. ESPN is the pacesetter for other outlets.
The mainstream media doesn't ignore ESPN, as Whitlock argues. It follows the network very carefully. Bloggers may dish the gossip on the personalities there, but ESPN is far from ignored by the many, many sports journalists who ultimately want the network on their own resumes.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The good and bad of non-access to athletes

Blogger-turned-ESPN writer Bill Simmons points out the diminishing role of sports journalists in his latest column, suggesting that in the age of Facebook, the blogosphere and Twitter, athletes no longer need the media. "This isn't a good thing or a bad thing," he adds.
It's both.
It's good for athletes -- who can wield much more control over the ways they are presented to fans -- and, in many ways, it's good for fans, who have more options for getting news on their favorite athletes and teams.
Now, the "bad": It calls into question the relevance of traditional sports journalists, whose traditional "gatekeeping" role has been eroded. And although that is a "bad thing" in some ways, it also provides the media establishment a chance to retool the ways journalists cover sports, moving away from personality- and game-driven coverage and to a public-service approach that critically looks at the institutions and practices in sports at every level -- asking and answering tough questions about the links between sports and tax dollars, education and social values, for instance.
That's the kind of coverage an athlete's blog can never take from journalists.
And that would be a very good thing.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Gender gap in outlook toward homophobia

A recent study by the Center for Sports Journalism, published in the Winter 2009 issue of the Newspaper Research Journal, found that most sports reporters believe homophobia is a problem in sports -- and more of a problem in men's sports than women's. Most also disagreed with the idea that a male athlete would be accepted if he came out, and most reporters also said they did not think it was appropriate to ask athletes about their sexual orientation.
Not surprisingly, gender and age were dividing lines for responses. For instance, female reporters were more likely to say homophobia is a problem in women's sports. Young reporters more often agreed that homophobia was a problem in men's sports.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

High school sportainment the ESPN way

SI this week examines "March Madness" in high school basketball, focusing on the recent ESPN RISE national tournament. The tourney "represented the NCAA tournament sensibility brought to high school," Phil Taylor writes.
The article goes on to describe the big business emerging from the marriage of big media and scholastic sports. ESPN, in particular, has made a high-profile push into publicizing youth sports. The talent is free and the rights fees are almost as cheap.
Is that where we want high school sports to go? As a culture, we long ago decided to allow collegiate athletics to mimic the pro model (except for, as Andrew Zimbalist points out, the fact that athletes are unpaid and the NCAA can claim non-profit status). Do we want scholastic sports to mimic the college model? What are the implications for athletics in education at the primary and secondary level? Who profits -- and who loses? Parents, educators, activists, politicians -- everyone needs to be in on this conversation.