Friday, November 19, 2010

Emmert on student athletes and commercialization

New NCAA President Mark Emmert reasserted the top priorities of his predecessor, Myles Brand, in an interview Friday where he emphasized the need to focus on the welfare of student athletes while addressing thorny issues involving commercialization of college athletics.
Emmert was interviewed by Penn State President Graham Spanier for the Big Ten program "Expert Opinion" today at the Newseum. Emmert came to the job from the University of Washington and has been dealing with a number of high-profile issues since moving to Indianapolis in October, including an investigation into rumors of "pay-to-play" involving Auburn quarterback Cam Newton.
Spanier's interview with Emmert generally avoided specific controversies but instead focused on providing an overview of the NCAA. Emmert said student athlete welfare has been --and will be-- a key focus.
"We have to make sure we protect the collegiate model of athletics," Emmert said. "It's frankly the only way we can protect the brand." Related to that is the issue of paying student athletes--an idea that has been the subject of debate. Emmert didn't leave room for speculation.
"Student athletes will never be paid as long as I'm president of the NCAA," he said. Fewer than 20 schools break even on collegiate sports, he added. "It is grossly inappropriate for universities to even talk about paying student athletes."
It's the perception of wealth in big-time programs that is likely driving the discussions about paying athletes. So is the commercialism, which Emmert said presents the most pressing ethical issues he's facing. More revenue is a "good thing," Emmert said, but the model can't compromise the collegiate model. Protecting that balance will be a Herculean effort.
Emmert promised he would also be "very focused" on enforcing NCAA rules. "We have to do enforcement in a way that is fair and honest and transparent," he said. The NCAA has no subpoena power -- and the process is slow and cumbersome. Emmert said he wants to expedite the process--but can't risk getting it right. He also promised to look at organization's rules to make sure focus is on the "bigger issues."
Other issues:
On agents: "I'm very pleased with the level of conversation we're having," Emmert said. "I think we're going to have some good progress there." Emmert said he won't address it just as an enforcement issue but will look at modifying the NCAA's rules, hinting that they could be changed.
On the hiring of African-American football coaches: Football is behind basketball and other sports in mentoring and bringing up minority coaches through the ranks. Emmert said the NCAA needs to use the "bully pulpit" with university presidents and ADs; last year saw some improvement.
On NCAA focus on Div. 2 and Div. 3 schools: These smaller divisions are important --they involve large numbers of student athletes. But Emmert justified the NCAA focus on Division 1. "We have to recognize that Division 1 sports are the revenue drivers...Their (smaller divisions) future is tied to Division 1."
On universities cutting non-revenue sports: "We're probably not done with that."

The program will air Monday on the Big Ten network.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Redirecting the gaze

After the epic Baylor-UConn game appeared on national television, the game story also earned a spot on’s mobile page. Given that the mobile front page includes about eight headlines on average, cnn’s choice to include the recap represented some nice exposure for women’s collegiate basketball.
The story largely focused on the exciting game, top-level early-season competition and the superstar battle between Maya Moore and Brittney Griner.
However, in discussing Griner, the author included a parenthetical quote from a UConn player expressing amazement at her size near the end of the story.
There is no question that at six-foot-eight, Griner’s stature is unusual. After all, the average height for women in the United States is five-foot-four and 95 percent of 20-year-old women in this country are under five-foot-10.
Given that Griner has received national coverage since she was in high school – and plenty more during her first year of college during the 2009-2010 season, her stature is well-documented and thus remarking on her unusual height is something of old news.
Further, the quote lacked any reference to Griner’s play in this major early-season game and instead brought a focus to Griner’s unusual body. In including the comment, the piece became part of an ongoing narrative that focuses on women’s bodies over their athleticism.
Researchers have long written on the ways in which popular media coverage often emphasizes women’s aesthetic appeal, a practice achieved through featuring female athletes in passive poses rather than action shots, for example, or focusing on their off-the-court activities instead of their on-court athletic endeavors. Both strategies ultimately present female athletes as female first and athlete second.
Remarking on Griner’s body is a new twist on this old theme. When we view female athletes depicted in revealing dresses or with their kids away from athletic competition, we are invited to focus on their femininity – and ultimately their feminine bodies -- as opposed to their athleticism. Focusing on Griner’s unusual body redirects our attention in the same way, taking the focus away from her exploits on the court and returning our gaze to her body.
--Erin Whiteside

Monday, November 15, 2010

Fantasy sports: Tipping point for the NFL?

The Curley Center was host today to a live chat about fantasy sports attended by editors and writers who write for a fantasy sports audience and by a league official (NHL) who coordinates outreach efforts to those fans.
One of the most interesting assertions about fantasy sports is that they were the catalyst for the NFL's rise during the past decade. Alex Simon, senior director of digital media for the NHL, said that fantasy "may be the single biggest explanation behind the NFL's success over the past 15 years" because of its power to turn casual fans of a given team into passionate fans of the game without specific team allegiances. Nate Ravitz, who writes and edits about fantasy sports for ESPN, said that overall, though, fantasy players aren't a large segment of NFL fans.
Even so, the chat reminded us of the power of fantasy sports to dictate how sports are covered. They may also be pulling fans out of the stadium and keeping them in their living rooms during games -- an unintended consequence of fantasy sports. Ravitz said a risk is "creating an environment where fans would rather sit at home and watch the Red Zone channel with their computer in front of them than sit in a football stadium."
There are likely other factors contributing to the decline of fan attendance at some pro events. Fantasy sports participation certainly does impact the way fans consume sports, though, as the panelists pointed out.
Fantasy participation may also encourage more cultural acceptance of gambling on sports. The line can be pretty thin. With professional athletes and journalists both participating in fantasy even as they play or cover the "real thing," the ethical quandaries (and missteps) could be significant.
For more on our online chat, see the transcript.
--M. Hardin

Monday, November 08, 2010

PSUers at NASSS: Research Review

Presentations at the 31st annual NASSS conference wrapped up this weekend, highlighted by a handful of Penn State College of Communications alumni and current students. Alumna Erin Whiteside and graduate student Jason Genovese began the final day of presentations before students Laura Caldwell and Melanie Formentin also presented their current research.

Genovese, currently teaching at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, kicked off an early morning session with his presentation The Complexity of Sports Television Reporting in the Modern Sports-Media Complex. He highlighted the factors that complicate the reporter-source relationship in sports television media production. Using ethnographic techniques, Genovese outlined how reporters are adapting to the changing nature of contemporary reporter-source relationships. Reporters are feeling a push to adapt to new technologies, becoming more versatile and multi-skilled to work with changing technologies. Reporters also face conflicts of ownership; one group often owns the media outlet and the team being covered, meaning reporters must consider the wants of the ownership group when reporting on an issue.

Whiteside, currently teaching at the University of Tennessee, presented her work “I Repeat: I am Not a Lesbian!” Sexuality and Heteronormativity in the Sports Media Workplace. Using discourses of sexuality she analyzed underrepresentation and marginalization of females in sports media. Through interviews with female SIDs, Whiteside found that sexuality is an overwhelming part of the sports media workplace environment. Female sports media practitioners are consciously and constantly fighting the notion of being a lesbian simply because of their choice of profession. Experience playing sports, marital status, and working with women’s sports enhanced these feelings, making these professionals feel as though they needed to defend their sexuality in the work place, whether they were heterosexual or not.

Caldwell’s research, ESPN’s “Body Issue” and the Limits of Liberating Gendered Bodies, used textual analysis to assess that the images presented are both positive and negative. Caldwell analyzed both ESPN “Body” issues to determine if they explored and celebrated athletic form or simply sexualized the athletes photographed. Although the 2010 issue was more sexualized than the original issue, stereotypes of athletic beauty were challenged through the presentation of females engaged in sport and the inclusion of disabled athletes. Male figure skater Evan Lysachek also challenged athletic stereotypes by being shown in a graceful pose. She suggested that, ultimately, interpretations of the images are likely to be dictated by audience perceptions.

Finally, Formentin presented her work Moving Beyond the 2004-05 NHL Lockout: A Fan Survey. In this study, she looked at the 2004-05 lockout as an organizational crisis and attempted to gauge perceptions of the NHL’s reputation five years after the event. Using Situational Crisis Communication Theory, she surveyed 140 fans to assess whether variables of the theory can predict or be attributed to reputation following a crisis. A survey of 140 fans suggests that the league’s reputation has marginally improved. Additionally, Formentin found that it may be possible to deconstruct the notion of reputation to assess both organizational and industry reputation when developing crisis management strategies.

- Melanie Formentin

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Images of the female sports fan

A small but growing body of research is growing around the female sports fan --especially relevant in light of ESPN's plans for its "W" brand. Sports media scholar Lawrence Wenner talked about the the commodified female sports fan this morning at the annual meeting of the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport in San Diego. Men more clearly fit the fan archetype; women are generally cast as babes or cheerleaders as fans. Female fans are posed as fans, naturally, of male sports. Wenner used his "dirt" theory applied to the female sports fan. He looked at and found about 50 ads featuring female sports fans. They were cast as tokens, shoppers or as "authentic," according to Wenner. Token ads rely on old stereotypes; so do ads that feature the female-as-shopper. The " authentic" fan images, according to Wenner, extend the role of the female fan. Spots connect other areas of the culture to sport; male "dirt" is embedded in the spots. Some spots challenge stereotypes, using cultural dirt typically ascribed to men. One example is a Reebok ad that uses traditional understandings of domestic work and gender and turns such notions around in the ad. Wenner points out that such ads are still problematic--but they do allow the possibility of expanding the role and image of female sports fans. There is still a lingering climate of male hegemony in these narratives, though, he said. Female storytellers need to have more power in crafting sports narratives, Wenner added.
--Marie Hardin

Curley Center at NASSS Convention

Representatives of Penn State’s John Curley Center are currently enjoying the sunny weather in San Diego, California while taking part in the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport’s 31st annual conference. The four-day conference includes presentations from a variety of national and international scholars as well as current and former Penn State students and faculty.

Current Ph.D. student T.C. Corrigan organized and participated in the first Penn State-represented panel of the weekend, Producing Meaning in Sports Media: Practices, Structures, and Discourses. The panel was moderated by Penn State graduate, Dr. Erin Whiteside, and featured research related to linguistic organization of sports broadcasts, analysis of announcer discourse related to race in the NBA Finals, and Canadian NBA broadcasts in Punjabi.

Corrigan presented Studying Sports Blog Production: Methodological Challenges. In the discussion, Corrigan outlined the challenges faced when determining appropriate methodologies for researching the production of sports blogs. Currently in the process of identifying best ways for approaching this type of research, he argued that traditional observation practices related to journalism and broadcasting are unsuitable for blog-related research. His central question asks that if we restrict our observational methodologies and narrow ourselves to traditional research strategies, then how will that restrict our findings related to the way blogs are produced?

Blogs tend to be produced privately, and often by non-journalists or people with a keen interest in a specific topic – in this case, sports. The nature of sports blogging routines suggests that we should not approach the study of bloggers from a journalistically-based perspective, but from a new perspective dedicated solely to blogging. Space and time limitations exist in which a researcher cannot simply observe the production process, making traditional observation both methodologically and practically insufficient for studying blog production. By drawing upon traditional field work techniques such as document collection, long interviews and phone calls, Corrigan hopes to identify typicalities in blogging practices while creating a methodological bridge with traditional observation strategies.

Tomorrow, Dean Marie Hardin, Corrigan, and students Laura Caldwell and Melanie Formentin will present their own work in separate panels and roundtable discussions. They will be joined by PSU College of Comm graduates Whiteside and Jason Genovese. Check back for more updates from the conference.

- Melanie Formentin