Thursday, December 29, 2005

Making progress on Portland

Jerry Micco, sports editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, answered questions about the paper's general silence on the Rene Portland situation during an online chat session with readers yesterday. (For background, see my Nov. 25 post.) Micco's answers pointed to the difficulty in covering these kinds of stories. I've talked to several journalists who have been frustrated by their inability to reach former players who are willing to talk on the record. (If nobody talks, there's not much to write.)
Former players have legitimate reasons for their fear to speak out. Portland is a powerful figure in women's college basketball. ESPN earlier this month ran an Outside the Lines piece that also aired on SportsCenter. The only lesbian who spoke on camera played for Portland more than two decades ago and is not in coaching today.
With a topic that puts more than one career on the line, it can be a struggle even for national media, which have more resources and less at risk than do publications such as the Post-Gazette. This story is certainly worth the effort, though.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Will they be forgotten in March?

An ESPN feature today, "Operation Recovery," on wounded American soldiers, features the stories of several soldiers injured in Iraq who've returned to the United States for rehab. Part of that rehab for them has been in sport: golf, basketball, canoeing and more. The article gives a great plug to Disabled Sports USA.
Many of the soldiers who are learning about opportunities in disabled sport will discover great levels of competition. The world's second-largest sporting event is the Paralympics,where the best disabled athletes in the world compete in a variety of sports. Some of today's Paralympians are former members of the U.S. armed forces.
Traditionally, ESPN has ignored the Paralympics, preferring to run poker reruns instead. Perhaps in March during the Paralympics in Torino, ESPN will follow some of our former servicemen and women who are now elite-level Paralympians.
p.s.--Don't know the difference between the Paralympics and the Special Olympics? Click here.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

A nation of armchair quarterbacks

A wire story posted earlier this week confirms what we could have already guessed by looking at the waistlines of most Americans and at the growing amount of sports-related programming on TV: Americans are playing less and watching more. According to a report released by the Census Bureau, recreational sport participation was down in 2004. Meanwhile, television viewing continued its upward trend. The dip in sports participation (skiing, tennis and other activities) was on the rise until 2004, so the dip could be temporary. (Let's hope so. If not, this pattern reflect a very unhealthy trend in the way Americans view sport and exercise.)

Saturday, December 17, 2005

A vote for ethical journalism

San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Jim Sullivan has joined the growing number of sports writers who will not be voting for players to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame or to receive other honors. Sullivan outlines his argument against doing so in his Dec. 16 column, where he lists the growing number of papers that forbid sports writers to do so.
This is a good move because it gives sports journalists more credibility as journalists and moves them out of the position of creating news. Their job is to report it. For more on sports journalists and ethics, see results of our study released in May.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Getting more reader participation in newspaper sports pages

The Associated Press Sports Editors mid-Atlantic region met at Penn State last week to talk about issues in sports journalism. An important discussion involved ways to get more readers to newspaper sports pages.
One way to do that is through serious coverage of individual, participatory sports, such as running, skiing, cycling, hunting/fishing and action sports. Studies of newspaper readers show that they are drawn to intensely local, people-oriented coverage that focuses on lifestyle-related topics. Routine coverage of sports in which they participate -- often competitively -- will draw them to sports sections.
One good example of a paper doing this: The Wilmington (Del.) News Journal, which publishes regular coverage of sports such as running, skiing and skateboarding.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The wisdom of Solomon at ESPN

If you haven't already starting reading it, ESPN ombudsman George Solomon's monthly column at is a thought-provoking look at the ethical and professional issues at ESPN. For instance, his November column addresses overkill on the T.O. story, overreaction of ESPN personalities to comments from coaches, and the over-the-line "news conference" simulation last month. His December column takes ESPN to task for its delay in removing analyst Michael Irvin from the air following his arrest on drug-related charges.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Lesbians in sport: Coverage perpetuates myth, not reality

I am intrigued with two sports stories that appeared several weeks ago but then vanished almost as quickly as a mall parking spot on Black Friday: those involving WNBA player Sheryl Swoopes and Penn State women's basketball coach Rene Portland.
Portland, who made no secret in the early 1990s that she discriminated against lesbian players, was accused of doing so recently by a player who was dismissed last season despite being one of the team's top scorers. Meanwhile, Swoopes, the only WNBA player to market her own shoe, disclosed in ESPN The Magazine last month that she is lesbian.
The story about Swoopes demonstrates at least in part why the Portland story hasn't -- and may never -- fully develop. As Dave Zirin points out in an essay in The Nation, Swoopes' revelation was reframed to perpetuate the myth that lesbians in sport are welcome, prominent and well-protected. That kind of framing hides the truth: that lesbians still face blatant discrimination. It remains extremely risky for a lesbian to be honest with her coaches, teammates and the public about her identity.
Thus, lesbian athletes often play in silence, deciding that the price for coming out may be too high. That allows homophobic coaches to continue to discriminate against players they perceive as lesbian. Those players -- even after they're gone -- are often too afraid to come forward.
Thus, the "non-story" continues, helped along by sports journalists who are themselves afraid to pursue the story for fear it will anger coaches on the beats they cover (For instance, it's curious that sports writers at the Centre Daily Times, the paper local to Penn State, haven't written about the controversy.).

Monday, November 21, 2005

Wonder why you don't see more women's sports in newspaper sports sections?

One reason could be that so few women who work in newsrooms cover sports. A Center for Sports Journalism survey found that women are scarce in sports departments in comparison to the rest of the newsroom. Racial minorities are employed at a slightly higher rate than are women. Check out the summary.

Saturday, November 19, 2005


I'm starting this blog to share research we're doing at the PSU Center for Sports Journalism and to offer my unedited commentary on issues involving sports media. Sports media compose a huge industry in the United States with an undeniable impact on American culture and values. I hope you'll visit often and provide your feedback on the topics posted here.