Swag, Social Media, and the Rhetoric of Style in College Athletic-Recruitment Discourse

Click name to view affiliation

Luke Winslow Baylor University, Waco, TX, USA

Search for other papers by Luke Winslow in
Current site
Google Scholar
PubMed
Close
*
,
Blair Browning Baylor University, Waco, TX, USA

Search for other papers by Blair Browning in
Current site
Google Scholar
PubMed
Close
, and
Andrew W. Ishak Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, CA, USA

Search for other papers by Andrew W. Ishak in
Current site
Google Scholar
PubMed
Close
Restricted access

Style—or the aesthetic dimensions of public presentation—is a dominant mode of symbolic expression. However, no one has explored how style functions as a coherent and generalizable symbol system influencing public conversations about athletic recruitment. The purpose of this essay is to fill this gap by developing a critical framework for theorizing the rhetoric of style in athletic recruitment discourse and significantly, how this is done through social media. We analyze sports journalism, recruiting websites, and the public messaging of athletic departments and athletes on social media according to five structural components: stylistic homologies, aesthetic rationales, primacy of text, imaginary communities, and market contexts. Our analysis offers practical lessons for athletes, journalists, and college athletic departments, but we also highlight several conceptual, methodological, and theoretical implications for scholars of communication and sport and social media interested in better understanding social influence in a dynamic and hyper-competitive context.

Winslow (Luke_Winslow@Baylor.edu) is corresponding author.

  • Collapse
  • Expand
  • Achen, R., & Abeza, G. (2021). Social media and relationship marketing in sport. In G. Abeza, N. O’Reilly, J. Sanderson, & E. Frederick (Eds.), Social media in sport: Theory and practice (pp. 191222). World Scientific.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Alger, T. (2020). How Oregon’s uniforms went from fledgling concept to creative college football force. The Athletic. https://theathletic.com/1782676/2020/04/30/oregon-football-uniforms-nike-design-1999/

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Althusser, L. (1971). Ideology and ideological state apparatuses. In L. Althusser (Ed.), Lenin and philosophy and other essays (B. Brewster, Trans.). Monthly Review Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Asen, R. (2002). Visions of poverty: Welfare policy and political imagination. Michigan State University Press.

  • Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Prentice-Hall.

  • Berg, A. (2022, July 12). Locker rooms becoming the hub of student-athlete life. Athletic Business. https://www.athleticbusiness.com/facilities/locker-room/article/15293255/locker-rooms-becoming-the-hub-of-studentathlete-life

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • The biggest NIL earners in women’s sports from 2022. (2022, December 22). Sports Illustrated. https://www.si.com/college/2022/12/22/biggest-nil-deals-womens-sports-cavinder-twins-bueckers-dunne

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bowers, J.W. (1968). The pre-scientific function of rhetorical criticism. In T.R. Nilsen (Ed.), Essays on rhetorical criticism (pp. 126143). Random House.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Boykoff, J., & Carrington, B. (2020). Sporting dissent: Colin Kaepernick, NFL activism, and media framing contests. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 55(7), 829849.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Brooks, S.N. (2011). Just a dream? Structure, power and agency in basketball. In J. Long & K. Spracklen (Eds.), Sport and challenges to racism (pp. 135149). Palgrave Macmillan.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Browning, B.W., & Sanderson, J. (2012). The positives and negatives of Twitter: Exploring how student-athletes use Twitter and respond to critical tweets. International Journal of Sport Communication, 5(4), 503521.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Brummett, B. (2004). Rhetorical homologies: Form, culture, experience. The University of Alabama Press.

  • Brummett, B. (2006). Rhetoric in popular culture (2nd ed.). Sage.

  • Brummett, B. (2009). Introduction: Sports, games, rhetoric, performance, and politics. In B. Brummett (Ed.), Sporting rhetoric: Performance, games, and politics (pp. 15). Peter Lang.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Brummett, B. (2008). A rhetoric of style. Southern Illinois University Press.

  • Burke, K. (1950). A rhetoric of motives. The University of California Press.

  • Butler, R. (2022, March 11). Josh Heupel teases Tennessee football uniform plans. Rocky Top Insider. https://www.rockytopinsider.com/2022/03/11/josh-heupel-teases-tennessee-football-uniform-plans/

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Butterworth, M.L. (2007). Race in “The Race”: Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and heroic constructions of whiteness. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 24(3), 228244.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Cassilo, D., & Kluch, Y. (2021). Mental health, college athletics, and the media framing of D. J. Carton’s announcement to step away from his team. Communication & Sport, 11(3), 462488.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Clarkson, P.[@Pierce Clarkson_] (2021, November 7). Shout out to the @UofLFootball staff for the unforgettable visit! Be back soon. #GoCards [Photograph]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/pierceclarkson_

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Clayborne, C. (2023, March 2). Name, image, and likeness: What college athletes should know about NCAA rules. USNews. https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/name-image-likeness-what-college-athletes-should-know-about-ncaa-rules

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Cloud, D.L. (2004). “To veil the threat of terror”: Afghan women and the <Clash of Civilizations> in the imagery of the U.S. war on terrorism. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 90(3), 285306.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Crabtree, J. (2013, July 30). Trendy uniforms a differentiator. ESPN. https://www.espn.com/collegesports/recruiting/football/story/_/id/9523357/collegefootball-recruiting-uniforms-selling-point-schools

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Curtis, C. (2016, December 14). Here’s a first look at the slide (yes, a slide) at Clemson’s football facility. Forthewin/USA Today Sports. https://ftw.usatoday.com/2016/12/clemson-football-facility-slide-tigers-photos

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Doyle, J., Su, Y., & Kunkel, T. (2022). Athlete branding via social media: Examining the factors influencing consumer engagement on Instagram. European Sport Management Quarterly, 22(4), 506526.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Evans, J., & Hall, S. (2007). What is visual culture? In J. Evans & S. Hall (Eds.), Visual culture: The reader (pp. 19). Sage.

  • Everhart, J.R., & Anassi, E. (2017). It’s all about the Benjamins: How student-athletes can generate income through self-employment. Southern Journal of Business and Ethics, 9, 145152.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ewen, S. (1999). All consuming images: The politics of style in contemporary culture. Basic.

  • Fisher, M. (2021, January 31). Texas revenue: $200 million—Burnt orange in the black. Sports Illustrated. https://www.si.com/college/texas/news/texas-longhorns-annual-revenue-200-million-burnt-orange-in-the-black

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gaines, C. (2019, January 8). Clemson’s $55 million football complex shows how swanky college football facilities have become for the top programs. Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/photos-clemsons-football-facility-2017-10

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hall, S. (1996). Who needs “identity”? In S. Hall & P. du Gay (Eds.), Questions of cultural identity (pp. 117). Sage.

  • Hariman, R. (1992). Decorum, power, and the courtly style. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 78(2), 149172.

  • Hariman, R. (1995). Political style: The artistry of power. University of Chicago Press.

  • Hariman, R., & Lucaites, J.L. (2002). Performing civic identity: The iconic photograph of the flag raising on Iwo Jima. The Quarterly Journal of Speech, 88(4), 363392.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hart, R., Childers, J., & Lind, C. (2013). Political tone: How leaders talk and why. University of Chicago Press.

  • Hawkins, B. (2010). The new plantation: Black athletes, college sports, and predominantly white NCAA institutions. Palgrave MacMillan.

  • Hebdige, D. (1979). Subculture: The meaning of style. Methuen.

  • Hepburn, C.[@ChuckyHepburn]. (2022, November 4). We’re coming different this season. [video]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/ChuckyHepburn/status/1588559119132332032

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hofstadter, R. (1964). The paranoid style in American politics and other essays. Vintage.

  • Hull, K., & Abeza, G. (2021). Introduction to social media in sport. In G. Abeza, N. O’Reilly, J. Sanderson, & E. Frederick (Eds.), Social media in sport: Theory and practice (pp. 128). World Scientific.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hull, K., Lee, J., Zapalac, R., & Stilwell, M. (2017). H-Town takeover: Social media agenda setting and branding efforts at the University of Houston. Journal of Issues in Intercollegiate Athletics, 10, 162181. http://csri-jiia.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/RA_2017_09.pdf

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Huml, M.R., Pifer, N.D., Towle, C., & Rode, C.R. (2019). If we build it, will they come? The effect of new athletic facilities on recruiting rankings for power five football and men’s basketball programs. Journal of Marketing for Higher Education, 29(1), 118.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Huml, M.R., Pifer, N.D., Towle, C., & Rode, C.R. (n.d.). Do facilities really matter in recruiting? AthleticDirectorU. https://athleticdirectoru.com/articles/do-facilities-matter-recruiting/

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Illini Football/Smith Center Football Reveal. (2019, August 20). YouTube.com. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J2iztSOD2Lg&t=1s

  • Ishak, A.W. (2017). Communication in sports teams: A review. Communication Research Trends, 36(4), 438.

  • Ivie, R.L. (1980). Images of savagery in American justifications for war. Communication Monographs, 47(4), 279294.

  • Jameson, F. (1991). Postmodernism, or the cultural logic of late capitalism. Duke University Press.

  • Jamieson, T. (2014, June 5). Welcome to the quack cave. Business of College Sports. https://businessofcollegesports.com/facilities/welcome-to-the-quack-cave/

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Jasinski, J. (2001). Sourcebook on rhetoric: Key concepts in contemporary rhetorical studies (pp. 569575). Sage.

  • Johnson, S.[@Coast2Coasttc]. (2022, January 24). Photo Dump pt. 1 [Photograph]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/Coast2Coasttc/status/1485717710600351745

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kian, E.M., & Sanderson, J. (2021). Research in social media and sport. In G. Abeza, N. O’Reilly, J. Sanderson, & E. Frederick (Eds.), Social media in sport: Theory and practice (pp. 2956). World Scientific.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kilcline, C. (2017). Sport and protest: Global perspectives. The International Journal of the History of Sport, 34(3–4), 157161.

  • Lavelle, K. (2022). Developing a rhetoric of mental health from a communication and sport perspective. In J. Sanderson & M.R. Weathers (Eds.), Health communication and sport (pp. 3145). Lexington Books.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lil Mike [@mtrigg_]. (2022, January 15). Pop yo shii twin. Twitter. https://twitter.com/mtrigg_/status/1482399453629792262

  • Loy, T. (2022, March 16). Notre Dame’s ‘Pot of Gold Day’ an impactful tradition here to stay. Irish Illustrated. https://247sports.com/college/notre-dame/Article/Notre-Dame-Football-Chad-Bowden-Pot-of-Gold-Fighting-Interview-Class-of-2024-Scholarship-Offer-Marcus-Freeman-184567902/

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lyotard, J. (1984). The postmodern condition: A report on knowledge (G. Bennington & B. Massumi, Trans). University of Minnesota Press. (Original work published 1979).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Majors, R., & Billson, J.M. (1992). Cool pose: The dilemmas of Black manhood in America. Touchstone.

  • Manfred, T. (2013, July 22). Alabama’s new $9 million football facility is like something out of MTV Cribs. Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/alabama-football-facility-pictures-2013-7

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Mitchell, W.J.T. (2005). What do pictures want: The lives and loves of images. University of Chicago Press.

  • Morales, A., & Wasserman, A. (2022). A horse, a Rolls Royce, 10 pairs of cleats? The growing importance of photo shoots in college football recruiting. https://theathletic.com/3103611/2022/02/01/horses-luxury-cars-and-the-photo-shoots-growing-influence-in-college-footballs-recruiting-landscape/

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Park, C., Jae Ko, Y., Kim, H.Y., Sagas, M., & Eddosary, M. (2016). Donor motivation in college sport: Does contribution level matter? Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal, 44(6), 10151032.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Pegoraro, A. (2010). Look who’s talking—Athletes on Twitter: A case study. International Journal of Sport Communication, 3(4), 501514.

  • Rickman, M. (2013, November 27). Photo: Texas A&M’s ‘Swagcopter’ gets a new paint job. Sports Illustrated. https://www.si.com/campus-union/2013/11/27/texas-am-swagcopter-paint-job

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rodriguez, S. (2022). Instagram surpasses 2 billion monthly active users while powering through a year of turmoil. https://www.cnbc.com/2021/12/14/instagram-surpasses-2-billion-monthly-users.html

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sanderson, J., Browning, B.W., & DeHay, H. (2020). “It’s the universal language”: Student-athletes’ use of and motivations for playing Fortnite. Journal of Intercollegiate Issues in Athletics, 13, 2244.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sanderson, J., Browning, B.W., & Schmittel, A.L. (2015). Education on the digital terrain: Exploring college athletes’ perceptions of social media training, International Journal of Sport Communication, 8(1), 103124.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sanderson, J., & Truax, C. (2014). “I hate you man!”: Exploring maladaptive parasocial interaction expressions to college athletes via Twitter. Journal of Issues in Intercollegiate Athletics, 7, 333351.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sapio, A. (2022, December 23). Cavinder twins among Sports Illustrated’s top NIL money makers. Sports Illustrated. https://www.si.com/college/miami/basketball/cavinder-twins-sports-illustrated

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Shotsberger, P.G. (2000). The human touch: Synchronous communication in web-based learning. Educational Technology, 40(1), 5356.

  • SI Staff. (2008, June 23). Oregon’s Jonathan Stewart comic book. Sports Illustrated. https://www.si.com/college/2008/06/23/23oregons-jonathan-stewart-comic-book#gid=ci0255ca99203c24a5&pid=oregon-comic-coverjpg

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Stratton, J. (2001). The desirable body: Cultural fetishism and the erotics of consumption. University of Illinois Press.

  • Streeter, K. (2022, November 8). New endorsements for college athletes resurface an old concern: Sex sells. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/11/08/sports/ncaabasketball/olivia-dunne-haley-jones-endorsements.html

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Tech Celebrates Opening of Sports Performance Center. (2017, October 20). Texas Tech. https://texastech.com/news/2017/10/20/general-tech-celebrates-opening-of-sports-performance-center.aspx

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • The NCAA Division I Athletic Funding Crisis. (2015). ASHE higher education report. 41(5), 2547.

  • Vivian, B. (2002). Style, rhetoric, and postmodern culture. Philosophy & Rhetoric, 35(3), 223243.

  • Vowles, J. (2021, March 18). Notre Dame Football recruiting: A successful “Pot Of Gold” day sets new standard for the Irish. One Foot Down. https://www.onefootdown.com/2021/3/18/22337135/notre-dame-football-recruiting-a-successful-pot-of-gold-day-sets-new-standard-for-the-irish-nd-offer

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wenner, L. (2021). Foreword. In G. Abeza, N. O’Reilly, J. Sanderson, & E. Frederick (Eds.), Social media in sport: Theory and practice (pp. ixxviii). World Scientific.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Willis J. (2020, December 16). Meet the artists behind some of your favorite recruiting, NBA, NFL draft Photoshop memes and jersey swaps. ESPN. https://www.espn.com/espn/story/_/id/30519424/meet-artists-some-your-favorite-recruiting-nba-nfl-draft-photoshop-memes-jersey-swaps

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Winslow, L. (2012). Promise keepers and the rhetoric of the stylized other. Journal of Communication & Religion, 35(1), 7389.

  • Winslow, L. (2014). The imaged other: Style and substance in the rhetoric of Joel Osteen. Southern Communication Journal, 79(3), 250271.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Winslow, L. (2020). American catastrophe: Fundamentalism, climate change, gun rights, and the rhetoric of Donald J. Trump. Ohio State University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Worgull, B. (2022, November 4). Wisconsin’s new alternative uniforms more than a fresh look. Rivals. https://wisconsin.rivals.com/news/wisconsin-s-new-alternative-uniforms-more-than-a-fresh-look

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Zimmerman, M., Slater, K., & Burch, L. (2021). Social media use in major sports. In G. Abeza, N. O’Reilly, J. Sanderson, & E. Frederick (Eds.), Social media in sport: Theory and practice (pp. 83110). World Scientific.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 1447 1447 153
Full Text Views 690 690 5
PDF Downloads 91 91 8