Steve Prefontaine: From Rebel with a Cause to Hero with a Swoosh

in Sociology of Sport Journal
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World-class runner Steve Prefontaine died May 30, 1975, at the age of 24. Running during a time of unparalleled track and field popularity, he was a favorite media focus. Incredibly, he regained media attention in the 1990s. Using a critical cultural studies approach, this article explores media accounts of Prefontaine. A 1970s working-class “rebel with a cause,” Prefontaine served as an ideal of White working-class masculinity and as a voice calling for structural changes to the track and field governing body. In the 1990s, with the Nike funded reemergence of Prefontaine, that rebelliousness was recontextualized and co-opted, shifting Prefontaine into a commodified maverick celebrity, embodying the changing ideals of White, classless masculinity and supporting the ideology of individualism in late consumer capitalism.

Walton is with the School of Exercise, Leisure, and Sport, Kent State University, Kent, OH 44242.

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