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From Athlete to Advocate: The Changing Media Coverage of Michael Phelps Pre- and Postretirement

Joshua R. Jackson, Emily J. Dirks, and Andrew C. Billings

Michael Phelps was one of the first athletes to openly struggle with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, and depression while still competing. During his career, his perceived identity was tied to his status as an athlete. In retirement, his identity shifted to that of a mental health advocate. This study examines the word choice of newspaper articles on the topic of Phelps and mental health using both social identity and framing theories. Mentions of suicide and seeking help, along with the descriptions of specific types of mental illness and perceived identity assigned to Phelps, were compared between two time periods. Results showed that during Phelps’s career, articles were much more likely to discuss his attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder diagnosis and not as likely to discuss suicide, seeking help, and depression. After his retirement, articles were more likely to identify Phelps as an advocate and less likely to focus on him as a celebrity.

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Evaluating the Use of Communication and Technology by High School Athletic Directors to Navigate the COVID-19 Pandemic

Tyler Ratts, Braden Norris, and Brian Mancuso

High school athletics represents a major segment of the sport industry and is regarded as an important component in youth development in the United States. With the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic, challenges emerged that forced athletic directors to provide essential information to key stakeholders, keep people safe, and identify new ways to bring events to fans. To further understand these experiences, this commentary aimed to evaluate the use of communication and technology by high school athletic directors to address challenges, develop new strategies, adapt to day-to-day changes, and manage the long-term impacts of COVID-19 on interscholastic athletics. Through in-depth interviews with athletic directors, responses demonstrated how enhanced communication with key stakeholders (i.e., athletic programs and fellow athletic directors) and a reliance on technologies (i.e., digital ticketing and online live streaming) helped these leaders successfully navigate the pandemic and develop new strategies that will persist into the future.

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Just Copy and Paste? Usage and Patterns of Social Media Sources in Online Articles on Sport

Inga Oelrichs

Information sourcing in sports journalism changes with the process of news curation on the internet. In particular, social media is an important source for sports reporters, as athletes and organizations post content on a regular basis. Although how sports journalists use social media in their daily work routines has already been investigated, there is little knowledge on how social media is used as a source in sports reporting. However, with regard to a possible copy-and-paste trend and an impeding loss of relevance of journalistic content, results pertaining to the use of social media as a source would be helpful to evaluate journalistic output. By conducting a quantitative content analysis of 3,150 online articles of three German sports news providers, this author investigated the number and patterns of social media sources in journalistic articles. The results reveal, inter alia, that social media is crucial for human interest stories on athletes.

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Situational Crisis Communication Theory and the National Football League: A Case Study of the NFL’s Response Strategies to Its Concussion Crisis

Sabrina Castonguay and Mark Lowes

This case study analyzes the crisis response strategies used by the National Football League (NFL) in its external communications to address the concussion crisis spanning 2015–2020. The analysis focuses on describing the crisis communication strategies and tactics used by the league. Situational crisis communication theory provides the theoretical framework for analyzing the NFL’s crisis response strategies. A qualitative thematic analysis was conducted of 25 publications published by the NFL on nflcommunications.com, with findings indicating that the NFL focused on the primary crisis strategies of rebuilding and diminishing while employing tactics such as organizational change and shared responsibility. The findings revealed in this case study also highlight a discrepancy between the theoretical ground of situational crisis communication theory and the application of crisis response strategies in a real-life organizational crisis facing a professional sports league.

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Print Media Framing of the Olympic Games Before Canadian Referendums: The Cases of Calgary 2026 and Vancouver 2010

Jared F.K. Monaghan and Claudio M. Rocha

This study used a quantitative content analysis and a qualitative thematic analysis to explore how the Olympic Games were framed in print media prior to two Canadian Winter Olympic referendums. Content-analysis results showed that the salient topics and the tone of newspaper articles were framed more positively prior to the successful Vancouver 2010 referendum compared with the unsuccessful Calgary 2026 referendum. The thematic analysis indicated four themes. First, news discourse emphasized the importance of Olympic vision that is congruent with host city needs. Second, the prominence of health promotion through sport as a reported theme was more associated with a successful bid. Third, the communication and quantification of intangible benefits were reported to be increasingly important so that the value of the Olympics can be assessed fairly against the ever-burgeoning hosting costs. Finally, the Olympic brand has been deteriorating, at least over the last 15–16 years according to print media. Implications for theory and practice are discussed.

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From Medals to Minutes: Time on Camera for Men and Women During the 2020 Tokyo Olympics on NBC Television

Zachary W. Arth, Mackenzie P. Pike, and James R. Angelini

This study assessed the time on camera dedicated to men and women athletes at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. An analysis of all of NBC’s Olympic programming, consisting of both the flagship prime-time broadcasts and the additional content on their network, yielded nearly 230 hr of Olympic content to code. In the 62 hr of prime-time coverage, women received 57.95% of the time on camera. During the non-prime-time coverage, which spanned 167 hr, women again received the majority of clock time, accounting for 55.22%. In addition, differences by sport were uncovered with the major differences occurring in gymnastics and beach volleyball, both of which saw much more hours dedicated to the women’s competitions. Utilizing agenda setting as the theoretical framework for this study, ramifications for these broadcast trends and differences are discussed.

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Volume 15 (2022): Issue 2 (Jun 2022)

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Dope and Deny: A Comparative Study of News Frames in American and Russian Coverage of American and Russian Athletes

Sada Reed and Jennifer L. Harker

This content analysis builds on past studies done on media coverage, rhetorical analyses, and journalistic role enactment by examining American and Russian news publications’ (N = 422) coverage of American and Russian doping scandals between 2013 and 2016. This time frame was selected because it was the height of Lance Armstrong and Major League Baseball doping coverage in the United States and the height of Olympic track-and-field doping coverage in Russia. It also fell between the time the World Anti-Doping Agency ratified its third code, which gave the antidoping organization the authority to conduct independent investigations. The study investigates media framing from the midpoint of the scandal, after the sports persona or sports entity denied using performance-enhancing drugs. Whether American and Russian coverage differ in the use of episodic and thematic frames, where blame is placed, and whether episodic or thematic framing predicts blame placement were all examined. Furthermore, the study investigates both nations’ coverage of “their own” athletes and of athletes from the other nation and analyzes whether or how the rhetorical posture of denial leads to adversarial journalism as a role enactment in coverage of sport-related scandals.

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The Supercrip Athlete in Media: Model of Inspiration or Able-Bodied Hegemony?

Danielle Sterba, Jessie N. Stapleton, and Winston Kennedy

Options for athletes with disabilities to participate in sport have risen and, with them, supercrip representation. Supercrip is defined as a stereotypical representation of individuals with disabilities that highlights their accomplishments as inspirational stories of defying or overcoming their disability to succeed. With little consensus on how to represent disability in sport, it is imperative that this representation be investigated. The purpose of this commentary is to broadly examine assumptions of the supercrip model as a mode of representation for athletes with disabilities, explore its connection to able-bodied hegemony, and propose next steps in facilitating research and discourse around representation for athletes with disabilities. We conclude that able-bodied hegemony is the root of the supercrip model and that participatory action research, with stakeholders at the center, is necessary to fully evaluate the supercrip model.

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Self-Presentation and Social Media Usage: A Case Study of Professional Alpine Skiing Athletes During the Winter Olympic Games and World Cup

Vivien Schibblock, Joanne Hinds, Martin Kopp, and Martin Schnitzer

Social media sites are rich communication and marketing tools used by athletes to promote their “brand” and interact with fans. Indeed, the proliferation of social media has led to athletes promoting themselves across multiple platforms. This study examined how the world’s top 10 professional alpine skiing athletes used social media to present themselves and engage with fans during the 2017–18 World Cup and 2018 Winter Olympic Games. The data for the latest Winter Olympic Games in 2022 (organized under changed circumstances because of COVID-19) were not available for this study at the time of finalization. Guided by self-presentation theory, this study used a content analysis to examine how athletes presented themselves in social media photographs. The results demonstrated that athletes employed similar posting patterns across the social media platforms (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram). The posting distribution per athlete and channel was different, as some athletes used the same posts across all channels. Twitter boasted the highest posting frequency. Based on the coded social media posts, athletes’ self-presentation mainly focused on business life content. Thus, they appeared as dressed but posed, a finding that aligns with Goffman’s notion of front-stage performance. This case study extends the literature as it involves an analysis of self-presentation across multiple channels, comparing two international events while using a sample of one sport.