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Professional Athletes’ Shrinking Privacy Boundaries: Fans, Information and Communication Technologies, and Athlete Monitoring

Jimmy Sanderson

This case study considers how audience labor performed via information and communication technologies (ICTs) helps sports organizations monitor professional athletes. Three incidents are examined—(a) National Basketball Association (NBA) player Greg Oden participating in a pickup (casual) basketball game while he was rehabilitating an injured knee, (b) photographs posted on the Internet that captured National Football League player Matt Leinart posing with several young women in a hot tub and holding a beer bong, and (c) a video posted on YouTube that depicted NBA player Josh Howard disparaging the U.S. national anthem. The case study explores how ICTs enable sports organizations to capitalize on free labor provided by audience members to intensify surveillance of professional athletes and how fans’ ability to comment on news coverage of these stories reinforces organizational control, further reifying professional athletes as commodities.

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Framing Tiger’s Troubles: Comparing Traditional and Social Media

Jimmy Sanderson

This research explored how press outlets and fans framed professional golfer Tiger Woods’s marital infidelity. A textual analysis of newspaper reports and discussion postings on Tiger Woods’s official Facebook page was conducted. Analysis revealed that press accounts framed Woods’s actions as a tragic flaw that precipitated his fall from grace, while also reveling in the salacious details of the extramarital affairs. Conversely, fans primarily framed these incidents as private matters that demonstrated Woods’s human nature. The analysis suggests that social-media sites are valuable public relations tools that athletes can use to quickly generate support that counteracts perceived negative media framing. Social-media sites also enable fans to enhance perceptions of closeness with athletes as fans interject themselves into athletes’ media narratives.

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To Tweet or Not to Tweet: Exploring Division I Athletic Departments’ Social-Media Policies

Jimmy Sanderson

Via their social-media postings, student-athletes are increasingly creating public relations issues for college athletic programs. With social media’s emergence as a popular communication tool, exploring the messages student-athletes receive from their athletic departments about social-media use is warranted. This research examined social-media policies in student-athlete handbooks from 159 NCAA Division I schools. Using thematic and textual analytic procedures, analysis revealed that policies heavily emphasize content restrictions and external monitoring and frame social media as laden with risk. The results suggest that social-media policies should be more reflexive to identify both positive and negative outcomes for student-athletes. In addition, athletic departments must assertively monitor social-media trends to ensure that policies and training stay relevant.

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“How Do You Prove a Negative?” Roger Clemens’s Image-Repair Strategies in Response to the Mitchell Report

Jimmy Sanderson

This case study examines star Major League Baseball pitcher Roger Clemens’s image-repair strategies during a press conference he held to respond to allegations that he had used steroids and human-growth hormones earlier in his playing career. When professional athletes are confronted with allegations of cheating or illegitimately enhancing their athletic performance, they are faced with a crisis situation, and selecting and performing the appropriate response is paramount in repairing their image and mitigating personal harm (e.g., loss of endorsements). In many cases, however, professional athletes rely on attorneys, agents, or other individuals who might underestimate the relevance of appropriately communicating image repair, thereby resulting in the athlete’s image being further damaged. Although Clemens employed various image-repair strategies during his press conference, his failure to enact these strategies appropriately further harmed his reputation and ultimately raised more questions than he answered.

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“You Are the Type of Person That Children Should Look up to as a Hero”: Parasocial Interaction on 38pitches.com

Jimmy Sanderson

This research explored people’s expression of parasocial interaction (PSI) on Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling’s blog, 38pitches.com. A thematic analysis using grounded theory (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) and constant comparative methodology of 1,337 postings on Schilling’s blog was conducted. Three parasocial aspects emerged from data analysis: identification, admonishment and advice giving, and criticism. The findings of the study provide support for previous research that suggests identification is a PSI component, and given the large presence of admonishment and criticism, the findings extend PSI theory by suggesting that PSI theory must account for and encompass negative relational behaviors. The results also indicate that people’s use of information and communication technologies is reconfiguring parasocial relationships as fans take an active role in soliciting and communicating with professional athletes, subsequently creating more opportunities for PSI to occur.

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Introduction to This Special Issue of IJSC on Twitter

Jimmy Sanderson

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Critiquing the Social Media Scholarship in Sport Studies: Looking Beyond Content and Adopting Critical Approaches

Jimmy Sanderson

Social media and sport research has produced a significant corpus of academic literature. This work has enhanced our understanding of the influence of social media in various areas of the sport industry. This work, however, has often glamorized social media and its benefits, leading to a normalization about social media that obscures its negative effects and impacts in sport. This commentary reflects on how social media and sport research has evolved over time and calls for more consideration to be given to critical approaches to social media research that look beyond analysis of social media content. The commentary specifically addresses areas of inquiry around athlete welfare and social media, social media and young athletes, and social media professionals and their work environment. The commentary aims to encourage more critical perspectives related to social media that will enhance the inclusivity of the social media and sport literature.

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Theory and Social Media in Sport Studies

Gashaw Abeza and Jimmy Sanderson

A key feature of a robust academic discipline is that its homegrown theories and investing in theory contribute to building good research. In the field of sport and social media research, the rigorous utilization of theory is one of the areas where the field is still facing “disciplinary pain.” In fact, the unique features of social media provide researchers in the sport research community with a valuable opportunity for proposing, testing, applying, critiquing, comparing, integrating, and expanding theories. In this commentary, the authors, based on their own experience (as researchers, readers, and reviewers of social media in sport), contend that reference resources are lacking on this topic to help young (or existing) researchers locate appropriate theories for their research. Hence, this work identifies, documents, and discusses the theories used, advanced, and developed in social media research for sport studies. Furthermore, a compilation is brought together of different theories from various disciplines that researchers in this community may consider for their future work.

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The Positives and Negatives of Twitter: Exploring How Student-Athletes Use Twitter and Respond to Critical Tweets

Blair Browning and Jimmy Sanderson

Twitter has become a popular topic in sport communication research. Little research to date, however, has examined Twitter from the perspective of student-athletes. This research explored how student-athletes at an NCAA Division I university used Twitter and reacted to critical tweets from fans. Semistructured interviews with 20 student-athletes were conducted. Analysis revealed that student-athletes used Twitter in 3 primary ways: keeping in contact, communicating with followers, and accessing information. With respect to critical tweets, student-athletes reported various perceptions about them and diverse strategies for responding to them. The results suggest that Twitter is a beneficial communicative tool for student-athletes but also presents challenges, given the ease with which fans attack them via this social-media platform. Accordingly, athletic departments must be proactive in helping student-athletes use Twitter strategically, particularly in responding to detractors.

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“They Hired a Baseball Guy”: Media Framing and Its Influence on the Isomorphic Tendencies of Organizational Management in Professional Football

David Cassilo and Jimmy Sanderson

Many professional sport franchises have undergone shifts in talent evaluation strategies by moving to analytic and data-driven approaches. However, National Football League (NFL) franchises have been resistant to fully embrace the analytical model, as NFL organizational management structures tend to be isomorphic. In 2016, the Cleveland Browns initiated an ideological break from this system by hiring “moneyball” guru Paul DePodesta, a move that signaled a shift to an analytics-based model in organizational management. A textual analysis of 120 online media articles was carried out to determine how media reports framed this philosophical shift. Results revealed that frames predominantly portrayed analytics as being in direct opposition to normalized operational structures in the NFL. The results illustrate how difficult it is to change the discourse and embrace new management ideas that are perceived to contrast with dominant ideologies.