In setting the world record at the London Marathon in 2003, Paula Radcliffe not only beat her female competitors but also her countrymen becoming the fastest British runner of the year, male or female, making her the nation’s best hope for the Olympic Games in 2004. From this position, she garnered a significant amount of media attention, becoming Britain’s most famous runner. Yet as a representative of her nation, both symbolically and on the national team, her place remains complicated. Radcliffe’s significant accomplishments, which were in part understood as British success, were also constructed as a foil for the lack of British men’s success in racialized and gendered ways. To explicate mediated articulations of national identity, I examined UK print media constructions of Radcliffe focusing on three major events of her running career: her world record, her failure to finish at the 2004 Games, and her World Championship marathon win in 2005. I found that Radcliffe achieved conditional status as a representative of Britain, while this media coverage also maintained and buttressed gendered and racialized hierarchies in the complex construction of British identity.
NBA player Latrell Sprewell’s attack on his coach, P.J. Carlesimo, in 1997, received extraordinary attention in the media. The coverage of the incident and subsequent trial revealed the media’s attitude toward violence within cultural representations of sport. This paper focuses on the way that violence associated with sport can be understood in relationship to the normalization of violence against women in American culture. Specifically, I focus on how the violent acts of athletes and coaches elicit different social responses depending on the social status of the victim. I argue that media representations, framed within narratives that construct their importance around gendered ideas of private and public spheres, work to support current race, class, and gender hierarchies. I also offer alternative ways of understanding the incident given the peculiar work setting of professional sport.
In the 1980s, Title IX and other civil tights laws faced significant challenges within a political climate of Reaganism and the growing strength of the alliance between the New Right and the Religious Right. In the 1980s two major events impacted all civil rights legislation based on the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The first was the Grove City College v. Bell (1984) Supreme Court decision and the second was the 1987 Civil Rights Restoration Act passed over the veto of President Reagan in 1988. This article examines the public discourse of these events through a critical media reading of mainstream newspaper coverage throughout the 1980s, highlighting the central role of Title IX in the debate over civil rights. This examination highlights the importance of dominant discourse in the enforcement of civil rights laws, as well as in the resulting lack of opportunity development over time.
Theresa A. Walton
Theresa A. Walton
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.
To critically investigate mainstream media representations of female high school wrestling within the broader sociocultural and historical context of the 1990s and early 2000s, I employ a critical cultural studies perspective with an eye toward understanding intersecting power relations (Birrell & McDonald, 2000; McDonald & Birrell, 1999). Several reoccurring themes emerged highlighting the gendered tensions surrounding girls wrestling boys: female wrestling not being taken seriously; worries about girls’ safety; questions of how to understand female’s motivations to wrestle; and the effects of female wrestling on male participants and the sport itself The main underlying concern relates to wrestling being a male preserve, which works to define masculinity. Media attention demonstrates the cultural work that the sport of wrestling does in maintaining, and potentially resisting, gender norms and relationships. While girls’ wrestling might offer resistant or transformative potential, mainstream media, in this case, primarily works to support masculine hegemony in wrestling.
Welch Suggs and Theresa Walton
Many of us want to engage in public application of our academic work, to not just understand the world, but to take part in addressing issues we investigate. Perhaps the metaphor of ‘taking a knee’ can be useful as we consider for ourselves, individually and collectively, how to do this work. Specifically, this paper considers the metaphorical meanings of ‘taking a knee’ to pause, reflect and consider ways to engage. The work of Ibram Kendi suggests that we look to how the economic, political and cultural self interest of powerful groups of people shape public life—including laws, policies and social norms to further their own self interests. In particular, this work considers the issue of the social construction of race in protests at sporting events during the national anthem and public responses to those events, finding as Kendi would predict, both progress toward racial equality and the advancement and evolution of racist ideas. Lastly, this investigation extends Kendi’s work by examining Title IX and athlete sexual assault, through firm scholarly research, as an example of both progress toward equality and also re-entrenchment of sexism and sexist ideologies, at the same time, by following the trail of self-interest.
Theresa A. Walton and Ted M. Butryn
In this article, we examine the complex relationship between whiteness and men’s U.S. distance running. Through a critical examination of over 700 print and electronic sources dealing with distance running in the U.S. from the 1970s through the present, we present evidence that distance running has been framed as a “White space” that is threatened by both external factors (dominance of male international distance-running competition by athletes from African nations) and internal factors (lack of U.S. White male success in conjunction with the success of U.S. citizens of color, born within and outside of the U.S.). We also examine several forms of backlash against these perceived threats, including the media focus on a succession of next White hopes, the rise of U.S. only prize money in road races, and the marginalization of African-born U.S. runners. Our analysis reveals how the media works to normalize whiteness within the larger narrative of U.S. distance running and suggests the need for future work on whiteness and sport.
Theresa A. Walton and Michelle T. Helstein
Attempts to unify and mobilize the U.S. collegiate wrestling community to “save” it from decline frames Title IX as the main “problem” to overcome. The logic of a community of identification at work in this strategy limits the interventions that can be made for wrestling while enabling corporate men’s sport to remain the hegemonic form of U.S. collegiate athletics. We explicate and critique the varied articulations of wrestling as a community of identification following Helstein’s (2005) call to deconstruct assumptions of unified sporting communities and to consider communities of articulation. We illustrate how communities of identification necessarily fail and how moving toward communities of articulation offers an intervention that enables a reframing of the relationship between Title IX and collegiate wrestling that could motivate meaningful change.