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SportsCenter: A Case Study of Media Framing U.S. Sport as the COVID-19 Epicenter

Travis R. Bell

When COVID-19 enveloped sport, it presented SportsCenter, ESPN’s primary news vehicle, with an unexpected and ironic form of “March Madness,” with basketball as the sporting epicenter for a pandemic. This case study applied an ethnographic content analysis to examine how the cancellation or postponement of sport as a result of COVID-19 was framed across 22 episodes of SportsCenter from March 8 to 14, 2020. More than 134 min of coverage was devoted to COVID-19-related stories, and 268 unique types of stories were produced. Descriptive statistics suggested that COVID-19 was framed as having a direct impact on U.S. men’s professional sports leagues and the National Collegiate Athletic Association men’s basketball tournament. When considering news format characteristics, SportsCenter produced its coverage through convenience and relevance to ESPN, not sport. Even during a “breaking news” pandemic, SportsCenter retained its long-standing news process of gender bias and nationalistic favoritism. The visual difficulty of how to “show” coronavirus also presented a production challenge, but the messages and cues embedded in the visuals depicted a rapid shift in discourse that focused on basic reporting without health or global context. Instead, SportsCenter overwhelmed viewers with how sport was ripped away from (U.S.) American society.

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Field Guide to Covering Sports, 2nd edition

Travis R. Bell

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Stealing Thunder Through Social Media: The Framing of Maria Sharapova’s Drug Suspension

Travis R. Bell and Karen L. Hartman

In March 2016 the highest-paid women’s athlete, Maria Sharapova, called a press conference to announce a failed drug test. Sharapova relied on the crisis communication strategy of stealing thunder to present the information to media and break the story. The authors analyze how the press conference and her strategy were portrayed in traditional and online media and how Sharapova promoted and broadcast the press conference to defend herself. Using Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) software and textual analysis, the authors argue that Sharapova’s use of the stealing-thunder strategy successfully influenced media narratives about her suspension and should be considered by athletes in crisis situations.

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A Hit on American Football: A Case Study of Bottom-up Framing Through Op-Ed Readers’ Comments

Travis R. Bell and Jimmy Sanderson

In December 2015, the movie Concussion was released. The film portrayed the story of Dr Bennet Omalu, who is credited with discovering chromic traumatic encephalopathy in the brains of deceased National Football League players. Before the release, on December 7, 2015, Omalu penned an op-ed in The New York Times in which he opined that children should not play tackle football. This research explores 114 reader comments on Omalu’s op-ed through the lens of Nisbet’s bottom-up framing. Using a mixed-methods approach, the results indicated that participants framed the issue through health and safety, American cultural values, parenting liability, and skepticism. Linguistic analysis revealed that comments contained a negative tone, with women’s comments being more negative than men’s. The analysis suggests that online news forums function as spaces where public deliberation around the viability of children playing tackle football occurs and illustrates the tensions around risk, sport participation, and health and safety that confront parents as they grapple with the decision to let their children play tackle football

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“Mike Trout When I’m Battin’ Boy”: Unpacking Baseball’s Translation Through Rap Lyrics

Travis R. Bell and Victor D. Kidd

Baseball and rap music are often not considered culturally or historically synonymous, but a shift appears underway. This research examines how 239 rap lyrics reach across the formerly confined (mostly racialized) boundaries of baseball to engage the sport through its reference to 128 baseball players. A thematic analysis explores how the languages of baseball and rap culture intersect through linguistic translation. The authors develop a broad understanding of the positive and negative “baller” references, and how it could affect the future growth of baseball role models for Black youth athletes. Thus, baseball “text” as a source language translates to rap “text” as a target language to form a commonly constructed language at an intersection of music, sports, and masculinity.