This study analyzes the stories that American television
tells when it covers international sports events. We sought to determine whether the
narratives, metaphors, framing devices, and production practices used by television to
cover these events differed according to race, ethnicity, or nationality of athletes.
Discussions of race relations within sport gained public
and academic attention during the late 1960s. During the 1970s and 1980s, sport media
organizations sometimes were criticized for racist depictions of athletes of color. These
critiques served as a touchstone for the public, journalists, and broadcasters to discuss
how racial prejudices are reflected in sport media. A number of research studies showed
that televised sports sometimes reinforce racial stereotypes. Partly in response to
growing public and scholarly interest as well as increasing pressures from minority
advocacy groups, sport media professionals have looked more closely at racial issues in
sports during the 1990s. For example, NBC aired a special, hosted by Tom Brokaw, on the
Black male athlete, and CNN and ESPN produced documentary series on Black athletes in 1990
Several research studies have focused on representations of
athletes of color in televised athletic events (Jackson, 1989; Rainville & McCormick,
1977). And in recent years, a number of scholars in communication studies and sociology
have turned to the internationalization of sport media (Bellamy, 1993; Lule, 1992;
Maguire, 1993; Real, 1989; Tunstall, 1977; Whannel, 1992). This report intends to
supplement and update previous research and to promote discussion of the treatment of race
and ethnicity by sport media producers.
The study examined seven televised international sports
events occurring between 1988 and 1993: the 1988 Olympic Winter Games, 1990 Goodwill
Games, 1991 Pan American Games, 1992 Olympic Winter Games, 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games,
1993 World University Games, and the 1993 World Track and Field Championships. The
broadcasts were aired on several different networks. Sport competitions, personal
profiles, and opening and closing ceremonies were analyzed for their treatment of race,
ethnicity, and nationality. In all, this study examined media treatment of 161 athletes
from 31 competitions. We also studied the racial/ethnic composition of broadcast images by
commentators and interviewers. (table of contents)
FINDINGS AND INTERPRETATIONS
The study produced seven major findings:
1. The sports productions covered
attempted to provide racially unbiased treatment of all athletes.
2. Race, ethnicity, and
nationality were treated differently by each production.
3. Black athletes were not represented
4. Asian athletes often were depicted by
5. Hispanic were depicted positively,
but often were described in terms of physical characteristics. (1)
6. Minorities were
underrepresented in commentator and interviewer appearances.
7. The television coverage
reflected a nationalistic bias.
1. The Sports Productions Examined Attempted to Provide Racially Unbiased Treatment of All
Sports television producers and commentators appeared to
make an effort, though not always successful, to treat all athletes fairly regardless of
race or ethnicity. Each of the five openings-and-closings analyzed contained visual images
emphasizing racial and cultural diversity, showing racially-mixed groups of athletes at
opening ceremonies. Another production offered a sequence of shots that showed an Asian
sprinter, athletes hugging, a Black track and field athlete, a Black athlete kissing a
medal, a White female gymnast, and a Russian weight lifter. In the case of the 1990
Goodwill Games and 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games, these visual presentations were
accompanied by commentator or voice-over discussions of race, culture, or nation.
Producers selected athletes to interview from a
cross-section of races and ethnic groups. Predictably United States athletes were more
likely to be interviewed, in these American productions, than foreign athletes. There was
no relationship, however, between race/ethnicity and the likelihood of being interviewed.
Generally, an effort was made to avoid prejudicial
treatments of minority athletes and to produce a balanced multicultural atmosphere. This
finding resonates with other work documenting trends toward multiculturalism in mainstream
television (Gerbner, 1993). (table of contents)
2. The Treatment of Race and Ethnicity Varied Across Productions.
The extent to which racial and ethnic diversity was
addressed varied across productions. For example, the World University Games featured a
White narrator who not only guided viewers through all the games but even gave a tour of
the ethnic cuisine of the host city, Buffalo, New York. The production of The Goodwill
Games, by contrast, not only relied on multiple narrators, it also was multilingual, using
on-screen translators to an extent unprecedented in U.S.-produced television coverage of
international sports events.
Race almost never was mentioned by commentators. A personal
interview segment focusing on Native American Ryneldi Bycenti was one notable exception.
There were a few instances when athletes described themselves in terms of their racial
identity. In the vast majority of cases, however, we found no overt narrative references
Ethnicity, however, occasionally was mentioned by
commentators. For example, there was an extended exploration of the Albanian heritage of a
United States born swimmer who competed for Albania in the 1992 Barcelona Games. Ethnicity
was more likely to be acknowledged by commentators if it connected with some history of
ethnic conflict. Bosnian runner, Mirsada Buric, was discussed against the backdrop of
ethnic conflict in her country. The family of gold medalist swimmer Pablo Morales was said
to have immigrated to the United States in order to escape the political repression and
squalor of Cuba in the 1950s. (table of contents)
3. Black Athletes Were Not Represented Negatively.
Some previous studies suggest that racial stereotyping of
Black athletes in sport media is covert and systematic (Sabo & Jansen, 1995).
Rainville and McCormick (1977) found that White football players were praised more
frequently than Black players. The researchers concluded that announcers were
"building a positive reputation for White players and a comparatively negative
reputation for Black players." Journalist Derrick Jackson (1989) conducted a content
analysis of televised sports commentary in American basketball and football. Results
showed that Blacks were more likely than Whites to be described in physical terms and
demeaning intellectual terms.
In contrast to Jackson's analysis, our content analysis
showed Black athletes were not more likely than other racial and ethnic groups to
be described in physical terms. We defined, counted, and coded commentator remarks that
referred to physical characteristics of athletes. Physical descriptors were phrases or
sentences that described or called attention to bodily characteristics and/or athletic
qualities (e.g., "so strong," "athletic skater," "great jumping
ability," "not an imposing physical figure," "very great leaping
ability," "tremendous amount of physical talent"). Statistical analysis
showed that commentators were significantly less likely to use physical descriptors to
refer to Black athletes than their Asian, Hispanic, or White counterparts. Asian athletes,
for example, were twice as likely to be described this way than Black athletes (80% versus
Second, we did not find evidence that commentators
constructed negative representations of Black athletes. In fact, Black athletes were least
likely to receive negative comments. We defined, counted, and coded positive and negative
commentator evaluations of athletes and their performances. Positive evaluations included
phrases and sentences such as "very nice sprinting technique, as always,"
"a good start for him," "put her in the lead and she can win a race for
you!," "one of America's best sprinters since 1975," "very
sensational," or "one of the most exciting boxers in the tournament."
Negative evaluations included phrases and sentences that implied censure or criticism such
as "he's just having a horrible meet," "she's not up to the standard of
previous Soviet athletes," "he's inconsistent," "not a real solid
dive," "if there is any choreography, you can't see it," "his
performance is bad news," and "many have sometimes called him a choke
Chi square analyses yielded no significant differences in
the number of positive evaluations by race and ethnicity. However, Black athletes were
significantly less likely than Asian and White athletes to receive negative evaluations
Last, qualitative analyses of the personal interview
segments showed that race, ethnicity, or nation did not appear to determine the types of
stories or metaphors that producers and commentators used to portray athletes. After
scrutinizing the visual and oral texts of these segments, we created a typology of eight
different motifs: Injury and Pain, Personal Transformation, Family and Relationships,
Self-Achievement, Training for Competition, National Background, Winning and Losing, and
Personality. We found that race and ethnicity were unrelated to the story motif, the
length of segments, or the visual treatment of athletes in these segments.
In conclusion, the disparity between our findings and those
of previous researchers suggests that media professionals have responded to past
criticisms of prejudicial treatment of Blacks (Dates & Barlow, 1993; Jhally &
Lewis, 1992). The less frequent use of physical descriptors and negative evaluations in
reference to Black athletes suggests a heightened sensitivity, maybe even a guardedness,
among commentators concerning negative representations of Black athletes. (table
4. Asian Athletes Often Were Depicted by Cultural Stereotypes.
Several findings suggest that Asian athletes were depicted
in ways that drew upon stereotypical descriptions of Asians as stoic conformists and
excessively hard workers who are fanatically concerned with success.
First, although commentators avoided making overt
references to race in the case of Black athletes, they seemed less constrained with Asian
athletes. One weightlifting competition, described as the "battle of the Asian
stars," was introduced as follows:
"The serenity, the calm, that is the East. The
mystique of the Orient with its mysterious inner strength. That strength today transformed
into the brutal power of Olympic weightlifting, where Asian strong men dominate the
Other commentator statements portrayed Asian athletes as
obsessive hard workers, conformists, and extremely self-disciplined. The overall Japanese
approach to marathoning was said to be "a religion, it's an obsession." Others
discussed the propensity of Asians to train fanatically, "to practice much harder
than the Americans."
Second, Asian athletes were significantly more likely than
Black and Caucasian athletes to be described in physical terms. Half of Asian athletes (N
= 8) and 55% of Hispanic athletes (N = 11) were described two or more times in physical
terms, while 25% (N = 12) of Black athletes and 29% (N = 22) of White athletes fell into
this category (p < .005). Commentators made frequent references to the size of Asian
athletes (e.g., "she's slight at 103 pounds," " look at the quadriceps, how
they seem so overdeveloped and bowed," "she's a slight athlete, only about 100
Third, commentators were significantly more willing to talk
about the emotions and personalities of Asian athletes. We tested for hypothesized
differences between the use of psychological descriptors across racial and ethnic groups.
Psychological descriptors were phrases or sentences that
described or called attention to the inner emotional states or personality characteristics
of athletes. Examples included "she's a nervous wreck," "he's
disappointed," "quietly confident," "not very happy with that
dive," "bubbly personality," "she's completely focused,"
"proud," "he has fantastic concentration," and "he's at least
While some commentators called attention to the
"remarkable concentration" and "business-like attitude" of Asian
athletes, others voiced surprise when Asian athletes outwardly expressed their emotions
(e.g., "normally you don't see that kind of emotion out of lifters, but he is very
pleased with himself," or in reference to the Chinese women divers, "they seem a
lot more emotional than in 1984").
The representation of Asian athletes as unemotional or
reluctantly emotional was amplified by several discussions about their mechanical or
machine-like performances and training practices. For example, a personal segment with
Chinese swimmer Lin Li, emphasized her methodical and repetitious training practices and
also raised the issue of drug use by the Chinese swimmers. (2) We found that, once framed in the overall
context of the machine metaphor, even positive descriptions of precise performance lent
themselves to negative mechanistic images that dehumanized some Asian athletes and
diminished their achievements.
Fourth, Asian athletes were the most likely to appear in
slow-motion replays. For example, Asian athletes were almost twice as likely to appear in
slow-motion replays as Black athletes 77% versus 41% (N = 161, p. < .01). The greater
use of slow-motion replay may be a visual extension of the tendency among commentators to
focus on the physical characteristics of Asian athletes, to exoticize them, or perhaps to
prolong or intensify gazing upon their foreignness. Slow motion also might amplify the
mechanistic metaphors used in some commentaries.
On the other hand, the disproportionate use of slow motion
video to cover Asian athletes very well may be linked to the particular events in which
the athletes appear. For example, the women's figure skating events at the 1992 Olympic
Winter Games at Albertville relied heavily on the use of slow-motion. Each episode of
coverage was preceded and ended with long slow-motion montages of the competitors. Since,
in this particular case, Asian athletes featured prominently in the competition, a
disproportionate amount of slow-motion coverage can be attributed to the production of
that particular event rather than an prejudicial treatment of race/ethnicity.
Likewise, Asian athletes often appeared, and excelled, in
events that are best covered by using slow-motion. Diving and weightlifting are two
examples of such sports. Slow-motion becomes a necessary tool in covering these sports
because the actual time of the competitive action is so short. The short time it takes to
complete a dive or a lift requires using slow-motion to achieve the best possible
coverage. Sports such as basketball, certain track and field events, or equestrian do not
rely on slow-motion to the same extent. This fact also may explain some extent of the
disproportionate appearance of Asian athletes in slow-motion sequences.
In conclusion, we are not proposing that commentators
should present Asian athletes identically to Hispanic, Black, or White athletes.
Non-prejudicial representation in sport media does not mean hiding cultural differences
behind contrived sameness. In fact, cultural differences enrich global athletic events.
Representations of Asian athletes as machinelike and unemotional, however, seem to call
forth images that reflect and feed racial stereotypes harbored by many Americans. In the
current context of political tension with North Korea and China and the trade war with
Japan, it is possible that Asian athletes are being cast as adversaries as were Soviet
bloc athletes of the Cold War period. (table of contents)
5. Hispanic Athletes Were Depicted Positively, but Often in Physical Terms.
Our analysis yielded mixed findings regarding the
representations of Hispanic athletes. Commentators often seemed to make a conscious effort
to place Hispanic athletes in a favorable light. Hispanic athletes were not likely to
receive negative evaluations from commentators. Commentators seemed quite liberal in their
praise of Hispanic athletes. In the coverage of the Pan American Games, for example,
commentators lavished praise on the Cuban men's gymnastics team while repeatedly bemoaning
the poor performance of the United States men's team. Barcelona Olympic Games gold
medalist swimmer Pablo Morales was featured more than any other athlete in our study. His
stellar performance was framed as a fulfillment of a dream, more precisely, the American
Dream of making it big, becoming a hero, and succeeding despite one's class, racial,
ethnic, or national origins.
Morales appeared in several personal segments, promotional
footage and graphics, and in the opening and closing segments of the Barcelona Olympic
Games. His Olympic achievements were described as an immigrant success story. Commentators
explained that Morales' parents had left the oppressive rule of the communist regime in
Cuba to come to the United States. They taught young Pablo the value of hard work, and
after many setbacks, he won the coveted gold medal. Hence, in the Pablo Morales story,
producers merged images of Hispanic ethnic heritage, political repression, and successful
upward mobility a la the American Dream.
Other findings implied Hispanic athletes were perceived
differently from Blacks and Whites. We found that commentators were more likely to call
attention to the physical characteristics of Hispanic athletes (55%) than to Black and
White athletes (25% and 29%), and even Asian athletes (50%). Hispanic athletes were also
second-most likely (next to Asian athletes) to appear in slow-motion. These findings
indicate a tendency among the generally White commentators and producers of televised
international athletic events to focus on the physicality of Hispanic athletes. Whether
the data represent a negative tendency to objectify or exoticize Hispanic athletes more so
than Black and White athletes is a matter for further research. (table of
6. Ethnic Minorities Underrepresented as Announcers.
Despite the high visibility of racial and ethnic minorities
as athletes, Whites held the greatest presence in the broadcasting booth.
We recorded and coded the race/ethnicity of all the
commentators and interviewers who commented on a competition or interviewed an athlete. (3) This
was done for each athlete included in the sample. Rather than simply counting the number
of Black and White commentators constituting the on-camera production staff, this
procedure yielded a more accurate measure of the extent to which members of each
race and ethnic group actually participated in commenting on specific athlete and
competitions. This procedure removes the masking effect of tokenism. A hypothetical
production may employ three White commentators, one Black commentator, and one Hispanic
commentator, yielding a 40% minority participation rate. Yet, the two minority
commentators may make only 10% of the total commentator appearances in a given broadcast. (4)
In terms of total broadcast images (commentators and
interviewers), whites accounted for 89% of all appearances. Blacks accounted for 10.5 % of
appearances. Hispanics and Asians each accounted for less than 1% of total appearances.
The underrepresentation of ethnic minorities becomes clear when compared to U.S. census
figures showing that Blacks are 12.5% of the U.S. population, Hispanics 9.9%, and Asians
3.3%. The greatest underrepresentation is seen in the case of Hispanics who account for
almost 10% of the U.S. population, but are nearly invisible as announcers. Asians and
Blacks also are underrepresented in terms of total broadcast images, but to a lesser
Whites accounted for a very large share of commentator
appearances, 92% of 369 total appearances. Blacks made up the remaining 8%. There were no
Hispanic and Asian commentators in the content analysis sample.
Blacks fared much better as interviewers, appearing
in 39% (N = 12) of all interviews. Hispanics and Asians were underepresented once again
appearing in 6% (N = 2) and 3% (N=1) of the interviews. Fifty-two percent (N = 16) of the
31 interview appearances were made by White interviewers.
Findings also suggest that race and ethnicity may have
influenced the assignment of commentators to specific athletes and/or competitions. As the
ratios in Tables 1 and 2 show (pages 27 and 28), White commentators
were most likely to appear with White athletes (a ratio of 2.3/1) and least likely to
appear with Black athletes (a ratio of 1.8/1). In contrast, Black commentators were
slightly more likely to appear with Black athletes (a ratio of 1/5.4) than White athletes
(a ratio of 1/6.3).
Of course, the fact that many sports
commentators/interviewers are hired precisely because they are former athletes in a
particular sport would partially explain these numbers. One would expect, for example,
that Blacks would be more likely to be commentators/interviewers in the sports of track
and field or basketball where they comprise a large percentage of all athletes in the
sport as opposed to figure skating or swimming where Black athletes make up a relatively
small percentage of athletes. And though racism and prejudice might account for the
relatively small numbers of minority athletes participating in some sports, the greater
propensity of commentators/interviewers to appear with athletes of the same race/ethnicity
is probably explained in part by the athlete population from which
commentators/interviewers are drawn.
In conclusion, it is not surprising to find unequal
racial/ethnic representation among the commentators/interviewers in this study. Inside and
outside the institution of sport, racial and ethnic minorities have struggled for
increased recognition and advancement. Hispanic and Asian athletes have been almost
invisible in sociological research on sport (Melnick & Sabo, 1994). Within the
professional hierarchy of sports broadcasting, the commentator role holds more prestige
than the interviewer role. The fact that Whites were more visible as commentators than
Asians, Blacks, and Hispanics may reflect historically long-standing patterns of racial
inequality. And yet, the greater visibility of people of color as interviewers may mean
that racial and ethnic minorities are making successful inroads into middle-level
positions in the sports broadcasting profession.
It is also important to note, however, that the production
format of televised international sports events heavily influences the numbers of
racial/ethnic images seen by the viewer population. The nature of the host/commentator
system dictates that a relatively small number of individuals comprises a large proportion
of total broadcast images. The findings of our study would be significantly different, for
example, had we examined the 1994 Olympic Winter Games. (The research was done prior to
these Games.) At these Games, the two primary host/commentators were an African-American
and an Asian-American. For these Games alone, Blacks and Asians would likely account for a
disproportionately high number of viewer images. So, while the total number of viewer
images tells us something about the preponderance of racial/ethnic images viewers see,
that number alone does not indicate a pattern of racial/ethnic bias. A fuller picture will
consider the number of host/commentator images along with the racial/ethnic composition of
the entire on-screen staff and the athlete population. (table of contents)
7. The Television Coverage Suggested a Nationalistic Bias.
Nationalism thrives on "we versus them"
scenarios. In this regard, we found that commentators characterized athletes from
Communist or former Communist countries in ways that suggested they are cheaters,
machine-like, inhuman, and without feelings. In contrast, athletes from the United States
and its allies were generally featured as warm, fair, and humane. Nationalism also
produced inconsistencies in the commentary. While it was stated or implied that some
nations bring a political agenda to international athletic events, the hidden message was
that the United States had no such political agendas. Whereas doubts are raised about the
state funding of athletes from other countries, problems linked to corporate or university
sponsorship of athletes in the United States or other western democracies are unstated.
Comments about drug use among Chinese or East German athletes ignored the fact that some
United States athletes use drugs as well.
Nationalist sentiments were reinforced by an aura of
familiarity around United States athletes. While 61% of United States athletes were
frequently referred to by first name only, only 41% of foreign athletes were so addressed
(N = 161, p < .005). United States athletes also were more likely than their foreign
counterparts to be interviewed and allowed to speak for themselves, 38% versus 7% (N =
161, p < .001). Commentators were twice as likely to refer to the families of United
States athletes than foreign athletes; 31% and 15% (N = 161, p < .02). And finally, the
openings and closings and personal profiles tended disproportionately to highlight United
Whereas the greater familiarity of commentators with United
States athletes might be attributed to nationalism, other more mundane factors likely
apply as well. United States viewers were the primary audience for these productions.
Building viewer identification with the athletes serves the economic interests of the
television networks by increasing ratings. Also, many producers, commentators, and
interviewers are former athletes themselves, and they are more likely to be acquainted
with United States athletes than foreign athletes. And finally the greater familiarity of
the predominantly White, English-speaking American commentators and script writers with
English names and North American geography would be expected in a production made for
American television. Such familiarity might indicate some degree of unconscious
nationalism, but probably is not a mark of conscious bias.
These findings raise some interesting questions. As the
globalization of sport and society continues into the next century, will commentators and
producers increase their knowledge of foreign cultures and geography? As popular culture
and mass media flows between all countries, will the aura of familiarity currently
surrounding United States athletes spread to envelop athletes from other nations as well?
Or will sport media reflect nationalistic strife and affiliation in the global arena? (table of contents)
In 1944, Gunnar Myrdal described racism as "an
American dilemma." Racism also has been a dilemma for United States media, a site of
vigorous debate concerning the topic of racial representation (Dates & Barlow, 1990;
Montgomery, 1989). Sport media have not been immune to charges of racism.
On one hand, the results of this study show that producers
of televised international athletic events generally are attuned to issues of racial
representation and cultural diversity. Part of this growing awareness has no doubt been
kindled by the high visibility of Black athletes in the United States, the work of
minority advocacy groups, and the availability of pertinent research. While previously
documented patterns of media representation of Black athletes are being addressed,
however, we now see biased treatment of Asian athletes.
Issues of racial and ethnic representation in televised
international athletic events are not limited to the ways that producers and commentators
describe and visually frame the athletes themselves. The low numbers and visibility of
Asian, Hispanic, and Black commentators and interviewers are also at issue. The genuine
empowerment of racial and ethnic minorities in sport media will draw more fully upon their
journalistic, production, and management skills as well as their athletic abilities.
Nationalism is likely to remain a feature of televised
international sports for some time to come. The "we-them" mindset, which is such
a pronounced dimension of nationalism, is also a common denominator of athletic
competition and sport culture. The very fact that individuals compete as representatives
of their countries opens the door to nationalistic sentiment and bias.
Fair treatment of all persons by sports television is
likely to grow as long as United States media organizations offer programming that appeals
to many different ethnic, racial, and national groups. Diverse audiences may be offended
by stereotyped portrayals of race, ethnicity, and nationality, especially when members of
their own races or ethnicities are disserved by media representations. As the 20th century
ends, multiculturalism does not have only ethical value, it also has pragmatic value for
building domestic and global audiences and increasing profits. Media producers can no
longer simply conceptualize race and racism as an American dilemma to be played out in
shades of black and white. They must become sensitized to racism's multiple nuances, and
paradoxical global manifestations. (table of contents)
This study used both qualitative and quantitative analyses
to describe several aspects of seven televised international athletic events. Rhetorical
and narrative analysis, analysis of production units, typologies, and simple descriptive
statistics were used to analyze the production practices that framed the events and
competitions and established the visual look of each event. Openings and closings, a
sample of personal interview segments, and a typical day in an event were analyzed using
these approaches. A purposive sample of athletes from 31 competitions also was analyzed
using content analysis. Chi square statistics were generated in order to test for
significant differences between groups; only those findings significant at p < .05 are
reported in this report.
We sampled seven different events that had been produced
and aired by various American television organizations since 1988. We assumed that a
sample of productions from a variety of sources would be more representative of American
sports television than any one or two networks or organizations. We were aware that the
1990 Goodwill Games, the 1991 Pan American Games, the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games, the
1993 World University Games, and the 1993 World Track and Field Championships were
racially and ethnically diverse. We also knew that the 1988 and 1992 Olympic Winter Games
featured mostly White athletes. For these last two events, therefore, we sampled the
women's figure skating programs which included a racial and ethnic cross-section of
Members of the interdisciplinary research team (four chief
investigators, a research associate, and two research assistants) initially reviewed an
estimated 340 hours of videotapes in order to assess production forms and content. Quota
sampling procedures were then devised to study three key aspects of these televised
1. Descriptions of Athletes in Competition: We
generated a quota sample of 161 athletes in 31 competitions. The sample then was examined
to determine whether the content of commentator descriptions and visual portrayals varied
by race, ethnicity, or nation. The logic of quota sampling was guided by the overarching
need to select competitions in which participants varied by race, ethnicity, and nation.
For example, inclusion of women's platform diving (1992 Barcelona Games and 1993 World
University Games), men's platform diving (1993 World University Games), and men's
springboard diving (1992 Barcelona Games) provided visual and verbal descriptions of
Asian, Hispanic, and White athletes. The resulting sample of athletes was balanced by
race, ethnicity, and nation in order to allow for comparative analysis and statistical
testing of key hypotheses.
2. Personal Interviews: A quota sample of 30
personal interviews was drawn from three of the events in this study: the 1990 Goodwill
Games, the 1992 Barcelona Games, and the 1993 World University Games. These segments mix
genres and draw upon the conventions of sports reporting, news, documentary, human
interest, drama, myth, and marketing. The personal segments in our sample typically used
imported (pre-taped) footage which presented biographical profiles of individual athletes
who were usually, but not always, leading competitors in their sports. Profiles usually
included an interview with the athlete. In some cases, however, the complete narration was
done by voice-over. The personal segments were prime material for analyzing
representational practices in commercial television sports programming because they
contained long descriptive segments, used formulaic elements in framing athletes stories,
and usually featured visually rich footage.
3. Openings and Closings: A sample of five openings
and closings was selected for study because these ceremonies frame each event, establish
its unifying themes and metaphors, and produce the look of the event. We examined the
openings and closings of the 1990 Goodwill Games, 1992 Barcelona Games, 1992 Winter
Olympics, 1993 World University Games, and 1993 World Track & Field Championships. We
wanted to observe how and to what extent racial and ethnic diversity were treated in these
The Problem of Defining and Measuring Race
Coding for race raises both methodological and ethical
problems. Past academic studies of representations of race in televised news and drama
have used visual cues to attribute race. We followed this precedent in some of our coding
even though there are significant problems with this method. First, race is a cultural and
political construct, not a discretely definable biological entity. Second, visual coding
of race is highly subjective. Third, the race of athletes is rarely mentioned outright in
televised international athletic events, although themes of racial and cultural diversity
are often featured.
In the case of United States athletes, we used the census
categories African-American, Asian, Caucasian, and Hispanic. We discovered that in a
fairly significant number of U.S. cases, race was basically indeterminate. Athletes of
indeterminate race were not included in the sample. In the case of non-U.S. athletes, we
used geography to impute race. For example, if an athlete was competing for Japan, we
assumed she or he was Asian unless there was some specific indication in the narrative
that indicated otherwise.
Finally, though we recognize that this study might raise
concerns about perpetuating racial stereotypes, we also believe that this research
benefits the cause of responsible media representation of race and ethnicity. Race and
ethnicity need to be defined if we are to attempt responsible evaluation of programs and
policies. Race remains an indisputable social fact because people continue to impute
attributes to groups based on presumed physical differences. The maintenance of socially
structured silences around these attributes historically has served the status quo of
racial inequality and injustice. (table of contents)
1. The term Hispanic is inclusive, referring to Hispanic
Europeans (Spanish ), South American, Central American, Mexican and Latino athletes from
the United States. (back to text)
2. The machine metaphor has been used in the 20th century
during wartime to objectify or depersonalize an enemy. This metaphor was used for many
years to describe the state-organized "Soviet sport machine." This metaphor
portrayed sports in terms of Cold War political tensions between the United States and
Russia. (back to text)
3. Commentators were defined as those broadcasters who
either hosted the broadcast or those who actually did the play-by-play" and
"color" for each competition. Commentators usually were removed from direct
contact with the athletes, broadcasting from a booth at the venue. Interviewers were those
individuals with direct contact with athletes, either at the scene of competition or in
personal interview segments. (back to text)
4. Although the ethnic/racial composition of on-camera
production personnel has different meanings than the depiction of athletes in and out of
competition, the race/ethnic identities of the people appearing on-screen send messages
about race and ethnicity within our society. The relative frequency with which members of
different groups appear on-screen sends messages about who is important and who has
relatively greater status.
(back to text) (table of
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Appearances of White Commentators with Athletes by Race & Ethnicity (Totals and
|Number of Appearances by Caucasian
||Number of Athletes
||Ratio of Commentators to Athletes
The total number of Caucasian commentator appearances was 341.
Appearances of African-Descent Commentators with Athletes by Race & Ethnicity (Totals
|Number of Appearances by African-Descent
||Number of Athletes
||Ratio of Commentators to Athletes
The total number of African-descent commentator appearances was 28.
(table of contents)
Don Sabo, D'Youville College
Sue Curry Jansen, Muhlenberg College
Danny Tate, Muhlenberg College
Margaret Carlisle Duncan, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
Susan Leggett, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Edited by Edward Derse, Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles.
* Research funded by the
Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles.
Copyright: Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los
Angeles, November 1995.
Reproduction is permitted for educational purposes
only. Any reproduction should cite the Amateur Athletic Foundation as publisher and
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