Posts Tagged ‘media’

“I am surprised at the way people seem to perceive me, and sometimes I read stories and hear things about me and I go “ugh.” I wouldn’t like her either. It’s so unlike what I think I am or what my friends think I am.” -Hillary Clinton

Public image is perhaps the most important thing for a professional athlete to think about promoting. After all, it’s obvious that this individual has the skills needed to get into the game. However, do they have the public savvy to stay there? This is probably the main reason I decided to pursue this very niche field. At the time, the University of Oregon was getting a lot of crap because some of the football team’s big names- Masoli, Blount, and James, were getting accused of starting fights, stealing, smoking, and abusing girlfriends. I myself, was as shocked as anyone else on campus. Here were good students and great athletes getting accused of these outrageous crimes- many of which turned out to be true. If you remember, Masoli actually ended up getting kicked off the team.
Generally, it’s not college athletes we see misbehaving- it’s professional athletes. Last year, Tiger Woods was discovered to have been having affairs with a number of other women. Just earlier this year, Brett Favresent pictures of his man parts to an NFL game host. Steroid use was really popular for a while, something that Alex Rodriguez and Lance Armstrong could attest to. And athletes were also attracted to other kinds of sports… Michael Vick and dog fighting, for example.
And while I’m not supporting a free pass for any of these guys, sometimes I think that these crises could have been handled better.
For example, I remember watching how Woods’ PR team was handling (or not handling) the Tiger Woods episode and thinking that I wish I knew a better way to fix the problem. Sadly, it’s not an easy fix. It’s not like when an athlete is about to go pro, they have to take a class in college called Playing Sports and Dealing With the Real World 101. Although maybe they should…
This is where my desired career path and Competition Not Conflict merge. In my mind, I think that athletes should all get assigned to publicists or PR teams that are specifically trained in conflict resolution and even more so, get trained to handle conflict resolution with athletes specifically. Also, CNC is currently developing some conflict prevention programs for athletes, something that’s also maybe even more useful than conflict resolution or crisis management-type work.
Athletes must be taught, from a young age, that they are not invincible and that the rules of society do apply to them- maybe even more so than the average-Joe. After all, these men and women are role models to children and to society at large. Having a good public persona is essential to gaining and keeping strong advertising contracts (look at how many Woods lost when that whole fiasco went down). But athletes also owe it to themselves to maintain healthy and happy lives outside of their sports. Taking steroids has a huge effect on physical health, domestic issues have a huge effect on an athlete’s performance (again, Woods’ post affair interviews and performances can be examined), and getting involved in crime makes an athlete look like nothing more than an elite thug.
Sadly, there is no easy fix for this issue and we’ll be examining it in bits and pieces on this blog throughout the year. At the beginning of the term, I breakfasted with an old friend of mine on campus. She was asking me about my internship this year and I was explaining to her what exactly I wanted to do. An older couple at the table next to us interrupted me and we all launched into a long conversation about athletes and their accountability as citizens at both the college and professional level. At the end of the conversation, the woman took my hands and said, “I’m glad you’re doing what you’re doing. Those guys need someone like you.” I can only hope I can live up to what I say I can.
Next week, we’ll start breaking some of this down. Let’s start by talking about crime and athletes. Until then, cheers.
“Girls playing sports is not about winning gold medals. It’s about self-esteem, learning to compete and learning how hard you have to work in order to achieve your goals.” — Jackie Joyner-Kersee
Okay, so the first image that comes to your mind when you think of “athletes” are of the male variety– Tiger Woods, Peyton Manning, LeBron James…. But what about female athletes? Maybe they’re not as discussed as the male ones, but they’ve earned their merits- think, Maria Sharipova, Michelle Wie, or Danica Patrick, amongst plenty of others…
When you think about it, female athletes are and seemingly always have been at somewhat of a disadvantage in American sports culture. It seems like since the beginning of time, sporting events have always been about men competing- think of the original Olympic games or the jousting events of Ancient Greece and Medieval Europe, respectively. Perhaps this came from the long-held misconception that women should be strictly responsible for raising the family and being the mistress of the house.
Today, these archaic beliefs and our culture’s obsession with a particular type of women’s sexuality put female athletes at even more of a disadvantage. Their healthy bodies and strong spirits do not necessarily fit into the media’s battering ram of other images of women. Women that we see in advertising and on magazine covers are slim (sometimes to the point of anorexia), small, weak, and gaze at you with that, “Take me to the bedroom now” look. Women in advertising and magazines don’t have the strength of body and spirit that female athletes do, and this makes female athletes unsure about their roll in life.
On the one hand, girls who play sports are taught to be tough, not sweat the small stuff and to believe in oneself. After all, what shot could be made without a huge dose of self confidence? On the other hand, many female athletes don’t have the very slim body that is perpetuated in the media they consume. And while they may strive for that singular body type, developing eating disorders disables female athletes from excelling in their chosen sport.
Thus a conundrum is faced. On the one hand, many women’s magazines have joined a movement of female empowerment and highlight these women for young girls to emulate. On the other hand, female athletics are not taken as seriously in the media.
When was the last time you discussed the WNBA? This lack of respect for female athletes in the sexy spreads that they model for in magazines and online “hottest athlete babe” countdowns.
On a happier note, despite the media’s limited view of feminine beauty that maybe doesn’t accept the stocky female lacrosse player or the tall, lanky female basketball player, these women have and continue to be role models for young girls. They often times overcome a great many obstacles to stand where they stand today and thus continuously inspire. They make young girls who play sports believe that they too can beat the odds. And in the end, having beautiful, intelligent, athletic role models is not a bad thing.

“The freedom of authentic masculinity is an amazing thing to see. It produces a “divine elasticity” in men. Finally they can lead with firmness, then submit with humility. They can challenge with a cutting edge, then encourage with enthusiasm. They can fight aggressively for just causes, then moments later weep over suffering.” –Bill Hybels

It’s not easy being famous, and celebrity status often applies to pro athletes. College athletes also, from time to time, reach this exalted societal role. Although celebrity status for male athletes often brings bigger paychecks, lots of face time on TV and city buses and dozens of adoring female groupies, it also brings greater public responsibility. Particularly in regards to how they conduct their personal lives, the question becomes this: How do athletes deal with maintaining their reputation on the field as well as off the field, especially when it comes to the opposite sex?

This is a challenging, complex question to answer because there’s so much at stake and so many, varying answers. The other day, Dr. Peg Brand, wife of the late Miles Brand, came in to guest lecture to our class. We talked about media portrayals of sexuality and about how they relate to sports and athletes. Athletic sports scandals seem to pop up all over the place. Just last winter, Tiger Woods was caught cheating on his now ex-wife, Brett Favre was accused of sending inappropriate pictures to an NFL game host, and just a few years ago, members of the Duke lacrosse team got accused of raping a stripper who attended one of their parties. These are just a few of the many stories of male athletes abusing their girlfriends, assaulting female fans or getting involved in a myriad of other sex scandals. In fact, these stories seem to be so common, we’re not even surprised when we hear about them.
Although it would be easy to blame big paychecks and huge egos, the perpetrator behind the scenes is most likely the culture that young male athletes grow up in. Surrounded by over-sexualized and false images of what the “ideal” woman is supposed to look like and a victim of media’s limited view of acceptable masculine traits, it is not surprising that, in the heat of the moment, male athletes don’t know how to act.
So let’s look into this modern day culture a little more closely. Advertising and magazines enjoy perpetuatingthe image of the young, attractive, sexual woman. This image [of celebrities posing naked, or nearly naked] tells women how to be attractive and tells boys what an attractive woman should look like. Surrounded by these images, it is no wonder that men expect every woman they meet to be a potential subject for a sexual encounter, regardless of the consequences.
Secondly, the narrow view of masculinity portrayed is that of power, strength, athleticism and physical good looks. On a very stereotypical level, many men are portrayed as bumbling, muscular, sexual buffoons. However, the sensitive male has no place in advertising and magazines. Violence sells; sensitivity (at least when it comes to men) does not.
So how do we go about changing a cultural phenomenon? Dr. Peg Brand, a professor who came to visit a class I’m taking this term, explained that our expectations for male athletes are high. “We expect [football players] to play a very violent game of football and then walk off the field and completely shut that part of them off.” It is a lot to ask of anyone, particularly, men raised in a very violent sexualized culture.
Although there is not a quick fix to these huge issues, some things that we all can do is begin to demand more from our media. By rejecting the images they sell us and demanding more realistic ones, we can begin to sway the media to do what we want, rather than the other way around. As far as men are concerned, we must help them embrace a broader impersonation of masculinity: one that allows them to be strong and powerful, but also enables them to communicate, be respectful and sensitive to those around them.
Next week, we’ll turn the tables around and discuss how the media affects female athletes and offer ideas of how to counter negative stereotyping of women.