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6.1. Fields of Dreams and Messages

The Politics of the Mediated Representation of Sports
Yann Descamps et Daniel Durbin

Politics on the Field and on the Air?

  • 1 Pierre Milza, et al. dir., Le pouvoir des anneaux. Les Jeux olympiques à la lumière de la politique (...)

From the use of the Olympics as a tool for propaganda—from Hitler’s Germany to Putin’s Russia—to the recent resurging political activism of African-American athletes and Donald Trump’s ties with football star Tom Brady, the links between politics and sports have been well documented and widely studied. Sports have become a global phenomenon that goes beyond mere entertainment. It deals with moral values, social issues, and it can be a force for change as well as an instrument to control the masses. While sports have significant political implications, as the Olympics have shown throughout their modern history,1 this political dimension of the sports spectacle does not only play out on the sports stage itself, but takes on another stance on the sports stages recreated by the media.

  • 2 John Fiske, Television Culture (New York: Routledge, 2011 (1987)), 14.
  • 3 See Henry Jenkins’ use of the concept to tackle the Matrix and its story unfolding through differen (...)
  • 4 Jacques Blociszewski, Le Match de football télévisé (Rennes : Éditions Apogée, 2007) ; Bernard Leco (...)

Indeed, sports are not merely shown, they are represented. As John Fiske would argue, there is a difference between the “real” sporting event and “its mediated representation”2, and this mediated representation is of great significance. Actually, sports take on some additional meaning through the process of its mediated representation. In an era when sports leagues use transmedia storytelling to unfold their narratives and develop their brands,3 the part played by the media both in showing and using sports needs to be assessed. Indeed, sports reporting goes well beyond reporting. As they represent sports events, the media also tell morality plays, send messages, sell products and role models, and even deconstruct the sports space as well as the game itself.4 Also, sports are not only covered by news media such as newspapers, television, the radio or the Internet. It has also been seized by popular culture. It is represented in films, TV shows, and videogames, and enjoys strong ties with other media forms such as music. Beyond the cultural and social dimension of its impact on collective memory, the mediated representation of sports also has a political dimension that this special issue wants to address.

The Media as Political Platforms for Governments and Athletes

  • 5 Leni Riefenstahl, Olympia. The Complete Original Version [DVD] (Pathfinder, 2006 (1938)).

The mediated representation of sports can be patently political, especially when sports and their broadcasting are used for political purposes by role players such as governments and athletes. For instance, the Olympics and its broadcasting are brimming with politics. In 1938, filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia started a trend in using sports and the media for political propaganda which still can be found in the spectacle of opening ceremonies, during which host countries send strong cultural and political messages about themselves.5 These self-celebratory messages reach global audiences through television and the Internet. Also, Olympic fanfares can be used to celebrate a country’s values as much as Olympism through the medium of music. That was the case with John Williams’ fanfares for the 1984 and 1996 Olympics, which were as much about the American pastoral as they were about the Olympic universal ideal. Last, the recent Olympic bids include a strong political undertone, with politicians leading the way and sports diplomacy being at play through the host cities’ communicating strategies on social media.

  • 6 John Carlos, with Dave Zirin, The John Carlos Story: The Sports Moment That Changed the World (Chic (...)
  • 7 Emilio Fernandez Peña, et al. eds, An Olympic Mosaic: Multidisciplinary Research and Dissemination (...)
  • 8 Neil Farrington, et al., Sport, Racism and Social Media (London: Routledge, 2014).

Furthermore, athletes have been using several media to send their own messages. Some of them used books and autobiographies to tell the political side of their story. For example, John Carlos chose to write his autobiography to explain “the symbology” of what was then described as a Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympics, thus going beyond his stereotyped representation by the media of that time.6 Others shot commercials sending political messages, from Charles Barkley’s “I am not a role model” to LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Serena Williams’ call for “equality”, and top soccer players “showing racism the red card”. Others express their political views through social media. That is the case of football player Colin Kaepernick, who uses Twitter and Instagram to give substance to his symbolic protest of the American national anthem. Others host talk shows and podcasts to be free to discuss subjects they were not supposed to address as athletes as for the news media. That is the case of former NBA player Chris Webber, who discusses politics at lengths in his podcast Fearless or Insane with Chris Webber. Moreover, the rise of new media has given birth to new challenges. The links between social media and sports have garnered a great deal of scholarly attention for the past few years, mostly through the prism of fan engagement.7 However, other issues related to social media and sports have emerged recently. The use of social media by athletes as a tool for self-representation is not devoid of a political dimension, especially in the case of athletes who were underrepresented in the media and now send political messages through these new platforms. Also, social media represent a new challenge for the sports world. Indeed, sexism and racism are some of the scourges that social media revealed—or exposed more blatantly.8 Last, new issues have appeared regarding the status of athletes, and especially student-athletes, as representatives of their university’s brand—a part that can sometimes come into conflict with their identities as citizens entitled to their own political views.

The Politics of Representations in the Media and Popular Culture

  • 9 Lawrence A. Wenner ed, Media, Sports, and Society (Newbury Park: Sage Publications, 1989); Lawrence (...)
  • 10 Lawrence A. Wenner, “The Super Bowl Pregame Show: Cultural Fantasies and Political Subtext”, In Wen (...)
  • 11 John Fiske, Media Matters: Race and Gender in U.S. Politics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota P (...)
  • 12 Margaret Carlisle Duncan, Michael A. Messner, “The Media Image of Sport and Gender”, In Wenner, Med (...)
  • 13 See Divina Frau-Meigs’ use of the media’s framing of identities and its impact on the public’s perc (...)

Even when athletes and governments do not explicitly use the media to political ends, the mediated representation of sports does have a latent political undertone. Indeed, the way sporting events are announced, filmed, broadcast, and the way athletes are portrayed or pictured can be politically relevant. Lawrence Wenner led the way in exploring this mediated representation of sports.9 He also underlined how the Super Bowl was constructed as an American spectacle.10 Not only does this event become a representation of the American culture, but it can also be turned into a tool of propaganda and soft power for the United States on the global sports and media stage. Also, on the radio, some shows such as Colin Cowherd’s The Herd develop a cultural discourse with a political undertone. Most importantly, the mediated representation of sports allows to address issues of gender and minority representations. John Fiske proposes that discourse was “a terrain of struggle” in the media.11 Indeed, the visual and verbal discourses articulated through sports in the media do reflect this element of struggle, as they are plagued with issues of sexism and racism.12 In sports as much as in the news, identities can be framed through words and images, thus influencing the collective imagination and having a political impact.13

  • 14 Aaron Baker, Contesting Identities: Sport in American Film (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, (...)
  • 15 Todd Boyd, Young, Black, Rich, and Famous: The Rise of the NBA, the Hip-Hop Invasion, and the Trans (...)
  • 16 David Leonard, “"Live in Your World, Play in Ours": Race, Video Games, and Consuming the Others”, S (...)

Furthermore, from films to TV shows, music and videogames, sports have also been portrayed in popular culture, and their representation is not limited to the reenactment of athletic performances. Sport is used as a means to address other subjects such as the definition of manhood, the importance of moral values, or the construct of identities. Aaron Baker emphasizes the political dimension of sports in films when he writes that “[they] contribute to the contested process of defining social identities”.14 Todd Boyd has examined the strong links between basketball and hip-hop music, and has showed how such links do have a strong political undertone.15 Last, David Leonard has brought to light the latent racism that can be found in the representation of African-Americans in TV shows and videogames.16

The Game behind the (Mediated) Game

The rise in the mediated representation of sports has turned sports into a global phenomenon and a multibillion-dollar industry. More importantly, it has considerably raised the impact of sports over society and its collective imagination. Sports contribute both to bringing about change and preserving the status quo when it comes to defining identities or building communities. More precisely, it is the way the media represent sports that leads to change or status quo. Therefore, it has political consequences. At a crucial time in the relation between sports and the media, with the renewal of athletes’ activism and the new challenges brought up by social media, this issue offers to deconstruct the mediated representation of sports through the prism of politics. From the links between music, politics and the Olympics to the political dimension of sports films from different cultures, and issues of race and law related to sports and social media, it aims to explore how sports, as much as the way they are represented, convey both straightforward and incidental political messages.

Bibliographie

Baker, Aaron. Contesting Identities: Sport in American Film. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2003.

Blociszewski, Jacques. Le Match de football télévisé. Rennes : Éditions Apogée, 2007.

Boyd, Todd. Young, Black, Rich, and Famous: The Rise of the NBA, the Hip-Hop Invasion, and the Transformation of American Culture. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2003.

Carlisle Duncan, Margaret, Messner, Michael A. “The Media Image of Sport and Gender”. In MediaSport, edited by Lawrence A. Wenner, 170-185. London: Routledge, 1998.

Carlos, John, with Zirin, Dave. The John Carlos Story: The Sports Moment That Changed the World. Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2011.

Davies, Laurel R., Harris, Othello, “Race and Ethnicity in US Sports Media”. In MediaSport, edited by Lawrence A. Wenner, 154-169. London: Routledge, 1998.

Consalvo, Mia, et al. eds. Sports Videogames. New York: Routledge, 2013.

Farrington, Neil, et. al. Sport, Racism and Social Media. London: Routledge, 2014.

Fernandez Peña, Emilio, et al. eds. An Olympic Mosaic: Multidisciplinary Research and Dissemination of Olympic Studies. Barcelona: Centre d’Estudis Olimpics, 2011.

Fink, Janet S., Kensicki, Linda Jean. “An Imperceptible Difference: Visual and Textual Constructions of Femininity in Sports Illustrated and Sports Illustrated for Women”. Mass Communication and Society, Vol. 5, n° 3 (August 2002): 317-340.

Fiske, John. Media Matters: Race and Gender in U.S. Politics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999.

Fiske, John. Television Culture. New York: Routledge, 2011 (1987).

Frau-Meigs, Divina. Médiamorphoses américaines, dans un espace privé unique au monde. Paris : Economica, 2001.

Hall, Stuart ed. Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices. London: The Open University, 1997.

Humbert, Henri, “La presse sportive française et l’encouragement à l’hégémonie masculine (1900-1970)”. In Sport et Genre. Vol. 2 : Excellence féminine et masculinité hégémonique, directed by Liotard, Philippe, Terret, Thierry, 241-262. Paris : L’Harmattan, 2005.

Jenkins, Henry. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: New York University Press, 2006.

Kane, Mary Jo, Jefferson Lensky, Helen, “Media Treatment of Female Athletes: Issues of Gender and Sexualities”. In MediaSport, edited by Lawrence A. Wenner, 186-201. London: Routledge, 1998.

Lavelle, Katherine L. “"One of These Things Is Not Like the Others": Linguistic Representations of Yao Ming in NBA Game Commentary”. International Journal of Sport Communication (2011): 50-69.

Leconte, Bernard. “Retransmission sportives et énonciation télévisuelle : quand la télévision, sous couvert de reportage sportif, parle de tout autre chose”. In Montrer le sport. Photographie, cinéma, télévision, directed by Veray, Laurent, Simonet, Pierre, 203-210. Paris : INSEP, 2000.

Leonard, David. “"Live in Your World, Play in Ours": Race, Video Games, and Consuming the Others”. Studies in Media & Information Literacy Education, Volume 3, Issue 4 (November 2003): 1–9. DOI: 10.3138/sim.3.4.002

Leonard, David J., Guerrero, Lisa A. eds. African Americans on Television: Race-ing for Ratings. Santa Barbara, California: Praeger, 2013.

Milza, Pierre, et al. dir. Le pouvoir des anneaux. Les Jeux olympiques à la lumière de la politique, 1896-2004. Paris : Vuibert, 2004.

Riefenstahl, Leni. Olympia. The Complete Original Version [DVD]. Pathfinder, 2006 (1938).

Vigarello, Georges. “Le marathon entre bitume et écran”. Communications, 67 (1998) : 211-215. DOI : 10.3406/comm.1998.2026

Wenner, Lawrence A. ed. Media, Sports, and Society. Newbury Park: Sage Publications, 1989.

Wenner, Lawrence A. “The Super Bowl Pregame Show: Cultural Fantasies and Political Subtext”. In Media, Sports, and Society., edited by Lawrence A. Wenner, 157-179. Newbury Park: Sage Publications, 1989.

Wenner, Lawrence A. ed. MediaSport. London: Routledge, 1998.

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Note de fin

1 Pierre Milza, et al. dir., Le pouvoir des anneaux. Les Jeux olympiques à la lumière de la politique, 1896-2004 (Paris : Vuibert, 2004).

2 John Fiske, Television Culture (New York: Routledge, 2011 (1987)), 14.

3 See Henry Jenkins’ use of the concept to tackle the Matrix and its story unfolding through different media. Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (New York: New York University Press, 2006), 98.

4 Jacques Blociszewski, Le Match de football télévisé (Rennes : Éditions Apogée, 2007) ; Bernard Leconte, “Retransmission sportives et énonciation télévisuelle : quand la télévision, sous couvert de reportage sportif, parle de tout autre chose”, In Montrer le sport. Photographie, cinéma, télévision, directed by Laurent Veray, Pierre Simonet (Paris : INSEP, 2000), 203-210; Georges Vigarello, “Le marathon entre bitume et écran”, Communications, 67 (1998) : 211-215. DOI : 10.3406/comm.1998.2026

5 Leni Riefenstahl, Olympia. The Complete Original Version [DVD] (Pathfinder, 2006 (1938)).

6 John Carlos, with Dave Zirin, The John Carlos Story: The Sports Moment That Changed the World (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2011), 110.

7 Emilio Fernandez Peña, et al. eds, An Olympic Mosaic: Multidisciplinary Research and Dissemination of Olympic Studies (Barcelona: Centre d’Estudis Olimpics, 2011).

8 Neil Farrington, et al., Sport, Racism and Social Media (London: Routledge, 2014).

9 Lawrence A. Wenner ed, Media, Sports, and Society (Newbury Park: Sage Publications, 1989); Lawrence A. Wenner ed, MediaSport (London: Routledge, 1998).

10 Lawrence A. Wenner, “The Super Bowl Pregame Show: Cultural Fantasies and Political Subtext”, In Wenner, Media, Sports, and Society, 157-179.

11 John Fiske, Media Matters: Race and Gender in U.S. Politics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), 5.

12 Margaret Carlisle Duncan, Michael A. Messner, “The Media Image of Sport and Gender”, In Wenner, MediaSport, 170-185; Laurel R. Davies, Othello Harris, “Race and Ethnicity in US Sports Media”, In Wenner, MediaSport, 154-169; Janet S. Fink, Linda Jean Kensicki, “An Imperceptible Difference: Visual and Textual Constructions of Femininity in Sports Illustrated and Sports Illustrated for Women”, Mass Communication and Society, Vol. 5, n° 3 (August 2002): 317-340; Henri Humbert, “La presse sportive française et l’encouragement à l’hégémonie masculine (1900-1970)”, In Sport et Genre. Vol. 2 : Excellence féminine et masculinité hégémonique, directed by Philippe Liotard, Thierry Terret (Paris : L’Harmattan, 2005), 241-262; Mary Jo Kane, Helen Jefferson Lensky, “Media Treatment of Female Athletes: Issues of Gender and Sexualities”, In Wenner, MediaSport, 186-201; Katherine L. Lavelle, “"One of These Things Is Not Like the Others": Linguistic Representations of Yao Ming in NBA Game Commentary”, International Journal of Sport Communication (2011): 50-69.

13 See Divina Frau-Meigs’ use of the media’s framing of identities and its impact on the public’s perception. Divina Frau-Meigs, Médiamorphoses américaines, dans un espace privé unique au monde (Paris : Economica, 2001), 97-106.

14 Aaron Baker, Contesting Identities: Sport in American Film (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2003), 2.

15 Todd Boyd, Young, Black, Rich, and Famous: The Rise of the NBA, the Hip-Hop Invasion, and the Transformation of American Culture (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2003).

16 David Leonard, “"Live in Your World, Play in Ours": Race, Video Games, and Consuming the Others”, Studies in Media & Information Literacy Education, Volume 3, Issue 4 (November 2003): 1–9. DOI: 10.3138/sim.3.4.002; David J. Leonard, Lisa A. Guerrero eds, African Americans on Television: Race-ing for Ratings (Santa Barbara, California: Praeger, 2013).

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