Monday, May 4, 2015

A Content Analysis of ESPN's Draft Coverage - Evidence of Racial Bias?

At Vice Sports @A_W_Gordon has a fascinating post on the language used to described football players during 15 hours of ESPN's coverage of the 2015 NFL draft.  Content analyses is a powerful tool to reveal focus of attention as well as the key terms used in communication.

Here is a word cloud of terms used by the ESPN hosts only to describe black football players (with the size of the word proportional to its frequency):
And here is a word cloud for those terms used exclusively to describe white players:
Gordon writes:
. . . feel free to stare at this for as long as you want, but let's do a quick breakdown. Only black players were described as: gifted, aggressive, explosive, raw, and freak. Only white players were described as: intelligent, cerebral, fundamentally, overachiever, technician, workmanlike, desire, and brilliant.
In 2014, Deadspin (Gordon and colleagues) did a similar analysis with similar results.

There is also a substantial academic literature on this subject. For instance:
  • Rainville, R. E., & McCormick, E. (1977). Extent of covert racial prejudice in pro football announcers' speech. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 54(1), 20-26.
  • Tyler Eastman, Andrew C. Billings, S. (2001). Biased voices of sports: Racial and gender stereotyping in college basketball announcing. Howard Journal of Communication, 12(4), 183-201.
  • Billings, A. C. (2004). Depicting the quarterback in black and white: A content analysis of college and professional football broadcast commentary. Howard Journal of Communications, 15(4), 201-210.
And more recently:
  • Angelini, J. R., Billings, A. C., MacArthur, P. J., Bissell, K., & Smith, L. R. (2014). Competing Separately, Medaling Equally: Racial Depictions of Athletes in NBC's Primetime Broadcast of the 2012 London Olympic Games. Howard Journal of Communications, 25(2), 115-133.
  • Schmidt, Anthony, and Kevin Coe. "Old and New Forms of Racial Bias in Mediated Sports Commentary: The Case of the National Football League Draft." Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 58.4 (2014): 655-670.
How we talk about sport tells us something about society beyond sport, and the resulting image is not always so pretty.


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