The United States of Sport

Media Framing and Influence of the Intersection of Sports and American Culture

by Kenon A. Brown (Author) Joshua Dickhaus (Author) Mia Long Anderson (Author)
©2022 Textbook X, 244 Pages


Whether it’s the Roosevelt administration’s impact on the formation of the NCAA, the protest of the Vietnam War by Muhammad Ali, or the rise of rap and hip-hop in the 90s and its penetration of the NBA’s image, American culture and politics have intersected regularly with sports. The impact of American politics and culture on the sports industry, and vice versa, is evident throughout the halls of history and, in particular, the 20th and 21st centuries mark an interesting period of time to explore this relationship. One avenue to be considered during this time is the amplification and growth of mass media and its role in framing these intersections of American pop culture, politics and the sports industry. Many of the values that Americans hold dear to their identity, such as activism and protest, capitalism, freedom of expression, and competition, are permeated through the history of collegiate and professional sports in the United States, and the media has played a role in shaping those opinions and values among Americans through its various outlets. The United States of Sport looks at how media outlets portrayed several of these intersections in politics, culture and sports, with each chapter highlighting a moment or phenomenon in American history and its direct or indirect impact on some aspect of the sports industry through the eyes of newspapers, magazines, television, radio and online news outlets.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • “Why are you studying sports?” An Introduction into the Role of Sport in American Society
  • Section I Early Intersections of Sport and American Culture
  • 1 The “Rough Rider” Saves College Football: Football Mortality, Theodore Roosevelt, and the Formation of the NCAA
  • 2 The 1958 NFL Championship Game: The Game That Launched the Dominance of “The League”
  • 3 The Decision Heard around the World: Media Coverage of Muhammad Ali’s Vietnam Draft Opposition and Title Loss
  • Section II Sport and American Sociopolitical Issues
  • 4 “Bigger than Football”: Colin Kaepernick, Donald Trump, and the Battle for Redefined Patriotism
  • 5 “I am woman, hear me roar”: The Role of Feminist Ideology in the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team’s Fight for Equal Pay
  • 6 It’s Okay to NOT Be Okay: The Importance of Athlete Disclosures about Mental Health Struggles
  • 7 A Tale of Two “Sports”: WWE, Major League Baseball and News Coverage of the Steroid Era
  • 8 Intersecting Crises: Athlete Activism during the COVID-19 Pandemic
  • Section III Sport and American Popular Culture
  • 9 Honus Wagner to Broadway Joe to Air Jordan: The Evolution of the Athlete Endorser
  • 10 Literally in Vogue: The Trendsetting Influence of Fashionable Athletes Outside the Lines
  • 11 Kobe Bryant: Building a Legacy from the Hardwood to Hollywood
  • 12 John Madden: The Coach, the Broadcaster, and Namesake of the Most Successful Video Game Franchise Ever
  • 13 Worlds Collide: The Legacies of Iverson, Jay-Z, and the Bond between Hip-Hop and the NBA
  • 14 From Overlooked to a Super Genre: The Sports Film’s Dominant Impact on American Culture
  • About the Authors

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This book was written during a time of struggle, celebration, and transition for all three authors, and it has been a joyful experience to complete this project together. Kenon would like to thank Josh and Mia for trusting him to lead this project from the beginning. He would like to thank his family for their support and encouragement throughout the writing of this project, but he especially would like to thank the two most important women in his life, his daughters Kensley and Nolynn, for giving him the motivation to keep pushing.

Josh would like to thank his wife, Vanessa, for her presence in his life and belief in him. He would also like to thank his parents, Bob and Terry, for being there for him his entire career, and the two greatest brothers he could ask for, Bobby and Mike. Finally, he would like to thank his stepchildren, Tristan and Brooks, for always keeping me on my toes and asking me how the book was coming along. He hopes it meets your expectations.

Mia would like to thank Kenon and Josh for being the amazing scholars and co-authors they prove themselves to be time and again. She is immeasurably grateful to her husband, Walter, and daughter, Eden, for their love, patience, and support with every conference, manuscript, and move. Life is so much better because God placed you in it.

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“Why are you studying sports?” An Introduction into the Role of Sport in American Society

Kenon A. Brown and Patrick Gentile, The University of Alabama

As sport communication scholars, a question that the authors of this book will hear from time to time is “why are you studying sports?” We are constantly asked why sport is worthy of (or even appropriate for) academic study compared to other issues of public health, environmental issues, and other topics that have a bigger, more visible impact on society. It’s a question we sometimes struggle to answer as well because it’s hard to put into words the importance of sport. Dr. Natalie Brown-Devlin, during a presentation at The University of Alabama, put the importance into words perfectly: “sport is a microcosm of society, reflective of the social, cultural and political underpinnings of America.”

The symbiotic relationship between sport and American culture is evident in the role such cultural elements as music, public health and politics play in the American sport landscape and, indeed, how we define the country and national pride. For example, teams and leagues operate as vanguards with technological advances, usually as early adopters. The National Football League (NFL) was one of the first to use 8K technology for its television broadcasts (Buchmasser, 2021). Athletes, teams, and leagues are consistently the first to use new social media outlets; within a year of Tik Tok’s 2017 debut, it created partnerships with the NFL, the National Basketball Association (NBA), and several players and teams from both leagues (Moran, 2019).

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The intersection of sport and politics in America has become more visible lately, mainly due to the “feud” between President Donald Trump and former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick over Kaepernick’s displays of protest during the national anthem. However, you can link the connection between sport and politics back even further. Many people will think back to the 60s and 70s for this validation, with the Olympic Black Power protests at the 1968 Summer Olympics or Muhammad Ali’s protest of the Vietnam War that led to him being stripped of the heavyweight boxing title (Bailey, 2020). The connection between sports and politics can be linked even further than this, however, with sporting events being used to increase voter turnout in the 1750s, and horse racing being a stage for divisive political debates over the state of South Carolina’s refusal to acknowledge a federal import tax put in place by then-President Andrew Jackson (Cohen, 2018). In fact, it wasn’t until African Americans began using sports to make political standings after the Civil War that the “stick to sports” crowd began to grow larger and louder (Cohen, 2018).

Speaking specifically of social protest, the sport stage has been used for more stances than just racial justice. The United States Women’s National Soccer Team has been at the center of the larger debate of equal pay for women (Depta, 2016). Sporting events were moved from North Carolina and Georgia for controversial political actions. The transgender-focused “bathroom bill” in North Carolina prompted the NBA to move its 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte to New Orleans (Depta, 2016) and Major League Baseball (MLB) moved the 2021 All-Star game from Atlanta due to Georgia’s newly-passed voting restrictions (Romo, 2021).

This intersection of American culture and sport extends into public health as well. The most recent example is the COVID-19 pandemic and how the threat to America was felt not after months of warning from public health officials, but the cancellation of the 2020 NBA season, which sent a ripple effect throughout the nation (Aschburner, 2020). The rise of mental health awareness in America has been amplified by major athletes like NBA player Kevin Love and Olympians Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka, and it has helped erase the stigma behind mental health (Gavin, 2021). Thirty years later, after his decision to retire from basketball following his HIV diagnosis, Magic Johnson is still working through his foundation to advocate for HIV awareness, prevention and treatment (Herring, 2021).

American popular culture is also reflected in the sports world. Vidal (2016) researched the best sports references in hip-hop history, starting as early as a reference to the Knicks in Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” considered by many to be the song that pushed hip-hop music into the popular music mainstream ←2 | 3→in 1979. Revealing NBA player ratings for the upcoming NBA 2K video game (and the fan and player reactions as a result of those ratings, for better or worse) has become a yearly tradition captured extensively on social media (Sykes, 2021). We can all name one sports movie that has made us either laugh, cry or get an extreme adrenaline rush, and we can all name an acting performance from one of our favorite athletes, whether its Kareem Abdul-Jabbar playing a pilot in Airplane! or Mike Tyson punching the hell out of Zach Galifianakis’ character in The Hangover (O’Neil, 2011).

Indeed, the symbiotic relationship between sport, politics and American culture is irrefutable. In his 2006 book chapter “Sports and Media through the Super Glass Mirror: Placing Blame, Breast-Beating, and a Gaze into the Future,” Lawrence Wenner asserted that “sport continues to play a pivotal role in the identities that form nationalism” (p. 49). Using the 2004 Super Bowl broadcast as a basis for examination of the intersection of culture and mediated sports, Wenner delves into the areas, or “super themes,” of pop and hip-hop, sex and gender, race and ethnicity, celebrity and hero, technology and activity, and national and global, among others. In his discussion on the implications of mediated sport in the national and global landscape, Wenner states the following:

Why is it that organized sport and mediated formations are so likely to align with the powers that be, even on issues where there is clear evidence of considerable dissent? We need to trace this with better understanding to the social structures of sport and its historical roles in culture and look ahead for ways for mediated sports to play to broaden its interface with political discourse…Politics has always had a place in sport, and in a mediated age, we need to bring it out of the shadows and broaden its scope. (p. 56)

The impact of American politics and culture on the sports industry, and vice versa, is evident throughout the halls of history and, in particular, the 20th and 21st centuries mark an interesting period of time to explore this relationship. One avenue to be considered during this time is the amplification and growth of mass media and its role in framing the intersections of American pop culture, politics and the sports industry. Many of the values that Americans hold dear to their identity, such as activism and protest, capitalism, freedom of expression, and competition, are permeated through the history of collegiate and professional sports in this country, and the media has played a role in shaping those opinions and values among Americans through its various outlets. This book will look at how media outlets portrayed several of these intersections in politics, culture and sports, with each chapter highlighting a moment or phenomenon in American ←3 | 4→history and its direct or indirect impact on some aspect of the sports industry through the eyes of newspapers, magazines, television, radio and online news outlets.

Framing Theory as the Lens of Intersection

Framing theory was not developed in the realm of communication, as it was originally rooted in sociology and psychology. Coming from a sociological, or macro-level perspective, framing was founded based on attribution theory (Heider, 1959; Heider & Simmel, 1944). Heider (1959) demonstrates that humans process complex information throughout their everyday practices by alleviating social perception to judgments in regard to attribution. Attribution, as defined by Heider (1959), is the perceived connection between an observed behavior and a possible cause of that behavior. This idea was extended by Iyengar (1991) when he developed episodic and thematic framing to help explain what attributes to the caused behaviors. Additionally contributing to the creation of framing theory is frames of reference, developed by Goffman (1974). He asserts that instead of simple attributions of causality, people adopt broader interpretive mental frameworks coined “primary frameworks” (Goffman, 1974, p. 24). These frameworks suggest that humans have shared social categories that we use to organize new information (Tewksbury & Scheufele, 2020).

For psychology, or the micro-level, framing was founded on “frames of reference” (Sherif, 1967) and prospect theory (Kahneman, 2003; Kahneman & Tversky, 1984). Sherif (1967) explains that individual judgment and perceptions happen within one’s frames of reference. Because individuals already have preconceived notions about certain topics, it is possible to create situations that reflect the perceptions and judgments of an individual. This essentially means that one can mold a situation to mirror one’s ideas and values. The idea of references assumes that the information assigned will be interpreted in a certain way based on individual preferences. Therefore, framing works best when it is understood what the audience’s inclinations are (Scheufele & Tewksbury, 2007; Tewksbury & Scheufele, 2020).

The communication field later took these perspectives and adopted it as “framing” (Tewksbury & Scheufele, 2009). No matter which field created framing, its main function is to offer support for how audiences interpret an issue or event, mainly from the news.

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Framing in the media is when journalists and other members of the media choose images and words that can influence how audiences understand and evaluate issues, policies, or events (Tewksbury & Scheufele, 2009). Each frame has what Gamson and Modigliani (1989) call “packages.” These packages have lots of information wrapped in one frame. For instance, they contain things like arguments, information, symbols, metaphors, and images. The packages impact how people comprehend, understand, and react to the information being disseminated. At the core of each package is an argument in the information it gives about an issue the creators of the message intend to use to elicit a certain response from the intended audience (Tewksbury & Scheufele, 2020). The act of framing is meant to “select some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient in a communicating text, in such a way as to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation for the item described” (Entman, 1993, p. 52). Frames define problems, diagnose causes, make moral judgments, and offer suggestions for topics. Frames are also salient, which Entman (1993) describes as making a certain piece of information more noticeable, meaningful, or memorable to those processing the information. Gitlin (1980) contends that the elements of a communicated text are emphasized or excluded by the sender. This outlook is a similar understanding to Goffman’s (1974) perspective of framing, where it is a method in which individuals use their interpretive schemas to classify and interpret messages. These interpretive schemas can influence how the audience perceives and views a topic.

According to Gross (2008), frames are meant to highlight certain aspects of an event, to guide the audience’s thoughts on a subject, and to draw predictable conclusions. Additionally, framing can elicit emotions in the audience from individual and situational factors, which aligns with appraisal theories of emotion (Gross, 2008). There are two common types of framing and each is used for different purposes. Thematic frames focus on events and political issues in a broader context that presents collective, abstract, and general evidence. They weave stories to where they are situated in larger societal contexts. Episodic frames, in contrast, describe specific events and isolated cases (Iyengar, 1990). Iyengar (1991) argues that episodic frames focus more on individual’s attributions, while thematic frames produce more societal attributions. In the context of sport, episodic frames would be specific stories about a game that may include the box score, player statistics, and specific details from the game. On the other hand, thematic frames present stories and issues in a broader context (Gross, 2008). Thematic frames would amplify sports stories that connect to a larger social idea, such as racial equality and social change.

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The United States of Sport

Referring again to the Kaepernick-Trump debate, the commentary from both local and national outlets was significant in shaping the conversation about the conflict, so it would be beneficial to media scholars to put the event into context by investigating the themes that were discussed, while also comparing the event to similar instances in American culture. That is precisely what The United States of Sport seeks to do. This book examines the relationship between sports, politics and culture in America through the lens of media framing, highlighting several instances of this intersection throughout American history through the eyes of the outlets charged with providing news. The book features chapters on sports in relation to values that represent the American identity related to organizational action, moral order, citizenship, pop culture, commercialization, and education, among other themes, and the resulting casebook adds to previous research on the intersection of politics, culture and sports in three ways.

First, this project expands historical research to cover more recent political and cultural influence. The late 20th century and early 21st century have had many significant events happen in the sports world that have shaped American culture. This book provides a historical commentary of some of these events through the lens of media framing. Second, the book focuses on the role of politics and culture in the creation and evolution of sport tradition, image and regulation in the United States. This introduction has briefly discussed the way that American culture is reflective in sports, and vice versa. Each chapter in this book takes one aspect of this intersection and dives deeper into the societal implications. Finally, this book discusses how the American mass media played a role in shaping the national conversation on the intersections of politics, pop culture, and sports. This book does not seek to provide 14 theoretically-driven chapters that provide extensions of framing theory. Rather, this book uses framing theory as a lens to provide context to the topics discussed.

The first section of this book focuses on cases that tie events that happened in the early 20th century to the discussion centered around debates and innovations that are going on currently. Chapter 1 discusses the physical severity of early college football and how this physical danger led then-President Teddy Roosevelt to push for the formation of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). This chapter draws parallels between this formation and the discussion surrounding player safety in football today. Chapter 2 discusses the significance surrounding “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” the nickname for the 1958 NFL Championship between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Colts. This ←6 | 7→was one of the first games aired live on television, and this chapter considers how that live broadcast had an impact on the fledgling NFL, its love affair with America, and how sports is covered in the media today. Chapter 3 delves into one of the first amplified instances of player protest: Ali’s refusal to participate in the Vietnam War. This chapter looks at Ali’s decision and the portrayal of Ali during his three-year ban from boxing, comparing Ali’s protest to more modern examples of player protest.

The second section of this book looks at more modern examples of sport’s influence on social issues. Chapter 4 covers the aforementioned conflict between Kaepernick and Trump. This chapter looks at the coverage of the conflict of thought between Kaepernick and Trump in media outlets, particularly presenting the difference in news coverage between primarily liberal and conservative outlets. Chapter 5 looks at the rise of American feminism with the success of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team. Using the team as a case study, this chapter explores the roles of patriarchal systems and feminism in the fight for equal pay and treatment in sport through the media coverage of the team’s fight for equal pay and the lawsuit against U.S. Soccer. Chapter 6 looks at the decaying of the social and cultural stigma around mental health, and the role that athletes have played in increasing mental health awareness. This chapter discusses the framing of the national discussion on mental health issues and compare it to the way athletes have called attention to mental health issues in the media. Chapter 7 looks at the use of performance-enhancing drugs in two different sports: Major League Baseball (MLB) and World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). The chapter compares the coverage of the “steroid era” in both leagues, noting the differences in national sentiment for a legitimate sport and a “sport” that garners much criticism for its legitimacy. Chapter 8 discusses the recent COVID-19 pandemic and how the fight for social justice was heightened during 2020 by racially-motivated deaths at the peak of a public health concern. The chapter looks at the fight for racial equality and how it the pandemic impacted college football and professional basketball.

The final section of this book looks at how sports influences popular culture, beginning with Chapter 9’s discussion of how athlete endorsements of brands helped propel them into celebrity status. In particular, the chapter highlights how the marketing campaigns of athletes such as Joe Namath, Bo Jackson, and Michael Jordan impact endorsement value today. Chapter 10 looks at the growth of athletic influence in the fashion industry, where lines can become blurred between athlete and brand (i.e. LeBron for Nike), and athletes moving beyond their field of play to introduce their unique style designs to the world. The chapter ←7 | 8→will expand beyond traditional media coverage of these trends and also look at how athletes influence fashion trends through social media. Chapter 11 looks specifically at the late Kobe Bryant and his influence in the entertainment industry. This chapter discusses the legacy Bryant was building in music, television and film prior to his death. Chapter 12 provides a discussion of the late John Madden and how his collaboration with EA Sports helped elevate the sports video game. This chapter covers the evolution of the sports video game through the lens of Madden’s football franchise, its competition with 2K Sports, and the culminating exclusive license with the NFL. Chapter 13 highlights the rise of hip-hop and the NBA during the late 90s and early 2000s through the careers of two legends: former NBA player Allen Iverson and rapper Jay-Z. The chapter examines the career parallels of both Iverson and Jay-Z and how they contributed to a renaissance for both hip-hop music and professional basketball. Finally, Chapter 14 looks at the cultural impact of sports movies. This chapter explores the country’s embrace of the sports movie as a legitimate Hollywood genre.

By looking at some of the same themes Wenner (2006) explored, the goal of this book’s fourteen chapters is to highlight the many ways that sport is a microcosm of American culture and society. While not an exhaustive examination, this book analyzes common themes that illustrate this intersection. The authors hope that through this, the question “why are you studying sports?” becomes much easier for current and future sport scholars and enthusiasts to answer.


Aschburner, S. (2020, Mar. 12). Coronavirus pandemic causes NBA to suspend season after player tests positive. NBA.com. Retrieved from https://www.nba.com/news/coronavirus-pandemic-causes-nba-suspend-season.

Bailey, A. (2020, Oct. 16). Tommie Smith, John Carlos did the Black Power salute at the Olympics on this day in 1968. USA Today. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/olympics/2020/10/16/today-sports-history-black-power-salute-1968-summer-olympics/3671856001/.


X, 244
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2022 (October)
Sport media cultural studies popular communication social justice media framing sport communication The United States of Sport Media Framing and Influence of the Intersection of Sports and American Culture Kenon A. Brown Joshua Dickhaus Mia Long Anderson
New York, Berlin, Bruxelles, Lausanne, Oxford, 2022. X, 244 pp.

Biographical notes

Kenon A. Brown (Author) Joshua Dickhaus (Author) Mia Long Anderson (Author)

Kenon A. Brown (Ph.D., The University of Alabama, 2012) is an associate professor in the Department of Advertising and Public Relations at the University of Alabama. As the programming director for the Alabama Program in Sports Communication, Kenon is responsible for stakeholder communication and events for the program. His research interests include image and reputation management, particularly in sports, and minority recruitment in mass communication. Joshua Dickhaus (Ph.D., The University of Alabama, 2011) is Associate Professor of Communication and the Director of the Charley Steiner School of Sports Communication at Bradley University. In 2019, he was named the Associate Chair of the Department of Communication. Joshua’s main research interests lie in race in sports, apologia rhetoric in sports, and image restoration in sports. Mia Long Anderson (Ph.D., University of Alabama, 2011) is an associate dean and professor in the College of Arts and Media at Sam Houston State University. Her research interests include the intersection of communication, race and sport, athlete activism, the history of African American magazines, and African American images in the media. Her work has been published in Communication Teacher, the Journal of African American Studies, the Journal of Contemporary Athletics, the Journal of Sports Media, the Journal of South Texas, and numerous books.


Title: The United States of Sport
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