Monday, June 1, 2009

Writing History: The influence of journalism on sports and society

by Jennifer Schiller


What we know about sports and sport history is a product of the media. How we perceive modern sports is a product of the media. But in addition, how we view history as a whole has a lot to do with sports journalism. In fact, the modernization of communication, including the telegraph, the steam press, the Kodak-Eastman camera, and a revolution in the newspaper industry led to the boom in interest in American sports (Schultz, 2009a).

Sports too have helped the journalism industry by increasing readership and listenership. The 1921 Jack Dempsey-Georges Carpentier is thought to have started the radio revolution (Lever and Wheeler, 1993). And the Joe Louis-Max Schmelling rematch reached 58% of all homes with a radio. A 1927 Dempsey fight at Soldier Field drew 40,000,000 radio listeners.

Though early on boxing reaped the most benefits from radio, baseball quickly began to catch on. The Chicago Cubs were the first team to use radio during the regular season but by 1934 Ford Motor Company sponsored the World Series for $100,000.
Television, once again, revolutionized the relationship between sports, society, and the media. Sports were the perfect fit for TV, and TV the perfect medium for sports. As of 1978, television contracts began to generate more revenue for NFL teams than gate receipts. Money is one of the biggest factors pushing broadcast sports journalism. Television contracts drive many sports organizations with lucrative sums and help to promote games and generate attendance through greater exposure (Lever and Wheeler, 1993).

However, the media has not just influenced the popularity of sport (and vice versa), but has also helped create the dialectical relationship between sport and society that exists today (Schultz, 2009b). The stance of journalists during key points in sporting history has led to both sporting and societal changes.

One such journalist was Shirley Povich, a sportswriter for the Washington Post for over 75 years, and arguably one of the most influential journalists of the decade. Povich covered almost every sport imaginable and was a vocal proponent of integration and racial equality. Along with Sam Lacy, a sports writer for the Baltimore Afro-American, Povich fought for the integration of baseball. The two also spared with long-time Washington Redskins owner George Preston Marshall over integrating the Redskins, the last team in the NFL to integrate (Smith, 1987).

Povich wasn't perfect, and rarely discussed women's sports despite writing through and after Title IX, but he did set the stage for improved race relations in baseball and helped fight for integration in football in the nation's capital. Without journalists such as Lacy and Povich pushing for change on the field, the Civil Rights movement may not have had the effect or success it did.

This is not however, a uniquely American concept. Sports journalism is a global phenomenon and the effects of sports journalism on both sport and society have wide-reaching effects both here and abroad. Journalist Franklin Foer demonstrates the global effect of sports and sports coverage in the non-fiction work, "How Soccer Explains the World". Foer discusses the social implications of soccer worldwide and in many cases uses media coverage to illustrate his point.

Sports and journalism need each other, always have and always will. They feed off each other and influence the society we live in. Philip Graham, the former Washington Post publisher once said, journalists "write the first draft of history." Sports journalists, like all journalists, write history, just in a more unique way. After all, it's not just sports fans who know the name Jackie Robinson, or wept at Lou Gehrig's speech, nor was it just sports fans who understood the implications of the Louis-Schmelling fight or the "Miracle on Ice." And it is not only sports fans who see the significance in breaking the color barrier, persevering through hardship and disease, and fighting racism, prejudice and communism. But without journalists and the media we may never heard those calls, or been witness to those moments in history, and we certainly wouldn't be sitting in this class discussing them.

With an ever-changing journalism world it remains to be seen the consequences on sport and society. However, it is clear that as long as sports and the media exist there will remain an important dialectical relationship between the two leading us to learn more about box scores, the world, and most importantly ourselves.



Works Cited


Lever, J., & Wheeler, S. (1993). Mass media and the experience of sport. Communication Research. 20, 125-143.

Schultz, J. (2009a). Sport and the Emergence of Modern America. Lecture presented in
KNES493. University of Maryland, College Park, MD.

Schultz, J. (2009b). What is sport history? Lecture presented in KNES493. University of Maryland, College Park, MD.

Smith, T. (1987).Civil rights on the gridiron: The Kennedy Administration and the desegregation of the Washington Redskins. Journal of Sport History. 14, 189-108.


Recommended Readings


Wenner, L. A. (1989). Media, sports, and society. Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications.

Povich, L., Povich, M., Povich, D., & Solomon, G. (Eds.). (2005). All those mornings... At the Post. New York, NY: PublicAffairs.

1 comment:

boxinglover9 said...

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