For decades now, global politics has been shaping sports and their related fields. This means that global politics, and socio-political events, have also affected sports journalism and will continue to do so.
Despite the fact that many believe that sports to be both neutral and apolitical, sports and sports journalism are actually intricately enmeshed within the larger socio-political context in which they operate. Like it or not, politics has long had a significant impact on sports, and this effect is heightened by modern technology and globalization.
While the balance between establishing an apolitical environment for entertainment and speaking out against injustices has been difficult, the global reach of technology has made it possible to achieve such harmony. So, how does international politics impact sports? What does it mean for sports journalists all over the world? And how is sports journalism going to change due to these things? This article aims to answer those questions.
Sports personalities are joining the conversation
The role of athletes is intriguing – and always will be! Athletes are well-known for on-field achievements and less for their off-field exploits. However, this is no longer the case nowadays, and a lot can be attributed to timing and context. For example, the Black Power salute in 1968 at the Mexico City Olympics was frowned upon at the time in the US, but it was acclaimed as courageous in the 21st century.
The same can be said when Cassius Clay converted to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali in 1964. This, and the fact that Ali was in opposition to the Vietnam War, made Ali a controversial figure at the time. Nowadays, though, Ali is remembered and admired for sticking to his guns and displaying leadership for minority causes.
You might ask what prompted this change in attitudes. There are several factors, but perhaps one of the most significant is how the media report their stories. The reality is the media can sensationalize or overdramatize positive or negative events in sports. If the media concentrates on the negative aspects of a sport or athlete, it can create an adverse perception.
In recent years, by focusing on the positive aspects of a notable occurrence in a sporting event, the media has developed a positive public perception of things such as the Black Power salute and Ali’s resistance to the Vietnam War. As the world undergoes political change, sports, and its luminaries are learning to adapt and are increasingly using their power to speak up for causes more significant than themselves. Below are some famous athletes and organizations that have taken a bold political stance.
At the start of the 2004 season, Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Carlos Delgado decided to no longer stand for the “God Bless America” theme during the seventh-inning stretch of MLB games in protest of the war in Afghanistan. Delgado explained that the song represented a war he did not believe in.
In April 2010, Arizona approved a new bill to end illegal immigration. The law was approved with solid bipartisan support and was based on current federal immigration statutes. Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver was not fond of it and thought the law was insensitive. In response, Sarver made a political statement asking his players to wear the Los Suns jersey. The jersey is usually reserved for Noche Latina, games nights to celebrate Latinx players and fans. They wore the jersey on May 5th in their playoff match against the San Antonio Spurs in protest of the new immigration law.
Like Muhammad Ali, Chris Wayne Jackson also converted to Islam and changed his name to Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf during his first season with the Denver Nuggets. Abdul-Rauf had a stellar first few years in Denver, including setting the league record for the highest free-throw percentage.
But Abdul-Rauf did something else with his hands that gained him national prominence. Beginning in 1996, he refused to stand for the US national anthem because he believed the flag symbolized oppression. He believed the actions and beliefs of the United States conflicted with his Islamic beliefs. This prompted NBA Commissioner David Stern to suspend Abdul-Rauf for one game.
Abdul-Rauf and the league managed to work a compromise wherein the former would agree to stand for the national anthem but recite a Muslim prayer with eyes closed. After these events, several NBA teams blackballed Abdul-Rauf because of the controversy. He played three more seasons after that but only started in 62 games.
Something to remember is that citizens will form opinions, and their political beliefs are likely to be shaped, by the information that is filtered through to them by various channels. These channels include all aspects of their environment, whether online or offline: social media, television, reporters, as well as the usual suspects of friends and families. Therefore, when sportspeople and journalists focus on political actions, or movements, the public are more likely to have this information passed through to them. Furthermore, by covering a wide range of topics, sports journalists can emphasize the importance of diversity, and sport can transcend cultural differences and bring people together.
The diverse role of a sports journalist
Politics has always been intertwined with sports. More often than not, however, the call from the sports media industry is to keep politics out of sports. Recently, the United States has seen comprehensive coverage of athlete activism and how sports connect with systemic issues such as transphobia, gender equality, labor solidarity, indigenous genocide, and racial injustice.
Now more than ever, the public demands more sports analysis and reporting that focuses on the struggles and lives of athletes around gender, social class, and race. What makes this even more pressing is the recent rule changes of the International Olympic Committee, which has banned athletes from expressing opinions that demonstrate racial, religious, or political beliefs.
Sports journalists have both an opportunity and a responsibility to engage with the world through the events they cover. Sports and politics are becoming increasingly entwined, and journalists are a part of this. This has led to criticism suggesting that journalists’ coverage is overly politicized.
Now, you might ask how these sports journalists deal with criticism. Is it affecting their sports coverage? Is it fair or proper to involve politics in the first place? Well, the reality is criticism comes with being a journalist. No matter what you create, report, or write, someone will always disagree, and the best sports journalists know this. As a sports journalist, your job is not to be popular but to report the truth objectively.
Another example of sports journalism and politics intertwining is the Warnock t-shirt case, wherein players at the 2020 Women’s National Basketball Association match wore t-shirts that promoted the voting of Revered Raphael Warnock. Days after the shirts debuted, Warnock’s poll numbers rose quickly, along with the number of donations to his campaign. Furthermore, WNBA’s movement received extensive media coverage. It made national headlines, being covered by The New York Times, The Washington Post, and ESPN.
Unlike before, reporting that athletes advocate for social justice or discuss mental health is no longer enough to satisfy demand. Nowadays, sports journalists are urged to uncover what drives these athletes to take a stand, evaluate the present inequalities, and identify the gaps between reality and optics in sports. It is no longer uncommon for newsrooms to focus on stories that mix social justice and sports, mental health and sports, gender and sports, race and sports, and health science and sports. Furthermore, sports journalists emphasize the reason and goal behind their stories and the classifications of cross-disciplinary coverage.
For instance, USA Today Sports published a report on the political donations of more than 100 team owners in the build-up to the 2020 election. The article revealed roughly 86% of financial assistance was allocated to Republican causes and candidates.
A significant challenge and concern in sports journalism is the constant shrinking of newsrooms, and the decline of traditional media. While large national outlets with sufficient staff have a distinct upper hand, balancing sufficient coverage and comprehensive dives is still a constant challenge for local media companies.
A solution to this challenge is to keep the sports department distinct from the news department. More often than not, the sports section is regarded as the toy department, and collaborations are taken for granted. However, with the increasing politicization of sports departments, doing this can do more harm than good. By highlighting sports’ cultural and social importance, many stories that uncover the connection between society and sports and dive into the complex subject matter bring unique perspectives into the limelight. This, in turn, makes sports reporting more accessible and meaningful.
Sports and political intervention
Emerging social science research evaluating sports intervention programs emphasizes athletics’ value in positively impacting international relations; they are often the faces of many international states, and their influence should not be diminished.
While sports intervention is a growing field and the research on its impact is in its early stages, these studies present a glimpse of the burgeoning body of science demonstrating the effectiveness of sports in improving political partnerships. By developing and implementing a promising sports diplomacy strategy, the US can create and improve international relationships.
How can you join this movement of change?
With sports journalists taking on more meaningful political responsibilities, there’s no better time to enter sports broadcast journalism than now. But how do you become a sports journalist? Sports journalism is a very competitive field, and it takes more than simply knowing about sports to succeed.
Sports journalism is entertaining as much as it is informative. People need a reason to follow you; knowing a lot about sports will not cut it. This section will offer a step-by-step guide on how you can work towards becoming a sports journalist.
Hone your writing skills
There is no one-size-fits-all formula for breaking into the sports media industry, but there are several ways to put yourself in a position to succeed. One of those ways is to hone your writing skills. You can set up a website or blog to practice writing quality articles and columns with regularity.
You want to choose something you are passionate about since you will need to create a lot of content regularly. Even if you think you want to kickstart a broadcasting career, you must know how to write. Other than that, you may also want to read articles, editorials, books, and opinion pieces written by revered sports journalists. This way, you will be exposed to different writing styles and the ingenuity of professional sports journalists.
Once you’ve built a following, start looking for reporting gigs. When doing so, do not jump directly into professional sports because the reality is you won’t become a national sports journalist overnight. The best thing you can do is take every reporting gig available, no matter how small.
Through this process, you can learn to report about and interview athletes and coaches at the prep and college levels. These skills are necessary if and when you begin dealing with pros since it teaches you to be accurate when telling a story. This gives you a work portfolio to work toward more prominent outlets and platforms.
Earn a journalism degree
A journalism degree will ensure you have the fundamental skills and training to become a sports journalist. Most sports journalists hold a relevant undergraduate degree accredited by the National Council for the Training of Journalists. Look for communication and journalism programs that meet your goals and professional interests.
Once you’ve earned your undergraduate degree, you can further your education by taking the SBU Master’s in Sports Journalism program. By taking a program at a prestigious academic institution such as St Bonaventure University, you will gain the skills and knowledge required to succeed. The online nature of the course also allows you to be flexible in your study. An advanced journalism curriculum will include classes that teach you aspects of sports reporting and journalism ethics.
You can also expect to take courses exploring areas such as sports in American life, live sports reporting, sports media relations, sports television and field production, multimedia reporting, and photography. These types of lessons are imperative in becoming a successful sports journalist, and will help students to carve out a career that works for them, as well as positively influencing the next age of journalists.
Obtain work experience
After earning your journalism degree, the next step is to obtain work experience to develop industry contacts and get a clearer grasp on the sports journalism industry. More often than not, you will receive shadowing opportunities through your university course, wherein you will learn the inner workings of sports reporting.
Most of these positions are voluntary and unpaid, but they can provide you with valuable lessons to carve out your niche in a saturated industry. It also allows you to build a solid portfolio to complement a degree when applying for journalism roles. Building your portfolio is a key aspect of shaping a strong career start.
As sports journalism becomes more involved in global issues and politics, the responsibility of sports journalists to report the truth is more important than ever. It’s incredibly rewarding to be able to advocate for positive change, and to be able to do so in a job that you can enjoy. Work towards a meaningful career in sports journalism by following the steps mentioned above and be the change you want to see in the world.