A field theory analysis of sports journalists’ coverage of social justice protests in sports

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University of Alabama Libraries

Sports journalists have historically been anathema to covering socio-political issues related to sports, even as some high-profile athletes have crossed that boundary from sports to socio-political issues. But that is changing as new generations of sports reporters come into the profession with more professional development and education in journalism practices and ethics than previous generations. Using a mixed-method approach of content analysis and semi-structured qualitative interviews and employing Bourdieu’s field theory as the theoretical prism through which to view their responses, this exploratory study aims to better understand why and how sports reporters cover socio-political issues related to sports. Results indicated that a number of factors play into whether sports reporters cover socio-political issues related to sports, such as having the time and resources to properly report on those complex issues, wanting to be seen as more than a sports reporter, and having reporters in other beats who can jump in when the story veers into fields outside of sports. The respondents also identified four story types—“humanity” stories, investigative “deep dives,” off-the-field issues, and “hot takes”—that are used to cover socio-political issues, with each story type having its own factors, contexts, and conditions as to whether that story type will be used on socio-political issues.

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