Visual framing, racial identity and perceived femininity impacts on public perceptions of transgressive female athletes
While issues surrounding the race and sex of athletes, as well as the transgressive acts of athletes, are frequent mass media research topics and are fervently discussed in sports media, the recent intersection of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and subsequent high-profile protests by U.S. athletes has focused attention toward enduring issues of racial concern regarding athletes and sports fans. This research experimentally investigated issues surrounding American spectators’ racial attitudes, the spectator’s sex, an athlete’s race and the athlete’s sex to determine if race and the subject’s perceived femininity impact perceptions of female athletes committing transgressive acts. Theory bases for this research include Visual Framing Theory, Social Identity Theory, Self-categorization Theory and mass media stereotyping of Blacks. This research reports the results of a 2 (race: White female athlete/Black female athlete) x 2 (visual frame: athlete with tattoos/athlete without tattoos) experiment to investigate public responses to a female athlete accused of using steroids. A total of 263 female participants read a simulated media report, then provided responses concerning an appropriate punishment for the athlete. Each participant also reported her personal strength of racial identity using the Racial Identity Attitude Scale (RIAS) as well as her perceived level of femininity using the Femininity Ideology Scale (FIS). These results were used as control variables in subsequent statistical analyses. Results were inconclusive regarding strength of racial identity or perceived femininity as indicators of punishment length for the transgressive female athletes. Though results were not statistically significant, the data does trend in the hypothesized direction.