Visual framing and social identity theory impacts on public perceptions of transgressive female athletes
U.S. sports pages, sports-dedicated websites, sports-talk radio and sports television often seem like police blotters. Scores, game reports and athlete profiles are featured alongside reports of athletes committing domestic abuse, drug arrests, sex assaults and many other socially unacceptable behaviors. Sports managers and public relations theorists have developed various theories about how athletes and/or teams should respond to these events. However, female athletes are not often researched in this area, and the general public’s response is often overlooked. This research reports the results of a 2 (athlete race: Black or White) x 2 (athlete appearance: threatening or non-threatening) experiment incorporating Visual Framing Theory, Social Identity Theory, Social Categorization Theory and mass media stereotyping to investigate public responses to a female athlete accused of using steroids. A total of 382 participants read a simulated media report, then provided responses concerning an appropriate punishment for the athlete, as well as the likelihood of the athlete maintaining a favorable public image. Each participant also reported his/her personal strength of racial identity. Racial identity was used as a control variable in subsequent statistical analyses. Results indicate that participnats reporting high levels of personal racial identity recommend significantly harsher punishments to athletes of other races, especially if the athlete appears visually threatening. Interaction effects were also observed regarding recommended punishment based upon the participant’s personal racial identity and the athlete’s appearance. Few significant results were observed regarding the athlete’s post-transgression image. Some sex effects were also observed, with female participants differing significantly from male participants. White female participants suggested a significantly longer mean suspension for the white female athlete with tattoos.