How sports journalism shapes public perception

It can be very hard to be an athlete. One minute you might be on top of the world in your respective sport, and the next you could be public enemy number one in the tabloids and on social media. Likewise, it can be hard to be a sports fan, as your favorite stars might be media darlings one moment and social pariahs the next. It is interesting to look at all of the different ways that we think about athletes. Some athletes are loved or vilified for their actions both on the field and off it, while other amazing athletes get swept under the rug and outshined by their teammates.

But why? Why does all this happen and why does our public perception of athletes keep changing over the years? What causes the way we look at things to be shaped the way it is? Well, that’s what this article plans to answer for us, so let’s get started!

The media

One of the biggest influencers of public perception is the mainstream media, which spouts its version of a story at you 24/7 and has experts and other mainstream names backing them up. Nowadays, many people who watch the media are extremely loyal to a specific channel or even a specific news anchor, tuning in to watch the shows religiously and listening to what the broadcasting team has to say.

When viewers trust a mainstream news channel and appreciate that their views align with the views represented on the channel, they are more likely to listen to and be influenced by the opinions that are shared on said channel. If a trusted channel states that an athlete is good or bad, loyal viewers are likely to follow and reproduce that opinion. The websites of the media aren’t much better, because they often share stories and sensationalize them for clicks and attention. In some cases, this is justified, but in others, it simply serves to create problems and drama for athletes.

Additionally, the media can reach a very large audience no matter what form it takes, and since humans are disposed to gravitate toward the people who are like us and who share our political views, we tend to find tribes of like-minded people who share our opinions and repeat what we hear in the media. This only reinforces our perception of an athlete or an event.

Changing our opinions on sports

The media can also change how we feel about sports. You might not be the biggest watcher of sports in the world, but when a major event gets serious media coverage and gets broken down in the mainstream media, then you naturally want to watch. Viewers’ curiosity has been can be aroused by media coverage, and before they know it, they are learning about athletes that they don’t even know about, simply because they are being thrown in their faces all the time.

The media focuses on promoting various huge sporting events, especially if their network is the one showing the event, because they want to draw the most viewers in and make the most money. So, if you have ever found yourself watching the Superbowl even though you barely know anything about football, then you have likely been drawn in by the hype and fanfare surrounding the event.

Sports journalism

Sports journalism can also shape your perception of the athletes and what they are doing both on and off the field. This is because with sports journalism you often have more information than what you get with the mainstream media. Sports journalists talk about stats, compare games, and provide in-depth breakdowns of what athletes are doing.

Just like with the mainstream media, many people are also loyal to a sports journalist or a specific sports show or channel. If they are constantly talking about one athlete over others or sensationalizing off-the-field behavior from an athlete, then it can change how we think about those athletes.

Sports journalism uses repetition to influence how viewers think

One of the biggest reasons that sports journalism can really change the public perception of an athlete, or a game, is that sports reporting involves a lot of depth and detail, and is covered extensively. Sports journalists provide commentary and breakdowns on specific games and events, as well as discussing off-the-field moments and the wider talking points of sports and athletic teams. They will also discuss scams, controversies, choices that have been made by owners or coaches, and the economics of the sports market.

Often, unlike in the mainstream media where a few minutes or an entire segment might be devoted to sports, sports-specific channels can focus constantly on a specific sport, game, or athlete. There are entire shows, websites, radio stations, channels, and magazines that are fully devoted to being all about sports, all the time. If you find yourself consuming sports media regularly, you will quickly be exposed to the same stories over and over again as things get updated or the stories are repeated for extra clicks and ratings.

Due to this repetition, you will find that your perception gets influenced and changed over time.

Sports journalism is connected to wider issues

In today’s world, it sometimes seems as if everything is a political issue, and it can be extremely hard for sports journalists to stay in one lane when it comes to covering sports. Sports stars are starting to become wealthier and more prominent in today’s world, and they are also focused on using their platforms as soapboxes to get attention and bring awareness to political causes.

While some of these causes, such as fighting to end poverty, hunger, and sickness are all admirable and deserve respect, others are focused on other political viewpoints which they share online with their fans.

Often, sports journalists only have time to bring one story to print, and when it comes to the choice of talking about the game and talking about a controversy caused by a player, they often go for the latter. Not only because it draws more clicks and views, but also because it can be argued to be the better story that will get people talking.

Hot-button topics such as race, gender, or politics can be extremely influential when it comes to public perceptions of an athlete or sports team. Increasingly, people are looking to follow sportspeople whose views align with their own, and sports journalists must be aware of this when it comes to how they report on issues. With a lot of current topics covering race, gender, or politics in today’s world, it’s almost impossible not to have your perception changed by sports reporting.

Sports reporting changes the opinions of athletes

In sports media, it isn’t just about breaking down games, running numbers and stats, and focusing on the next couple of games that are the following week. A significant portion of time is often devoted to the world of the athletes off the field. Whether the behavior they exhibit is good or bad, it is reported on, and how that reporting is done changes our perception of them.

If constant focus is put on an athlete’s personal life and off-the-field behaviors, and the reporting is very often negative, it can make the athlete out to be a villain, hurting their brand and forming a negative public perception of them. This is especially if the controversy is big enough to have experts weighing in and talking about the issues. The media has a lot of power to change our public perception of sports, and it is interesting to see how and why they do it. The media is not solely responsible, however; athletes themselves also have a lot of responsibility in how they present themselves to the public.

Athletes can influence public perception through branding

All athletes have a personal brand that they curate and cultivate through their social media pages, their words and actions on and off the field, and through their personal beliefs. Through that brand, people’s perception of the athlete changes. For example, if an athlete makes it known that they have certain political viewpoints or believe in a certain cause, those who support those causes will think very highly of the athlete, while those who dislike those causes might think less of the athlete.

Letting your values be known as an athlete can be a double-edged sword if they go against the public consensus. While it’s important for athletes to stand up for what they believe in, a personal brand takes a long time to rebuild once that trust has been shattered.

All sorts of things contribute to an athlete’s personal brand, and often the personal brand is more about off-the-field actions and comments rather than how good of a player or teammate the athlete in question is.

Many athletes have launched themselves to stardom with their personal brands, while many more have ruined their entire careers and the public’s trust in them by making mistakes with their personal brands. It’s an important thing for athletes and their families to manage once they get into the spotlight because as we have seen, personal branding is very powerful.

But personal branding isn’t all doom and gloom. With the right motivation and some forethought, many athletes have turned their personal brand into something good that actively helps others in their community and around the world.

How will sports journalism continue to evolve in the future?

The world of sports and the people who report on it aren’t going to go away. As sports journalism gets more prominent and popular in today’s world and the world of tomorrow, it will continue to evolve and change.

For one thing, it looks like audio is going to be a massive component of sports journalism moving forward. While sports talk radio shows are extremely popular and will likely continue to be so, podcasts are starting to take over the audio space with audio-only shows beginning to provide increasingly popular highlights and analysis shows.

Additionally, sports journalism is going to start to move away from reporting the news after it is happening and will start to lean more into live streaming. Being able to report on a game live and have live interviews, reactions, and live breakdowns and commentary as the game is going on can be extremely beneficial. Plus, live streaming can allow both the player and the journalist to relax and have a conversation, as if they are talking to a friend, rather than in a more formal back-and-forth question-and-answer format.

For someone wishing to become a successful modern-day sports journalist, it is important to learn how to use these new pieces of technology to enhance their reporting. They also need to know about the ethics of journalism and how to conduct a formal interview.

In order to learn all of these skills and more, an aspiring sports journalist can take on a sports journalism master’s program, such as the one provided by St. Bonaventure University. Their program is 100% online and covers the technology and ethics involved in sports reporting. Once a student has acquired their degree they are in good stead to start their career as a sports journalist.

How to form your own perception of sports and athletes

While your perception of sports, athletes, and the world itself will always be dictated by the various things around you, you can break free from what the world wants you to know and form your own opinions about sports and the people who play them. Here are some easy tips to get you started.

First, you need to ensure that you are getting your information from a wide variety of sources. It can be hard to adjust to a new sports show having usually been loyal to your favorites, and it can be difficult to turn on a piece of the mainstream media that you don’t fully agree with. However, getting different perspectives on how sports are played and a different side of the scandal breaking out with an athlete can help you start to think critically and form your own opinions about sports.

It is also useful to be aware of when the media is trying to capture your interest and question what their intentions might be. If all you care about is football and making sure that your fantasy team’s numbers stack up, try not to get sucked in whenever the media starts hyping up March Madness. Media will often divert your attention, but by focusing on what you want to get out of sports reporting, you can avoid the more negative elements of sports news.

Finally, try to think critically about a sports story and gather all the facts. This is especially useful if you are exposed to a negative story and are in danger of getting sucked into whatever scandal that the tabloids are pushing onto you. Remember that their job is to sensationalize and create as much attention as possible so you read the story and they get more views, clicks, and money from your time and attention on their story.

But if you refuse to be taken in by all the rhetoric and choose to form your own opinion about the sports star or the event, then you can create your own perception and continue to enjoy sports and your life.

It can almost be refreshing to take back control of the narrative and create your own perceptions of things, so don’t be afraid to do so. Plus, at the end of the day, reminding yourself that sport is all about the game being played and who wins and loses, and not the various scandals and talking points the world tries to suck you into can be very helpful.

Media will always shape public perception

Everyone has their own opinions and thoughts on the sports that they like. From how a coach is running a team, to how certain players are playing, to the various off-the-field controversies and scandals. All of these opinions and thoughts are shared in the media, in sports journalism, or between friends, and each one has the ability to change public perception.

Your perception of the world is important, so don’t be afraid to take back control and recognize when sports media or something else is trying to hijack your own personal narrative. If you can start to form your own narrative, you will feel empowered and confident that you came to the opinion you did on your own. Then, you can sit back, turn on the television, and get back to the game whenever you need a chance to unwind and watch the athletes go at it in your sporting event of choice.


Related articles

Share article

Latest articles