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Biased Voices of Sports: Racial and Gender Stereotyping in College Basketball Announcing

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The words of sportscasters—repeated hundreds, even thousands, of times by different announcers in similar ways—provide a conceptual frame for the sports experience, and that mental frame has particular importance because fans often apply it to nonathletic situations. Contrary to assertions by some critics, analysis of 1,156 descriptors in sportscaster commentary during 66 televised men's and women's college basketball games showed no significant difference between the proportions of commentary and proportions of participating Black and White men players, but showed some overemphasis in comments about White women players. Predictably, Black men players tended to be stereotyped as naturally athletic, quick, and powerful, while White men players continued to be touted for their hard work, effort, and mental skill. The same racial stereotypes also appeared in the commentary about women basketball players, but few gender stereotypes emerged. Thus, increases in the numbers of Black and women game announcers may have lent balance to quantities of coverage by race and gender, but traditional racial stereotypes continue to pervade sports commentary even when gender stereotypes appear to be diminishing.
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Biased Voices of Sports: Racial and
Gender Stereotyping in College
Basketball Announcing
Susan Tyler Eastman
Indiana University
Bloomington, Indiana, USA
Andrew C. Billings
Clemson University
Clemson, South Carolina, USA
The words of sportscasters—repeated hundreds, even thousands, of
times by different announcers in similar ways—provide a conceptual
frame for the sports experience, and that mental frame has particular
importance because fans often apply it to nonathletic situations.
Contrary to assertions by some critics, analysis of 1,156 descriptors in
sportscaster commentary during 66 televised mens and women’s
college basketball games showed no significant difference between
the proportions of commentary and proportions of participating Black
and White men players, but showed some overemphasis in
comments about White women players. Predictably, Black men
players tended to be stereotyped as naturally athletic, quick, and
powerful, while White men players continued to be touted for their
hard work, effort, and mental skill. The same racial stereotypes also
appeared in the commentary about women basketball players, but
few gender stereotype s emerged. Thus, increases in the numbers of
Black and women game announcers may have lent balance to
quantities of coverage by race and gender, but traditional racial
stereotypes continue to pervade sports commentary even when
gender stereotypes appear to be diminishing.
KEYWORDS bias, Blacks, basketball announcing, gender stereo-
types, racial stereotypes, sports
At a town hall meeting to discuss racial division in sports, President Clinton claimed,
``I think it’s obvious that athletics is leading America toward a more harmonious,
united society, but we still have more work to do’’ (Graczyk,1998, N.P.). Shogren
Address correspondence to Susan T. Eastman, 2005 East Arden Drive,
Bloomington, IN 47401. E-mail: eastman@indiana.edu
The HowardJournal of Communications,12: 1837201, 2001
Copyright #2001Taylor & Francis
1064- 6175/01 $12.00 + .00 183
(1998) reports that Clinton urged more racia l balance in sp orts as a way to enter the
twenty-first century.Yet, what kind of balance should be the goal? Wickham (1998) writes
that the sheer number of Black athletes in professional sports is more than balanced in
proportion to their percentage in the U.S. population. The problem, according to Wick-
ham, is the way in which the athletes are portrayed in the media. He notes that ``Black
athletes are generally thought of as naturally talented, while the accompli shments of
White sports stars are very often attributed to their intelligence and hard work’’ (p. 15a).
Childs (1998) argues that negative racial stereotyping is prevalent in the media, specifi-
cally with sports reporters and editors. Denver Post executive sports editor Neil Scarbor-
ough asserte d at a National Association of Black Journalists convention that ``We don’t
dig deep enough into the stereotyp es’’ (Childs, p.10).
While the era of overt racism and sexism in most major sports maylargely have passe d
by the end of the twentieth century, cove rt messages continue to sl ip by consci ou s guards in
the media, thus constructing televised events that differ markedly in their messages from
the live e vents. Sab o andJansen (199 4) and Eastman and B illings (1999) have suggeste d that
the producers of sports at the highest network levels are becoming increasingly aware of
insidious bias in production techniques, athlete profiling, program scheduling, and studio
announcing. In some cases, the networks have instituted policies to foster balance. For ex-
ample, in NBC’s coverage of the 1996 Atlanta Oly mpics, the number of televised events and
on-air promotions for events was exactly balanced by gender (Eastman & Billings, 1999;
Tuggle & Owen,1999). Although the network’s purpose may have been commercialöto
attract and hold women viewersöit nonetheless fostered a widespread perception of gen-
der balance in those games. However, Eastman and Billings went on to demonstrate the
inadequacy of the network’s high-level policies in controlling the bias toward men athletes
in on-site reporter commentar y. Similarly, Tuggle and Owen showed how dif ferently
Olympic athletes of the two sexes were treated by television: Prime coverage was given to
the more traditionally fe minine individual women’s sports (g ymnastics, swimmin g), while
the physical contact team sports received little or no air time.
Racial and gender bias (or prejudice) arises from overgeneralizatio n about the char-
acteristics or behaviors of whole groups of people applied wholesale to individuals within
those groups (see Sage, 1990). According to Davis and Harris,``A stereotype is a general-
ization about a category of people th at is negative and=or misleadi ng’’ th at is ``use d to pre-
dict and explain the behavior’’of a group of people (1998, p. 157). Renewed controversy
arising from the l ack of minority and women sports coaches (Jackson,1999) and the racial
bias perceived in the NCAA’s Proposition 16 (Tucker,1999) and its long-delayed enforce-
ment of Title IX (Kane, 1989) center the heartbeat of America’s racial and gender con-
cerns in sports. Covert prejudice for or against certain groups is endemic in sport s (see
Daddario, 1994; Dav is & Harris, 1998; McC arthy & Jones, 1997), and as several studie s
have shown (see Eastman & Bi llings, 1999; Higgs & Weiller,1994; Sabo, Jansen, Tate,
Duncan, & Leggett, 1996), game announcers and commentary are a crucial source of
biased messages and thus important for scholars to study and practitioners to understand.
As one scholar put it,
As events transpire in front of them at a machine-gun pace, announcers are caught up in
the ``heat of t he battle.’’Having to in form and entertain in thi s environment, often without
the time to choose words carefu lly, causes announcers to dredge up comments that reflect
subconscious beliefs, images, attitudes, and values. (Rada,1996, p. 232)
184 S. T. Eastman and A. C. Billings
From a theoretical perspective, biases residing in those subconscious attitudes provide
frames for particular content that may operate below the threshold of recognition for
many media producers and consumers (see McCombs,1992). Because sports announcing
occurs w ithin an emotionally laden context, and its messages are repeated hundreds of
times, hidden biases are likely to be stored in long-term memory without attachment to
any particular source (see Baddeley,1990; Squires, Knowlton, & Musen, 1993; Zillmann,
1991). This means that the conceptual frames adopted by announcers readily get trans-
ferred to many fans. A nd the impact goes beyond sports: Ways of thinking that are ende-
mic in sport s can frame unconscious th ink ing about racial an d gender group s in
nonathletic situation s, such as hiring and promoting in the business and educational
worlds, and utilizing inappropriate stereotype s can have a pernicious impact on large-
scale and small-scale social relations (Childs,1998;Wenner,1989).
Four reasons for this impact appear in the literature:The frame was probably uncon-
scious and unacknowledged by the sportscaster (Gamson, 1989); the frame was probably
unrecognized by fans (Eastman & Riggs, 1994); the covert message was repeated so many
times by so many media voices that it took on the aura of ``fact’ (Entman, 1993); or the
frame became part of the currency of casual, social exchange among peers who share an
interest in sports (Eastman & Land,1997). If much of the shorthand of sports talk contains
hidden racial=ethnic and gender biases, making such covert practices salient may, it is
hoped, influence public policy, journalist mores, and social pressure to eliminate such un-
witting prejudice.
Announcers and Commentary
Sports announcers have long been overwhelmingly White and male (Sabo et al.,
1996). Nonetheless, the number of Blacks and women who announce on national television
has grown rapidly in recent years.1Black commentators are increasingly evident in both
men’s and women’s basketball, and a few women even have been color commentators for
men’s basketbal l games. Sabo and colleagues (1996) have suggested that the presence of
more minority and women sportscasters may lead to a heightened sensitivity to racial
stereotyping. Generally speaking, the theories held by proponents of racial and gender
integratio n imply that wider representation is likely to result in fewer negative stereotypes.
When applied to sports announcing, the obvious question for this study becomes whether
analysis of present-day practices would reveal as much racial bias as was demonstrated in
studies conducted in past years. A second research question, without precedent in the lit-
erature, relates to announcing of women’s games and whether the same stereotypes of phy-
sicality versus intelligenceöidentified by previous researcher s for men’s sportsöhave
been applied to Black and non-Black women athletes. Athird research question is whether
assumptions about player behavior and motivations öthat are inherently negative gender
stereotypesöunderlie Black sportscasters commentary as much as White sportscasters’
commentary.
How minority professional athletes are treated by the media may be a greater pro-
blem today than their representation in sports.2Muwakkil (1998) reports that although
Blacks make up 13% of the U.S. population, Blacks constitute more than 80% of the
National Basketball Association and 67% of the National Footbal l League. Indeed, a
significant number of Black athletes have become media icons. Two concerns about treat-
ment are very real, however: First, according to Hall of Fame athletes LeeRoy Selmon and
Biased Voices of Sports 185
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the Black athlete may be overemphasized in the media (Dozier,
1998). Second, because of media portrayals of so-called Black athlete machines, people
tend to stereotype Blacks in general as being athletic and nothing more. Selmon protests
that ``We need to tell [society] that Blacks are more than just great athletes’’ (Dozier,1998,
p. 7). In a study of network football announcing in 1992, Rada (1996) found that the an-
nouncers focused on the physical characteristic s of the Black players and the cogn itive
characteristics of the White players.
Other scholars have argued that, although White athletes receive more than their
fair share of commentary, this commentary is full of excuses for their failures (see
Vande Berg,1998). Rainville and McCormick (1977) have claimed that announcers talk
quantitatively more about the White players and praise them more, despite their smal-
ler numbers in professional football games. Davis and Harris (1998) suggeste d that an-
nouncing commentary may be replete with reasons why a White basketball player did
not perform as expected (``missed that pass,’ ``shot a bomb,’ etc.), and those reasons are
typically external to the player (``out of his control’’) and rarely attribute a failure to a
White player’s poor effort or insufficient work. The idea is that, unconsciously, announ-
cers try to build a positive reputation for White players because they feel more ``sym-
pathy’’ toward White players, according to Rainville and McC ormick (1977, p. 22).
Whether this bias continues to hold when announcers have mixed ethnicity is a ques-
tion research can answer. These views of announcing suggest that the kind of commen-
tary may be e ven more crucial to the enge ndering of bias than the quantity of
coverage.
Previous Findings about Racial and Gender Bias
Racial bias in sport s announcing has been c onsistentl y shown to operate against B lack
athletes in several ways (see Whannel, 2000).To the extent that it persists in major sports
such as basketball and football, it may be largely unw itting, given the large number of
contemporary superstars who are of African American ancestry. But Whannel (1992) sug-
gested nearly a decade ago that the success of Black athletes tends to be characterize d as a
result of supposedly innate``natural athletic ability,’’ while the success of White athletes is
commonly attr ibuted to intel ligence or menta l effort (Sage , 1990) and=or hard work
(McCarthy & Jones, 1997). Thus, as McCarthy andJones point out, an apparently positive
comment, such as saying a Black athlete is athletical ly gifted, may in reality reflect
``the negative stereotyp e of the lazy Black athlete i n that he or she does not have to
work hard to obtain athletic excellence’’ (p. 349). According to Dewar (1993), attribution s
of natural sports ability to Blacks provide a covert excuse for the lack of success of Whites,
but at the same time, exalt the supposed intelligence of their play, thus upholding a con-
structed balance in stereotyp e s between the physically powerful Black athlete and the
intellectually powerful White athlete (see Birrell, 1989). According to Mc Carthy and
Jone s (19 97), as long ago as 1964, El lison ``made the i nter esting obser vation that
the object of the stereotype . . . is not so much to crush the Black man as it is to console
theWhite man’’ (p.351). Scholars who have examined racial bias in mediated sports cover-
age have tended to focus on Black versusWhite participants because of the topic’s greater
salience in recent years, although meaningful questions al so have been raised about parity
forAsians, Latins, and other racial or ethnic groups (Davis & Harris,1998; Sabo & Jansen,
1998).
186 S. T. Eastman and A. C. Billings
Gender bias on television, unlike racial prejudice, appears to be a game played to a
receptive male viewership. Daddario (1994) and Halbert and Lattimer (1994) have ar-
gued that many techniques of sports announcing marginalize and denigrate women ath-
letes and women’s sports. Hallmark and Armstrong (1999) showed how, even in the
NCAA championship telecasts, women’s games are treated in somewhat less exciting fash-
ion by directors and producers. Eastman and Billings (1999) marshaled evidence of over-
whelming favoritism toward men’s over women’s sports in televised commentary in the
1994 and 1996 Olympics, a bias that accelerate d in the 1998 Olympics. Similarly, Tuggle
and Owen (1999) also found that women’s Olympic team sports were massively underre-
ported compared with men’s team sports by television producers who concentrated on
those individual women’s sports that revealed physically attractive bodies.While Duncan
and Messner’s (1998) research into local sports newscasts revealed a diminution of overt
media stereotyping, their analyses showed continued differences in how the media ac-
counted for the success of women versus men athletes, how the two genders were de-
scribed and name d by the media, and how televi sed men’s and women’s sports were
produced (1998). In a study comparing the reporting on ESPN and CNN about men’s
and women’s sports,Tuggle (1997) found that women got far less coverag e in both quantity
and salience, despite the introduction of women sports reporters. Eastman and Billings
(2000) also compare d sportscasts on ESPN’s Sports Center and CNN’s Sport s Ton ight
and sports reporting in the NewYork Times and USA Today, and found an overwhelmingly
greater bias in coverage of men’s sports at all times and in all four media, including at the
times when women’s sporting events peaked in newsworthiness (such as during the finals
of major international women’s tennis and golf matches and champion ship basketball
games). Their analyses showed a marked consistency in favoritism toward men’s sports
and deprecation of women’s sports in both the print and electronic media.3
A common gender-relate d stereotype discussed in several studies has to do with the
speed of games and players (see Daddario,1997; Halbert & Lattimer,1994; Tuggle,1997).
Women’s basketball, as a game, has been stigmatized as ``too slow’’ compare d with the
men’s game, and this negative stereotyp e may surface in excessive numbers of comments
about the sp eed of individual players, even when not overtly attribute d to the women’s
game. Such a hidden gender bias in sports announcing, if demonstrated, can be seen as
contributing to the smaller audiences for women’s sports and thus as having a negative
impact on sponsor support, endorsements, advertiser revenues, and media attention, ulti-
mately impacting the growth of all long-squelched women’s sports. A s a variety of studies
have clearly shown (see Whannel, 2000), embedded racism and sexism are particularly
reflected in sports announcing, making the words of announcers a particularly fruitful
area of investigation.
The issues of hidden racism and sexism in mediated sports announcing are important
especially because they very likely affect the attitudes of the next generation of fans. They
can be expected to impact the Nielsen ratings for televised sporting events and the listen-
ing and viewing patterns of the audience. For example, until the virtuoso achievements of
TigerWoods, few Black viewers watched golf on television; golf was widely perceived as a
``White’’ (or Asian) sport. Male fans who are indoctrinated with the prejudice that wo-
men’s basketball is not as interesting as men’s are unlikely to tune in to women’s games,
keeping the ratings=salaries lower than for men’s games.4In addition, the embedded ha-
bits of one generation of sp orts journali sts set the standards for the next generation.
The next waves of sportscasters and sports writers are very likely to emulate their models’
Biased Voices of Sports 187
patterns of speaking and writing, including aspects that have a negative impact on the
participants in the sports the journalists purport to love. One generation unconsciously
teaches prejudice to the next as part of the culture of sport. And most important, attitudes
and value taught as an unthinking part of sports extend far outside sports.They reach into
the business world, education, and social life. Embedded racism and sexism hold downthe
aspirations and achievements of eth nic and social g roup s worldwide. These h istorica l facts
make exposing and rooting out negative stereotyping of racial and gender groups of great
social significance.
Hypotheses
Because findings of egregiously overt racism or sexism in analysis of play-by-pl ay and
color commentary were not likely, this study was planned to allow for the emergence of
covert differences in treatment by race and gender if present in the unscripted commen-
tary of game announcers. The object of the study was to find out whether the traditional
racial and gender stereotypes of sports announcers persist in spite of many more Black and
female announcers. Based on previous research findings, the following hypotheses were
tested for men’s and women’s college basketball:
Hypothesis 1: Collectively, men’s basketball games will receive significantly more attention
in descriptive c ommentary than women’s games.
Hypothesis 2: Collectively, White players will receive a significantly greater proportion of
commentary than their proportion of the participants.
Hypothesis 3: Black men and women player s will be racially stereotyped as more naturally
athletic and physically adept and as making less effort, demonstrating less leadership, and
showing less t eamwork than Whit e players.
Hypothesis 4 : Women player s will be gender stereotyped by attributions of slower speed an d
cooperative and team goals rather than individual effor tand dependence on men figures.
Hypothesis 5: Announcers will use fewer stereotypical descriptors about player s of their
own race than about players of the other racial group.
Hypothesis 6: For those commentators announcing more than one men’s game, the propor-
tion and type of descriptive comments per racial group will remain consistent from game
to game.
Method
College basketball is one of ver y few sports in which separate but more-or-le ss equiva-
lent participation occurs. This study focused on college basketball because of the large
number of both men’s and women’s games that could be videotaped for analysis, and be-
cause basketbal l is a game where announcing is considered crucial to most fans’enjoyment
of games. The concurrence of the rise of vivid and personalized sportscasting, as epito-
mized by Dick Vitale, along with the increased popularity of televise d games, implies a
strong connection between the character of the announcing and the size and enthusiasm
of the attending and viewing audiences.
188 S. T. Eastman and A. C. Billings
Sample and Coding
An attempt was made to videotape all network-broadcast college basketball games
carried on ABC, CBS, NBC, ESPN, and ESPN2 during the month s of February and
March 1999, the peak basketball season. Some of these games were regionally rather than
nationally distributed, but all reached large portions of the United States during week-
night or weekend hours. Inevitably, isolate d games were missed or inadequately recorded
because of technical errors, but data collection had no apparent systematic error that
would influence the results.
For each videotaped game, trained coders recorded the gender and race of the two
announcers and the 10 starters in each game on a preteste d form, identifying each announ-
cer and player as male or female and as Black,White, Latin, Asian, or other=don’t know.5
It was presumed that the racia lproportions of the starters would be an adequate represen-
tation of the proportions of playing time allotted to each racial group. Coders were in-
structed to record every adjectival descriptor and phrase=sentence, along with the race
and gender of both the particular announcer speaking and the player spoken about.
As in previous studies (see Eastman & Billings, 1999, 2000),``adjectival descriptors’
were defined as words, phrases, or sentences referring to individual players that the coders
thought were not factual or neutral and thus might, in an overall analysis, reveal the pre-
sence or absence of some kind of bias or pattern. As is usual in research using this method,
factual or neutral items were defined as those where the substitution of another person’s
name (differing in race or gender) would make no difference to the meaning or implica-
tion of the comment. For instance, the play-by-play descr iption of who controlled or
passed the ball, how many points a player had scored, a player’s shooting average, and so
onöthe meat of most game broadcasts öwas considered probably factual unless addi-
tional adjectives characterizing a player were included. As se rtions about size, on the other
hand, can be more complex: ``He’s just over 6 feet tall’’clearly carries no positive or nega-
tive valence, although``He’sbarely over 6 feet and can’t get around so-and-so’’ implies that
his size is inadequate, but still has no noticeable racial implication. However,``This under-
sized in ner-city playe r just can’t compete with that Midwestern far m boy ’’ implies a racial
distinction embedded in geography and is not neutral.
References to such attributes as physical appearance and personality and such ath-
letic abilities such as quick or slow speed, great or little effort, natural ability, mental effort,
and hard work, including comments on shooting, passing, jumping, ball handling, floor
vision, intelligence or game smarts, and other remarks that distinguished between indivi-
dual players, were to be coded, without concern for whether they had noticeable racial or
gender overtones. The mere quantity of such comments can have implications about gen-
der or race=ethnicity because large quantities draw atte ntion, while small quantities make
the characteristic conceptually invisible. Comments about teams, coaches, and players
not present were not recorded.
When the same tapes were recoded by a second coder, the exact number of adjectiva l
descriptors recorded varied somewhat, but the variation almost always occurred primar-
ily in the number of neutral or factual items included, not the meaningful items.6No other
systematic variance in omissions or inclusion was identified. Item-by-ite m comparison of
two codings of five randomly selected games demonstrated 91% intercoder reliability
using Holsti’s (1969) basic formula (2M=N1N2). Because the sample size was large,
Biased Voices of Sports 189
and because most inclusions=omissions occurred in irrelevant items, variation was as-
sumed not to impact the general conclusions.
Method of Analysis
Analysis of the recorded comments involved, first, separating factual=neutral com-
ments from biased comment s about individual players.7Second, after a pilot analysis to
establish the categories, the remaining comments were tallied by race of announcer as in
one of the following categories, as either positive or negative for Black or White=male or
female players:
1. physicality=athleticism (``good athlete,’’ ``springs of f the floor’’)
2. intelligence=mental skill (``thinks on her feet’’)
3. hard work=effort (``one of the hardest workers’)
4. determination=motivatio n (``X got the best of her in the last game, so she is
pushing here’’)
5. speed (``fast,’’ ``quick on his feet’’)
6. physical power (``strong man’)
7. mental power (``toughness off the bench’’)
8. positive consonance (``all of a sudden, she’s firing on all cylinders’’)
9. negative consonance (``not in his rhythm’’)
10. leadership (``senior leader’’)
11. versatility (``not a scorer’’)
12. team orientation (``giving everythin g for the team’’)
13. personality (``patient’’)
14. looks=appearance (``he’s much taller than X,’ ``she’s changed her hair style’’)
15. background (challenges, hardships, advantages; ``her father coached her. . .’)
16. other
Most references were readily accommodated by the coding scheme, although calling a
player ``explosive’’ may have been categorized as ``speed’ (5) or ``jumping ability’ (1), de-
pending on context. This sorting method utilizes the process of grounded inductive analy-
sis favored by Glaser and Strauss (1967), and it incorporates what previous research has
shown. At the same time, it is flexible because a large group of ``other’ comments would
have necessitated the development of further categories in a second stage of analysis. All
content classification was done by a single researcher per gender group (all men’s games,
all women’s games) to preserve consistency in analysis. Moreove r, recoding of the first 50
items from 10 randomly selected coding sheets by the other researcher produced an inter-
researcher reliability estimate of 98% at this stage.
Chi-square tests of proportions were then applied to the numbers of comments about
Black and White and men and women players in relation to their racial and gender per-
centages as starters. Because accurately tallying the race of all participants in a particular
game was found to be difficult, the racial proportions of starters were utilized as a surro-
gate for the actual players. To be significant, the proportion of comments about Black or
White (or men or women) players had to significantly exceed the proportion of the group
in the study. In an additional analysis, the totals were crosstabulated by the perc entages of
190 S. T. Eastman and A. C. Billings
announcers in each racial group. In addition, the patter n of an nouncing was compared for
announcers with multiple games in the database.
Results
Overall, 1,486 comments about individual players were distinguished in 66 video-
taped college basketball games. The total time recorded was about 140 hours, because
many games went into overtime. Comments (single words or phrases or whole sentences)
were applied to nearly 1,000 p layers by more than 50 d ifferent play-by-play and color com-
mentators (several announced multiple games). Nearly two-thirds of the games were
men’s basketball (Nˆ42, 64%), and just over one-third women’s basketbal l (Nˆ24,
36%).
Quantities of Commentary
To test the first and second hypotheses, the total quantity of commentary about men
player s and women players was compared by gender and race. A sTable 1shows, there was
no significant difference between the overall proportions of commentary in men’s (66%)
and women’s (34% ) games in relation to the proportions of men (63%) and women starter
athletes (37%). In other words, announcers do not ``talk less’ about women players than
they do about men players, at least not in college basketball games, which contradicts the
gender portion of the first hypothesis.
As Figure 1 and Tabl e 1 show, thre e-quarter s of the 416 men’s basketball starters we re
Black=minority (75%) and one-quarter were White (25%). (Because only a tiny fraction
[1%] were identified as ``other racial or ethnic group or unknown,’’ this last group was
included in the Black=minority group.) The percentage of comments about Black and
White players (72% and 28%) were not significantly different from the proportion s of
players. The similarity in these percentages means that each group of men players got
Table 1 A Comparison of Commentary by the Gender and Race of the
Players
Players ˆ656 Men Women Black White
N=% N=% N=% N=%
416=63 240=37 474=72 182=28
Comments ˆ1,156 763=66 393=34 782=68 374=32
Comparison of Comments by Gender and Race=Ethnicity (N= 656)
Players Black Men* White Men Black Women White Women
311=75 105=25 163=68 77=32**
Comments 552=72 211=28 230=58 163=42**
*Includes 1% of ‘‘other race=ethnicity.’’
**Significantly different, X2ˆ22.1, df ˆ1, pˆ.01.
Biased Voices of Sports 191
exactly th e proportion of non-play-by-play commentary that shoul d be expected, challen-
ging part of the second hypothesis. An nouncers are not ``paying more attention to the
Whites,’’as some have claimed. This result is also counter to the accusation that Blacks
are the disproportionate focus of comments (although the latter may still be the case for
some individuals, such as the superstars).
Howeve r, this even-handedness was not the case with women’s basketball. A sboth the
pie chart in Figure 2 and Table 1 show, more than two-thirds of the 236 women starters
were Black (68%) and nearly one-third White (32%) (none were classified as of another
or unknown race).WhileWhite women were just 32% of the sample, they received 42% of
Figure 1. Proportions of men players and comments about men players.
Figure 2. Proportions of women players and comments about women
players.
192 S. T. Eastman and A. C. Billings
the non-play-by-play commentary (a significant difference at the.01level), and, as follows,
Black women players got proportionately less of the commentary. Thus, it is in women’s
college basketball that White players are favored. This finding provides strong support
for Hypothesis 2, but only in the condition of women’s sports.
Racial Stereotyping
Altogether,330 of the 1,486 descr ipt ive comments were judged neutral and irrelevant
to the study and dropped from further analysis, leaving a sample of 1,156 comments.The
most startlin g overal l finding was t hat only the expected stereotypes appeared. The meth-
od of data collection (via minimally primed coders) and method of analysis (by sorting
into open-ended categories including ``other’’) amply allowed for fresh categories of non-
neutral descr iptors to emerge. In fact, all the descriptors fell within the stereotypical
boundaries suggested by previous studies. There were virtually no outlying ``others’’ to
analyze.8
As Table 2 shows, almost all the 1,156 descriptors fell into two major groups according
to whether they represented a stereotyp e commonly attributed in previous research to
Black basketbal l players (showing athleticism, being physically p owerful or looking
strong, having consonance,9having unusual speed, lacking consonance, lacking intelli-
gence in a play, showing leaping ability) or to White basketball players (being a shooter,
revealing effort=hard work, demonstrating intelligence or mental skill or mental power,
effort or hard work, lacking sufficient athleticism, showing concentration or determina-
tion, demonstratin g leadership or the necessary force of personality, showing versatility,
being a team player). The first thing that the table shows is that the expected patterns of
stereotyping did appear. Since the coders were not primed in detail, they recorded any
word, phrase, or sentence that seemed to them to be an adjectiva l descriptor of any kind,
and, when analyzed, the recorded comment s easily fell into the pred icted categories.
There were no unclassified comments that were not clearly neutral about race. Thus,
these results strongly support the third hypothesisöthat basketbal l game commentar y
is heavily imbued with the conventiona l racia l stere otypes, disadvantaging minority
athletes.
As w ith th e previous table and figures, Table 2 shoul d be interpreted by comparing the
percentage of a type of comment about players in a racial group with the proportion of
that group in the total sample of games. In other words, Black players (men and women
combined) were 72% of the participants, so proportions of comments that are close to 72
mean that the announcers were utilizing the expected (although perhaps undesirable)
stereotyp e about Black athletes. Similarly, proportions of comments about White men
and women players that are close to the 28% of their proportion in the games show that
announcers were applying the expected (although perhaps undesirable) stereotypes to
them.
As Table 2 also shows, in some cases the proportion of comments about one racial
group is either significantly greater or lesser than their group’s representatio n in the data-
base (more or less than 72% when about Black players, more or less than 28% when about
White athletes), and then the findings are of particular interest. The sp ecific kinds of
stereotyping have important implications. In the case of descriptors about speed, for ex-
ample, the findings reveal an overwhelming attribution of quickness to Black players by
Biased Voices of Sports 193
announcers and a lack thereof toWhite players (X2ˆ3:88, df ˆ1, pˆ:04), a significant
exaggeration of the usual stereotype. Equivalently, White players were seen overwhel-
mingly as shooters by announcers (X2ˆ5:35, df ˆ1, pˆ:03), as exercising significantly
more mental skill or intelligence (X2ˆ3:98, df ˆ1, pˆ:04). These attribution s oc-
curred in significantly greater proportions than the percentage of the participants inthese
games. Such findings are fodder for concerns about racial stereotyping because they show
the excessiveness of the practice and that it generally favors theWhite players by including
complimentary attribut ions aboutWhite players. As has been discussed in the literature, it
is not wholly complimentary to call a Black player highly athletic if, by contrast, aWhite
player is referred to as showing a high level of mental skill. Thus, further analysis only
continues to support the third hypothesis and shows the damaging types of attention that
Black players receive.
Table 2. Analysis of All Stereotypical Descriptors by Race of Player
Discussed Nˆ1,156 Nonneutral Comments
Player Discussed
Black Athletes White Athletes
Proportion ˆ72%
N=%
Proportion ˆ28%
N=%
Common Black
stereotypes (total comments)
Athleticism (199) 140 70 59 30
Physically powerful (124) 88 71 36 29
Consonance (88) 59 67 29 33
Speed (78) 66 85* 12 15*
Lacking consonance (56) 40 71 16 29
Lacking intelligence (26) 18 69 8 31
Leaper (23) 18 78 5 22
Common White
stereotypes (total comments)
Shooter (150) 91 61* 59 39*
Effort=hard work (97) 66 68 31 32
Intelligence=mental
skill (74)
43 58* 31 42*
Lacking athleticism (65) 43 66 22 34
Determination=
concentration (39)
24 62 15 38
Leadership=personality (68) 41 60 27 40
Versatility (32) 23 72 9 28
Team player (24) 14 58 10 42
Common gender
stereotypes (total comments)
Personal background (13) 0 0* 13 100*
*ˆSignificantly different from the proportion of players of that racial group, p< :05.
194 S. T. Eastman and A. C. Billings
Gender Stereotyping
When the comments were analyzed separately for men’s games and women’s games
(not shown in the table), the patterns of stereotyping were identical except that women’s
games contained 13 comments (see the bottom of Table 2) about players’ background
their fathers, coaches, and familiesö that did not turn up in commentary about men
player s Interestingly, the analysis did not reveal the common supposition that announcers
would refer to women’s games as ``slower’’or more ``cooperative’’ than men’s games. Still,
the results provide partial support for the fourth hypothesis because the women’s basket-
ball announcing contained at least one gender-based stereotype.
Source of Commentary
The next set of hypotheses concerns the race of the source s of the commentary. Not
surprisingly, 94 of the announcers were men (71%) and only 38 were women (29%), but as
Figure 3 shows, one-fifth of the announcers were Black (20%)ömost commenting on
men’s games. None of the announcers were identified as non-White=non-Black or ``race
unknown.’’
The next step in analysis was to compare the kinds of racial attribution sby the race of
the announcer making the comment. Table 3 lists the percentages of illustrative comments
about Black and White men players by both Black and White announcers. It shows that
Black announcers’ comments did not display any significant difference in attributions to
Black and White men athletes. They talked the same way about all men players. In con-
trast,White announcers tended to emphasize that White men were shooters (X2ˆ4:82,
df ˆ1, pˆ:03). A similar analysis of the announcers’ comments about women’s games
(not shown in the table) also only turned up one area of significant difference, but a differ-
ent one than appeared in relation to the men’s games: White announcers tended to attri-
bute athletic consonance to White women players (X2ˆ4:38, df ˆ1, pˆ:04), at the
expense of Black women players. Overall then, these findings, with two minor exceptions,
support the fifth hypothesi s that Black announcers do not exaggerat e racial stereotypes of
player s of their own or other races, but showed thatWhite announcers had some tendency
to amplify some White player attributes.
The final analysis f ocused on those announcers who commented on multiple games in
the sample. The three announcers analyzed in Table 4öDick Vitale, Billy Packer, and
Mike Patricköeach participated in four or more games. The table lists the announcer,
the percentage of Black starters in a particular game, the number and percent of com-
ments about Black players, followed by the percent of White starters and the number and
percent of comments aboutWhite players made by that announcer in that game.
As is clear from the table, most commentary was distributed in the same proportions
as the race of the players. Vitale announced six games, and in every case, there was no
significant difference between the quantity of comments he made about Black or White
players. On average, he made 77% of his comments about Blacks (who make up, on aver-
age, 74% of men players and 68% of women players), and 23% of his comments about
Whites (who make up 26% of men players and 32% of women players).
Similarly, Packer and Patrick generally balance d their commentary,w ith only two sig-
nificant exceptions, and those ar ebase d on so very few descriptive comments that they have
Biased Voices of Sports 195
little import. What may be more interesting is that the totals of nonneutral=nonfactual
comments is actually so small. Given Vitale’s reputation for near-constant talk, these find-
ings mean that most of what he has to say is factual and implies little about possible biases.
Discussion
The object of this study was to find out whether sports announcers persist in applying
traditional racial and gender stereotyp e s to c ollege basketball players in sp ite of
Figure 3 Distribution of announcers by race and gender.
196 S. T. Eastman and A. C. Billings
Table 3. A Comparison of Comments about Men Players by Race of
Announcer
Source of Comments
Black Men Players
N=75% White Men Players
N=25%
Comments from
Black announcers
Athleticism (25) 18=72 7=28
Intelligence=mental skill (16) 10=63 6=37
Hard work=effort (23) 16=70 7=30
Physically powerful (11) 8=73 3=27
Consonance (14) 12=86 2=14
Shooter (15) 9=60 6=40
Comments from
White announcers
Athleticism (77) 55=71 22=29
Intelligence=mental skill (30) 17=57 13=43
Hard work=effort (59) 41=69 18=31
Physically powerful (42) 31=73 11=26
Consonance (51) 37=73 14=27
Shooter (87) 57*=66 30*=34
*Significantly different only for White announcers, X2ˆ4.82, df ˆ1, pˆ.03.
Table 4. A Comparison of Game Comments by Multigame Announcers
Nˆ3 Announcers Who Participated in Four or More Games
Announcers % Black
Starters
Comments about
Black Players
N=%
% White
Starters
Comments about
White Players
N=%
Dick Vitale 1 70 43 70 30 18 30
2 90 14 88 10 2 12
3 60 13 81 40 3 19
4 70 9 90 30 1 10
5 70 18 82 30 4 18
6 80 14 70 20 6 30
Total 111 34
Billy Packer 1 60 15 65 40 8 35
2 80 7* 50 20 7* 50
3 80 22 73 20 8 27
4 70 10 67 30 5 33
Total 54 28
Mike Patrick 1 100 18 95 01 5
2 60 4 67 40 2 33
3 70 7 78 30 2 22
4 70 11 79 30 3 21
5 80 8** 62 20 5** 38
Total 48 13
All starters were Black, but one comment was made about a White bench player.
*X2ˆ12.6, df ˆ1, pˆ.001.
**X2ˆ4.11, df ˆ1, pˆ.004.
Biased Voices of Sports 197
substantial increases in the numbers of minority and women sports announcers. Analysis
of 1,156 announcer comments reflective of the relationships between the race and gender of
announcers and players in 66 men’s and women’s college basketbal l games supported most
hypotheses. Indeed, the results of this study led to five main conclusions.
First, the traditional prejudices about Black players and concomitant flattering of
White players persist, despite changing times and an increased number of minority and
women announcers in college basketball. Stereotypes seem to be the language of sport, at
least in c ollege basketball, and few sportscasters make an ef fort to bre ak out of the patterns
of speech used by their predecessors.
Second, gross exaggerations favoring one or the other racial group are relatively rare
and probably are outdated reflections of earlier times or are overstate d in the literature.
This finding appears to corroborat e the view of those researchers who have perceived a
modest diminution in racism in media coverage (see Sabo et al., 1996). Nonetheless, it is
in the combination of race and gender that an interesting finding occurred: White women
basketbal l player s generate d mor e commentar y by announcers than Black women players,
revealing a kind of favoritism not exhibited nowadays in men’s basketbal l announcing.
Third, women basketball players are treated as well (or as badly) by sports announ-
cers as men basketbal l players. The only area of marked bias was that White women were
favore d over Black women in athletic consonance, and that was not an overwhelming dif-
ference. This implies that the imbalance in descriptors spreads across gender categories
and is a pervasive practice by both Black and White announcers in both men’s and wo-
men’s games.
Fourth, h iring minority announcers somewhat mitigate s the impact of racially loaded
speech coming from White announcers. Thus minority broadcaster s are part of the solu-
tion, whileWhite broadcasters are the primary problem.
Fifth, the most famed of the college basketball announcers are balanced in their cov-
erage of Black and White players and do not demonstrate favoritis m by race.This finding
suggests that particular attention should go to the commentar y of the less well known
announcers.
While the classification scheme used in the analysis was quite reductionist, it clearly
showed that emb edded stereotypes persisted throughout college basketball announcing.
The commentar y of the announcers consistently reinforced the formulaic notion that
Blacks are naturally athletic, whileWhites are less so and thus need towork especially hard
to keep up, and it reinforced the unfortunate notion thatWhites have more mental ability
and leadership qualities, while Blacks lack those characteristics. However, the study did
not concern itself with play-by-play comments (the neutral=factual part of commentary),
and it is possible that other patterns might emerge there. A relative weakness of the meth-
od was that it did not reveal some more subtle tilting of the language, such as comparisons
of the ``natural sk ills’’ of some players (largely Black) to the ``fundamental skill s’’of others
(largelyWhite), but such distinctions enhance rather than contradict the findings. More -
over, whether a particular stereotype appears to be superficially positive or negative may
not be as important as whether it surfaces at all. Applying generalizations to a group is a
thoughtless practice with unfortunate ramifications for sport and for society.
At the same time, questions about fair treatment of women athletes are of increasing
significance to colleges an dthe professional sports world.What happens in college basket-
ball may be ammunition in the push toward national stature for professional leagues
for women athletes in many sports. T he development of the Women’s National Basketball
198 S. T. Eastman and A. C. Billings
Associ ation (WNBA)ö reaching16 teams in 2000 with most games televised nationallyö
shows that basketball is the trend-setter in gender equity among American sports. More-
over, what happens on television, and to a lesser extent in the print media, reflects the
status of women in the most economically advanced nations and may have impact on wo-
men’s roles in the less developed and more repressive countries.
Bias based on stereotypesöwhether race or gender basedöhas significant implica-
tions for sport and for society. On the theoretical level, the findings in this study illuminate
the importance of un derstanding how hiddenconcepts frame social thin king. As Rainville
and McCormick (1977) pointed out long ago, negative attitudes embedded in conceptual
frames probably have more impact on the aud ience thanpositive attitudes in commentary.
Those researchers theorized that the racial group receiving the positive (sympathetic)
frame is more commonly perceived as the ``causal agent’’ (p. 25), whereas the racial group
receiving the pejorative (inferior) frame is more likely to be perceived as ``an externally
moved object’’ (p.25) and thus of less status and less social importance. Generalization of
such buried assumptions does great social ill, especially because it gets transported to si-
tuations with economic ramifications.
As a practical matter, advertiser s and the television and radio networks, major
newspapers, and national sports producers want college basketball to be a highly mar-
ketable product, and marketing success is often linked to the promotion of individual
star players (as well as to other factors like team win=loss records). At any rate, players
who are disparaged by the sportscasters who cover their games, however inadvertently,
are unlikely to attract fans. Even an unconscious racial bias hurts the game as well as the
player s it denigrates. While the leagues, conferences, and owners are quick to fire those
who publicly commit the sin of seemingly overt racism, they have historically paid much
less attention to covert racial and gender stereotyping. Author Kenneth Shropshire has
suggested that athletes have a powerful economic tool they could use to spur change:
They could use their economic leverage to demand greater participation for minorities
behind the scenes by sayin g they would not play for teams or go to cities that do not
have ample minorities in administration, stadium construction, and other positions re-
lated to sports (Hooper, 1998). Athletes could also exercise more leverage over media
bias by insisting on the inclusion of minorities and women among the commentators.
Such steps should, in the short run, lead to more equitable treatment of players by an-
nouncers and more importantly, ove r the long haul, foster less stereotypica l attitudes
among fans.
Notes
1Although the preferred terms are African American, Caucasian , Hispanic American or Latin, Asian
American, and so on, for the sake of brevity, because the racial group s we re referenced hundreds of times in this
research, the abbreviate d forms of ``Black’’and ``Wh ite’’and ``other’’ were utilized. The undoubte d inadequac y of
such terms in the face of variation s in actua l skin color are beside the point here since the study focused on per-
ceptions of race (as well as perce ptions of gender). The authors readily acknowledge the undeniable prejudice
that arises from classifying a wide range of skin colors and facial features as if they were alike.
2Black s athletes dominate in some sports but are virtually invisible in others, and their scarcity in higher
manage ment is certainly a significant issue.
3The author s share the view that gender is constructed and maintained and that it oc curs along a conti-
nuum rather than being a binary distr ibution. This study focuses on the media’s role in the maintenanc e of per-
ceived differences between the two major gende r grouping s recognized by the college sports authorities.
Biased Voices of Sports 199
4More ove r,double jeopardy operate s in television: Program s with lower ratingste ndto have less committed
viewers (Adams & Eastman, 2002). Thus sporting events wit h fewer viewers will have more fickle viewers, com-
pounding the problem of building ratings.
5Pilot testing showed that few othe r group s typically part of census records could be identified visually and
accurately (Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, etc.) and we re insignificant in number.
6In two cases whe re far fewer descriptors were recorded during an initial coding, the tapes were recoded by
a researcher and the larger database retained for analysis.
7Had anybeen included, comments about teams, coaches, or other topics would have been discarded, but
coders followed instructions, and none were included.
8Three references to ``junior college player’’and ``transfer’’were problematic and possibly biasing, but were
far too few for a se parate classif ication and thus included among the neutral descriptors.
9Consonanc e is the term used to summarize such phrases as ``his act is together’’or``she is totally coordinate d
tonight.’
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Biased Voices of Sports 201
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... Extant scholarship also demonstrates that the predominance of white men in the sports media industry has impacted the way athletes of color-and race and systemic racism, in and of themselves-are all covered and portrayed. Previous research has explored the prevalence of racialized descriptors and stereotypes employed by sports television commentators (Billings, 2004;Bruce, 2004;Eastman & Billings, 2001;Lewis et al., 2020;Rada & Wulfemeyer, 2005;van Sterkenburg et al., 2019), televised and written coverage of multiracial athletes (Billings, 2003;Deeb & Love, 2018), and race as a marker in the selection of imagery used in print coverage of Olympic athletes (Hardin et al., 2004). The existing research has also explored racial stereotypes and bias in coverage of college football recruits (Love et al., 2021), as well as in news coverage of specific athletes and their behavior on and off the field of play (Crowe, 2021;Douglas, 2012;Lorenz & Murray, 2014;Rugg, 2019). ...
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