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Media Framing of Larry Nassar and the USA Gymnastics Child Sex Abuse Scandal


Abstract and Figures

The framing of child sex abuse in media has previously been examined to uncover the potential ways news media could influence public perception about the issue. This mixed methods analysis of the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal involving USA gymnastics and Michigan State University, grounded in the principles of framing theory, examines the patterns in coverage, as well as the episodic and thematic frames evident in the coverage of the scandal and its victims. Findings fall in line with past research on child sex abuse; framing is done primarily at the episodic level, focusing on the individual responsible, detailed accounts of the abuse of the victims, and isolating the instances of abuse to the specific organizations, while ignoring the broader themes of prevention and societal impacts. Implications for framing, attitudes toward girls and women in sport, and implications for abuse in sport are discussed.
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Journal of Child Sexual Abuse
ISSN: 1053-8712 (Print) 1547-0679 (Online) Journal homepage:
Media Framing of Larry Nassar and the USA
Gymnastics Child Sex Abuse Scandal
Lauren Reichart Smith & Ann Pegoraro
To cite this article: Lauren Reichart Smith & Ann Pegoraro (2020): Media Framing of Larry
Nassar and the USA Gymnastics Child Sex Abuse Scandal, Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, DOI:
To link to this article:
Published online: 10 Feb 2020.
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Media Framing of Larry Nassar and the USA Gymnastics
Child Sex Abuse Scandal
Lauren Reichart Smith
and Ann Pegoraro
The Media School, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, USA;
School of Human Kinetics, Laurentian
University, Sudbury, Ontario, Canada
The framing of child sex abuse in media has previously been
examined to uncover the potential ways news media could
influence public perception about the issue. This mixed meth-
ods analysis of the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal involving
USA gymnastics and Michigan State University, grounded in
the principles of framing theory, examines the patterns in
coverage, as well as the episodic and thematic frames evident
in the coverage of the scandal and its victims. Findings fall in
line with past research on child sex abuse; framing is done
primarily at the episodic level, focusing on the individual
responsible, detailed accounts of the abuse of the victims,
and isolating the instances of abuse to the specific organiza-
tions, while ignoring the broader themes of prevention and
societal impacts. Implications for framing, attitudes toward
girls and women in sport, and implications for abuse in sport
are discussed.
Received 24 June 2019
Revised 13 November 2019
Accepted 13 November 2019
Framing theory; media
framing; child sex abuse;
Larry Nassar; moral panic
It all started with an e-mail to The Indianapolis Star on August 4, 2016. The e-mail,
from Rachael Denhollander, a former gymnast, opened with, Irecentlyreadthe
article titled Out of Balancepublished by the IndyStar.Myexperiencemaynotbe
relevant to your investigation, but I am emailing to report an incident …” (Alesia,
Evans, & Kwiatkowski, 2017, para 5). She then went on to detail how she was
abused by Dr Larry Nassar as a club-level gymnast in Michigan. After her story was
published in the Star, two more gymnasts came forward with similar claims against
Nassar (Alesia et al., 2017,para78).
On September 12, 2016, after Denhollander filed a criminal complaint and
another athlete filed a lawsuit against USA Gymnastics, The Indianapolis Star,
a local newspaper in Indianapolis, Indiana, published the first story on Dr Larry
Nassar and his abuse of athletes. As the story was published, The Indianapolis Star
reporters interviewed Dr Nassar, who denied any wrongdoing, indicating that the
medical procedures he used on athletes were being misunderstood. Eight days
later, Michigan State University (MSU), Nassarsemployer,firedhimforfailing to
CONTACT Lauren Reichart Smith The Media School, Indiana University, 601 E. Kirkwood
Ave., Bloomington, IN 47405
Color versions of one or more of the figures in the article can be found online at
© 2019 Taylor & Francis
comply with requirements imposed after a 2014 sexual abuse allegation filed with
the university(Alesia et al., 2017,para12).OnSeptember25,2016,The
Indianapolis Star reported 16 more athletes had come forward with allegations
against Nassar.
These were the beginnings of what was to become a national scandal
involving MSU, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA),
USA Gymnastics, and the United States Olympic Committee (USOC). By
the end of January 2018, Nassar pled guilty to three child pornography
2018). He also pled guilty to 10 charges of first-degree sexual assault and
was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison. At the time of this writing,
over 300 victims have come forward, with the number continuing to
rise. The scandal also resulted in multiple resignations across the execu-
tive board of USA Gymnastics (Axon & Amour, 2018), as well as several
prominent leaders and staff at Michigan State University (Dator, 2018).
womens gymnastics. Despite the use of womenin the sport descriptor,
many participants are under 18 years of age, making the sport largely
child-based. Nassars youngest victim was 8 years old (Women in the
World, 2019), and most of the victims he abused were under 18 at the
time the abuse occurred.
Over the past few decades, girls and women have made significant inroads in
sports participation with more opportunities to participate than ever before due to
the implementation of Title IX in 1972 (Womens Sports Foundation, 2016).
Although some womens sports currently enjoy measures of popularity and
material reward, mass media attention to womenssporthasbeenandcontinues
to remain persistently low (Bruce, 2016; Cooky, Messner, & Musto, 2015). Recent
research indicated that while females comprised 40% of all sport participants in
North America (Kane, 2013), womens sport receives just 2% of the total sport
media coverage (Cooky et al., 2015). That changes when female athletes are
involved in a transgression. They get more media attention for transgression
than for their play, as transgression violates the explicitly white and heterosexually
feminine norms of appearance and behavior that signal the terms of visibility
(Brown, Billings, Mastro, & Brown-Devlin, 2015;Bruce,2016). When sexual abuse
scandals involving female athletes come to light, news coverage of female athletes
also increases, but this increased attention usually comes in the form of detailed
reporting of the abuse, thus presentingathletessolelyasvictims(Reid,2018).
Investigating the coverage of abuse scandals involving female athletes can help to
understand how these incidents are presented in the news media and provide
insight into news organizations framing of female athletes in general.
documented by scholars investigating traditional media such as broadcast and
print, and found to affect public opinions, audience attitudes, and perceptions of
issues (e.g. Druckman, 2001; Nelson & Oxley, 1999;Tewksbury,Jones,Peske,
Raymond, & Vig, 2000). Goffman (1974) defined frames as mental schemas that
facilitate the rapid processing of information in everyday life. According to
Entman (1993), when framing is employed in a communicating text it serves to
select various aspects of reality and makes them more salient through the selection,
emphasis, and exclusion of information. Thus, framing can promote a particular
problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment
recommendation for the item described (Entman, 1993). It is through the selec-
tion, emphasis, and exclusion functions that news frames help to establish meaning
regarding issues (Zaharopoulos, 2007). Echoing Goffmans original definition of
framing, Entman (1993) further argues that culture is the stock of commonly
invoked frames, and communicators make conscious or unconscious framing
judgments, guided by their belief system. Therefore, cultural contexts can also
serve to limit or form a boundary for an individual regarding issues; thus, the
framing process can reflect dominant norms and values in a society (Endres, 2004;
Goffman, 1974).
Regarding framing in the media as an emphasis, Sieff (2003) claimed it is
the repetitiveness with which frames are presented to the public that slowly
shapes the way an issue is seen. The more frequently an issue is framed in
a particular way, the more likely it is for people to adopt medias frame for it.
Friedland and Zhong (1996) generalized the perspective of framing as the
bridge between larger social and cultural realms and everyday understand-
ings of social interaction(p.13). A firm understanding of the components of
framing and how it is utilized in the media is important in expanding the
theoretical scope to topics of examination.
Framing can be found on a variety of levels, but of relevance to this examination
are Iyengars(1991) findings on episodic and thematic framing; episodic frames
focus on specific instances, concrete and isolated events, and maximizes individual
accountability. Such frames focus on storytelling by presenting an issue as it relates
to a specific person or issue (Kim & Willis, 2007). Thematic frames incorporate the
story into a larger societal context, focusing on collective issues, social conditions,
and general trends that contribute to the issue at hand. According to Sotirovic
(2003) particular types of framing, such as episodic and thematic framing play an
important role in how public health issues are perceived.
Media framing, moral panic theory, and child sex abuse
Moral panic theory
The notion of moral panic is a concept linked to examinations of CSA. Moral
panic theory occurs when someone or something is defined by the media, and
when a condition, episode, person or group of people emerges to become
defined as a threat to societal values and interests(Cohen, 1972,p.9).Hall,
Critcher, Jefferson, and Clarke (1978) noted the news media serve as the
primary means for disseminating moral panic, and Cohen (2011) later
explained the news media play a central role in moral panic by setting the
agenda, transmitting the image, and breaking the silence and making the
claim. Cohen (1972) outlined five stages of moral panic: (1) something or
someone is defined as a threat to values or interests, (2) the threat is depicted
in an easily recognizable form by the media, (3) there is a rapid buildup of
public concern, (4) there is a response from authorities or opinion makers, and
(5) the panic recedes or results in social changes.
Previous scholars have noted the news media play an important role with
respect to the public perception of child sexual abuse (CSA) (Weatherred, 2015).
CSA has been defined as contact between a child and an adult, a person
significantly older, or a person in a position of power or control in which the
child is being used for the sexual gratification of the adult (American
Psychological Association Board of Professional Affairs Committee on
Professional Practice and Standards, 1999). Perpetrators are prosecuted under
state criminal law, with laws and statutes varying from state to state (Legal
Dictionary, n.d.). Five distinct periods of media coverage with respect to CSA
have been defined within the United States: the early history, or period of
discovery (19601979), the period which saw backlash against protective mea-
sures (1980s), the period of the passage of strict child sex offender laws (1990s),
the Catholic Church scandals of the 2000s, and finally the fifth and current time
period, which centers around high profile cases involving institutions, such as
Jerry Sandusky and Penn State University (Weatherred, 2015).
As noted by previous research, news media coverage can help the public
understand what can be done to prevent future cases,but coverage tends to focus
on extreme cases (Mejia, Cheyne, & Dorfman, 2012). In their two-year analysis
of daily news, Mejia et al. (2012) found coverage limited to high profile and
attention-grabbing cases of CSA with a focus primarily on criminal justice
details of specific incidents rather than contextual information about causes
and solutions for CSA. In addition, prevention is rarely addressed in the news
media. These findings fit with the theoretical framework of episodic framing
where articles only contain only details of particular incidents and absent from
the coverage is the broader social context of CSA. This type of news coverage
reinforces the notion that CSA just happensand is a problem too big and
complicated to address (Mejia et al., 2012). Indeed, much of the media coverage
of CSA has been found to be episodic, focusing on the individual causing/fixing
the problem (Beckett, 1996: Kitzinger & Skidmore, 1995).
When looking at the literature around CSA and the news media, media
coverage is identified in the literature as a salient issue, but studies also
confirmed that media coverage spiked around the most egregious offenders
and cases (Weatherred, 2015). In addition, previous studies found that media
coverage of CSA was episodic in focus rather than thematic, indicating that
articles focused on individual blame rather than societal causes of CSA.
Weatherred (2015) found few studies conducted specifically about CSA in
media. With bulk of research concluding that CSA is framed as episodic and
problem assigned to individuals, inferences can be made as to how public
view CSA and how public opinion may not lead to changes in policies. There
is still a lack of coverage about prevention and effects on society, law, and
future policies (Weatherred, 2015).
Recently, scholars have investigated how the news media framing of CSA can
influence public perception of the issue (Weatherred, 2017). In a 20-year long-
itudinal study that included the Catholic Church and Penn State scandals,
Weatherred (2017) found a shift from episodic framing to thematic framing
in news coverage of these CSA cases. In addition, the study found spikes in
coverage around both scandals but overall the coverage was minimal with only
the most egregious cases meriting attention (Weatherred, 2017), findings that
concur with previous findings from the Mejia et al. (2012) study.
Framing of CSA in sport
Perhaps the most famous recent CSA scandal in sport was seen at Penn State
University. In June 2012, former Penn State Assistant Football Coach Jerry
Sandusky was found guilty of 45 counts of CSA and sentenced to 30 to 60
years in prison (CNN Library, 2018). An investigation into the abuse scandal
lead by former FBI Director Louis Freeh found that the former leaders at
Penn State showed total and consistent disregardfor CSA victims while
covering up the attacks of a longtime sexual predator (Candiotti, Levs, &
Ariosto, 2012).
Scholars investigating the media coverage of the Penn State scandal found
that the depictions of Sandusky by news media focused on episodic framing;
however, some stories included more thematic framing, acknowledging the
failure of Penn State as institution (Berkeley Media Studies Group, 2012;
Simon, 2011). Two studies found a shift from the stranger dangertheme to
acknowledging a CSA perpetrator was likely known by the child, and respected
within the community (Dofrman, Mejia, Gonzalez, & Cheyne, 2012;Mejia
et al., 2012).
As previous research has found, framing of CSA issues is more likely to be
done in an episodic manner, framing the issues as specific to the organization
housing the abusers, or as an issue with one specific individual. This episodic
framing pulls attention away from the issue of CSA as a societal problem.
Based on the conclusions from prior research, in order to investigate the
news coverage of the Nassar scandal in terms of patterns in that coverage and
frames evident in the coverage of the scandal and its victims, the following
research questions were employed:
RQ1: What was the pattern of story coverage (i.e., when was content posted)
overthe 18-month period of the story?
RQ2: Which types of media outlets (local or national) were primarily posting
RQ3: What type of framing (episodic, thematic) was primarily employed in
thearticles that received the most engagement?
A mixed-methods approach was utilized for this study. First, a content
analysis was used to determine and quantify the media coverage of the
USA Gymnastics sex abuse scandal. Content analysis is an unobtrusive
(Krippendorff, 2004). The researchers believed that limiting the study to
one methodology would result in a loss of significant findings. A content
analysis can be used to examine the salience of an issue but will not
provide information on frames utilized within the media content. Thus,
the researchers also employed a textual analysis of the article text of the
top 10 most engaged with articles each month to discover framing themes
and patterns that emerged. The primary goal of textual analysis is to
identify and describe frames and characteristics within a text (Denzin &
Lincoln, 2005; Entman, 1993).
The study analyzed articles published by online-native publications within the
United States. News articles and correlating social media interactions were
retrieved via media tracking and the data collection company NewsWhip.
NewsWhip tracks over 5 million stories per day across 168 countries, as well as
over 100 million social media interactions. The NewsWhip database archives
content from Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and LinkedIn interactions for each
article, in terms of Facebook shares, comments, and emotions, Twitter shares,
Pinterest pins,and LinkedIn shares. NewsWhips historical application program
interface (API) how NewsWhip interacts with and extracts data from other Web
sites allows for long-term content performance data to be tracked (NewsWhip,
n.d.). Articles were downloaded over an 18-month time period, beginning in
August 2016 (the month the USA Gymnastics sex abuse story broke) and ending
in January 2018 (the month Larry Nassar was sentenced in Judge Rosemarie
Aquilinas Michigan courtroom). While NewsWhip collects all articles, the
researchers decided to eliminate any article that did not have any social media
shares from the sample. Without having each news outlets specific metrics, using
the metric of social media shares allows for the understanding that the article was
not only seen but shared to another platform. The sample is not representative of
the totality of online native and traditional media site content, but it reflects
articles that were either shared from the news organizationsoriginalWebsite
to a social media platform, or were pushed to a social media platform by the
organization itself.
Data collection and analysis
Articles were collected through NewsWhip using the keywords of Larry
Nassarand USA Gymnastics.The article search was limited to the United
States. A total of 55,559 articles were obtained. After removing articles
deemed irrelevant to the sample (i.e., headlines of emojis, headlines that
had nothing to do with gymnastics or the USA Gymnastics sex abuse
scandal), the researchers decided to narrow the sample further using only
articles that received at least one share on social media. The final sample
resulted in 16,885 articles for analysis; 9,219 under the keyword Larry
Nassarand 7.666 under the keyword USA Gymnastics.
Coding procedures
The unit of analysis was the article. Using a simple coding scheme, the following
was coded for each article: month of publication, keyword search (e.g. Larry
Nassaror USA Gymnastics), if the story was about the abuse scandal or some-
thing else relevant to USA Gymnastics (i.e., stories about the Rio Olympics, U.S.
National Championships, local gymnasts), and if the domain was a national or
local outlet. NewsWhip provided the interaction numbers for shares on Pinterest,
LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and the total number of interactions.
Textual analysis
To analyze the themes of the articles over the 18-month period, online news
articles were collected using NewsWhip. The total number of articles was
reduced to the top-10 most engaged with articles each month
, for both local
When possible; some months did not have 10 articles with engagement.
and national articles. The total analyzed sample was 346 articles (178 local,
168 national). The articles were then analyzed using Leximancer, a computer
software tool that conducts thematic and semantic analysis on text-based
data (Bal, Campbell, & Pitt, 2012). Leximancer analyzes text in two stages,
characterized as conceptual extraction or the determination of dominant
themes, followed by relational extraction which involves the mapping of
relationships of the themes against each other (Smith & Humphreys, 2006).
Leximancer uses this automated analysis of the input text to generate
a concept list (i.e., words from the article titles) that is statistically reliable
and reproducible (Angus, Rintel, and Wiles 2013).
As noted above, 16,885 articles were analyzed over an 18-month period for
this examination. RQ1 and RQ2 asked what the pattern of coverage was (i.e.,
when was content posted) over the 18-month period of the story. A total of
1,698 unique news outlets covered the sex abuse scandal; 38% were identified
as national media outlets, and 62% identified as local media outlets. Figures 1
and 2show the number of articles per month and the comparison of local to
national news outlets per month, respectively.
A one-way ANOVA analysis shows a significant difference in the number of
stories posted per month by local versus national news outlets [F(17,16.867) =
23.49, p< .05], with local news outlets posting a significantly greater number of
Figure 1. Number of articles per month.
Figure 2. Local versus national news outlet coverage per month.
articles than national news sites. Table 1 shows the article amounts, and the results
of Bonferroni post hoc testing.
To answer RQ3, the articles that had the most engagement with audiences
(as identified by NewsWhip) published by national and local news outlets
during the 18-month timeframe were analyzed using Leximancer to identify
the themes within. Leximancer identifies concepts; collections of words that
generally travel together through the text analyzed, bringing the concepts
forth as themes within the text. Both national and local articles top themes
dealt with Nassar and the specifics of the cases against him. Differences
occurred related to the situating of the abuse scandal. The national articles
were primarily episodic in nature, focusing on the man responsible for the
abuse related to USA Gymnastics athletes. The main concepts identified are
seen in Figure 3. The most prominent theme was Nassars name, followed by
USA Gymnastics, athlete name mentions, mentions of victims, and the
Olympics. Some articles brought in other CSA scandals (primarily Penn
State) but by and large, the themes remained focused around one man, one
organization, and the victims.
The local articles, while covering the USA Gymnastics athletes, remained
primarily episodic, also focusing on the scandal in terms of his employment at
Michigan State University and the specifics related to the athletes he abused
during his tenure there. Again, the predominant themes that emerged centered
around Nassars name, USA Gymnastics, and individuals deemed knowledge-
able about the allegations but failed to report and act on them at both USA
Gymnastics and Michigan State University (See Figure 4). One observed
Table 1. Bonferroni post hoc testing on local versus national article amount per month.
Month Article amount: local Article amount: national
August 2016
171 177
September 2016
125 79
October 2016
63 48
November 2016
126 55
December 2016
85 82
January 2017
71 41
February 2017
302 269
March 2017
332 285
April 2017
74 48
May 2017
81 97
June 2017
144 76
July 2017
171 185
August 2017
112 240
September 2017
October 2017
395 215
November 2017
1134 564
December 2017
771 357
January 2018
6395 3457
p< .05. a = Aug 16, b = Sept 16, c = Oct 16, d = Nov 16, e = Dec 16, f = Jan 17, g = Feb 17, h =
Mar 17, i = Apr 17, j = May 17, k = Jun 17, l = Jul 17, m = Aug 17, n = Sept 17, o = Oct 17, p =
Nov 17, q = Dec 17, r = Jan 18.
difference between the local and national articles was that the local articles
provided more detailed victim accounts and more details on the specific
incidents and events. There was some evidence of linkages to other incidents
of CSA (primarily Penn State), but the trend of focusing on one man,
Michigan State, and the subsequent victims showed primarily episodic
When themes on the periphery were examined, evidence of some thematic
framing was found in the national articles. In particular, there was a discussion
around other incidents of sexual abuse in sport, providing specific incidents in
other sports but focusing on the broader issue of power dynamics in sport
contexts. Table 2 provides a list (and counts) of the proper names (e.g. Nassar)
and words (e.g. abuse) identified in both national and local articles. The table also
provides the relevance of each name or word identified to the overall text
examined (see table note for further clarification on relevance). When examining
these results, we can see the local context identified in the local articles (e.g. MSU,
Lansing, President) along with the more national focus (e.g. USA Gymnastics) was
Figure 3. National articles September 2016 to March 2018 Themes identified.
found in both sets of articles. Additionally, the list illustrates that the content
stayed mostly focused on episodic framing showing how the details of the stories
were presented and focusing less on the broader societal issues around CSA.
This study examined the pattern of coverage and the framing employed in
the coverage surrounding the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal. While
outrage over previous sex abuse scandals (i.e., the Catholic Church, Penn
State) was more immediate and drew backlash in a quick manner, we see the
opposite occurring with this case. First reported in August 2016, the scandal
took over a year to gain any meaningful traction or coverage within the news
media, peaking at the trial in January 2018. Framing of the story, both in the
Figure 4. Local articles September 2016 to March 2018 Themes identified.
Table 2. Word concepts identified in national and local articles.
Concepts identified in national
Concepts identified in local
Concept Concept
Proper names Count
% Proper names Count
Nassar 2556 100 Nassar 2181 100
USA Gymnastics 1062 42 MSU 1053 48
Michigan 597 23 USA Gymnastics 1043 48
OLYMPIC 517 20 News 527 24
ESPN 158 6 Lansing 308 14
Facebook 288 13
Words Today (News) 282 13
Abuse 1199 47 Twitter 250 11
Gymnastics 1167 46 Olympic 223 10
Sexual 1163 46 Indianapolis Star 220 10
Alleged 735 29
Charges 685 27 Words
Women 619 24 Sexual 1449 66
Report 610 24 Abuse 987 45
Team 584 23 Allegations 935 43
Federal 458 18 Charges 738 34
Former 444 17 Gymnasts 712 33
Athletes 441 17 Doctor 650 30
Time 418 16 Assault 638 29
Assault 411 16 Investigation 588 27
During 401 16 Report 583 27
Coaches 382 15 Women 504 23
Case 375 15 Former 486 22
Filed 369 14 Federal 484 22
Child 367 14 Victims 430 20
Treatment 365 14 Filed 428 20
Conduct 364 14 Case 423 19
Medical 362 14 Team 399 18
Investigation 359 14 Child 393 18
Criminal 357 14 Criminal 369 17
Lawsuit 352 14 Lawsuit 360 17
Victims 332 13 Told 329 15
Girls 324 13 Attorney 327 15
Sports 317 12 During 321 15
Told 316 12 Treatment 316 14
Stories 297 12 Police 305 14
E-mail 291 11 Medical 303 14
Guilty 276 11 Athletes 284 13
News 263 10 Court 283 13
Attorneys 257 10 Story 282 13
Court 256 10 Time 275 13
Statement 255 10 E-mail 248 11
National 253 10 Including 247 11
Forward 251 10 Access 237 11
Comment 238 9 Woman 217 10
Including 224 9 Sex 211 10
Police 220 9 Law 188 9
Young 219 9 Forward 188 9
Year 206 8 People 188 9
World 189 7 Guilty 179 8
Organization 184 7 Hearing 173 8
local and national press, has fallen in line with past themes of framing of
previous CSA scandals, holding primarily to episodic framing; portraying this
case as centering around one bad individual, contained within the two
organizations involved, and an additional focus on the victims. There was
very little evidence of thematic framing, examining the systemic and wide-
spread structures that allowed the abuse to flourish for decades, nor was
there an examination of other coaches alleged to have engaged in abuse.
Framing theory seeks to define how the news media shape public opinion,
providing prominence to certain stories making these stories the salient ones
for the public to consume. Salient issues are the ones where attention is
focused on most and salience is achieved by the media, by selecting and
emphasizing certain stories while excluding others from coverage. In looking
at the media coverage surrounding this case, for a long period of time, the
media functioned under exclusion very little reporting on this story. When
the story first broke in August 2016, most of the articles under the USA
Gymnastics keyword focused on the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. The number
of articles, both on the local and national sides, remained fairly low until the
bigger names of the sport (Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney)
came forward. Once the story achieved more salience, the media coverage
Table 2. (Continued).
Concepts identified in national
Concepts identified in local
Concept Concept
Proper names Count
% Proper names Count
Take 181 7 Used 171 8
Day 180 7 Year-old 168 8
Compete 178 7 National 165 8
Hearing 167 7 Young 163 7
People 165 6 Organization 144 7
Sex 163 6 Children 134 6
Judge 153 6 Full 122 6
Gold 152 6 Letter 118 5
Trial 136 5 Order 107 5
Wrote 135 5 President 105 5
Children 127 5 Man 99 5
Life 104 4
Best 99 4
Law 97 4
Concepts identified by Leximancer are collections of words that generally travel together through the text
analyzed. Proper Names are concepts written in upper case first letter and are assumed to represent
proper nouns. All other concepts are word-like that appear in lower case and represent objects, actions
and so on. Count is the total number of context text blocks across the data analyzed that each concept
has been identified in. Relevance is the percentage of context text blocks which are coded with that
concept relative to the most frequent concept in the list. Simple, relevance is a percentage representation
of the count value of each concept divided by the single highest count value. Consequently, the most
frequent concept (e.g. Nassar) will always have 100% relevance, regardless of whether it occurs in all
context text blocks.
shifted more to emphasis, which is where we see the themes emerge.
Through the emphasis of episodic framing, the issue became the common
frame of isolating this to one specific person, ignoring both the systemic
failures and a larger discussion about the societal impact of CSA in sport. We
see now that multiple other sports have dealt with, and continue to deal with
accusations of sexual abuse in sport for both males and females pointing
to the fact that the prominent incidences of CSA (e.g. Nassar, PSU) are not
the isolated incidents they have been framed to be.
When looking at the framing of both national and local articles we found
primarily episodic framing was used by all news outlets. The national articles
focused on Nassar, highlighting his abuse of athletes. In the local articles,
more information was provided about the Michigan State University admin-
istration as well as specifics regarding his abuse while employed there. This
finding is in keeping with research related to the Sandusky child abuse
scandal that found articles to focus on episodic framing of the abuse.
Limiting the story to one individual (Sandusky or Nassar), framing the
issue as contained within specific organizations (Penn State, USA
Gymnastics, Michigan State), emphasizing the victim accounts, while ignor-
ing accounts of abuse not related to Larry Nassar (e.g. other gymnasts who
came forward in this time period, and accusations against other coaches)
center the media framing of the Nassar case in the current time period of
CSA coverage identified by Weatherred (2015): high profile cases garnering
the majority of media attention. The majority of the news coverage here
focused on individual blame, rather than examining the societal causes of
CSA. Further, the detailed reporting of the abuse sometimes extremely
graphically by the local media outlets reinforces the notion of the athletes
solely as victims.
With respect to the tenets of moral panic theory, any sort of inkling of
moral panic failed to emerge for a long period of time. In this case, the results
show that moral panic came in to play around December 2017 when Aly
Raisman spoke out, then reached a peak in January 2018 at the trial.
Considering these peaks in coverage, the increase in attention may fall in
line with the notions of past research, noting that coverage of CSA in the
media is minimal, with only the most egregious offenders and cases garner-
ing attention (Mejia et al., 2012; Weatherred, 2015,2017).
Figure 1 outlines the amount of news articles by month over the 18-month
time period; while it can be argued that the entire case was egregious and
Nassar may be one of the worst sex offenders in sport in history, the fact that
the coverage did not escalate until the recent stars of the sport came forward
with allegations may shed insight on what the media gatekeepers consider to
move the line from bad to egregious. The mass underreporting of the story,
and the failure to frame this story in a more thematic manner may be
responsible for the length of time it took for public moral panic and outrage
to emerge. It is also noteworthy to consider that the issue may be that the
case centered around a womans sport, and as previously noted, womens
sport does not receive the same amount of attention in news media as mens
sports. When comparing this case to the Penn State scandal, and when moral
panic set in for each incident, there are several considerations. One, the issue
may simply be that it was a womans sport, and individuals do not care about
womens sport as much as they do a prominent football team at a D1
university, with an iconic figure at the helm. A second consideration may
be due to the fact that the abuse of women is normalized in society, therefore
leading to the expectation that women will be victimized. Thus, when a story
breaks about a woman, athlete or not, being victimized, we are not shocked
(Graham, 2017).
The Nassar scandal fits into our framework of how we understand a sport like
womens gymnastics. On some level we expect women to be victimized, so its not
surprising when they are. Thats a problem. When a football coach is found to have
molested boys, who are abused at a lower rate than girls (although at a much
higher rate than we realize, due to underreporting), it goes against our expectations
and shakes the foundation of a sport associated with virility and masculinity. Such
news even stokes societys latent homophobia. There is a shock associated with an
older man molesting young boys that does not exist when the victim is a girl.
(Graham, 2017, para 8, 9)
Therefore, it is possible that because the issue was not salient, it did not have
the shockfactor at the start, it had minimal coverage for such a long time
period, and there was no chance for it to build up as a public concern until
the big names came forward.
In this specific case, is the confounding variable sport? More specifically, is
the fact that it is a sport centered around young girls and women a driver in
how the case was ultimately framed in the news media? How moral panic
theory presents itself in another abuse situation should be considered. An
August 2018 report was released by a Pennsylvania grand jury that detailed
decades of alleged sexual abuse and cover-ups within the Catholic church. The
backlash and response to the story were fairly immediate; within 6 days, the
Pope issued a statement regarding the churchs failure to protect the victims
(Cullinane & Park, 2018). In the Nassar case, it took over a year for the general
public to become fully aware of the case and its vast magnitude. Further, the
institutions involved were delayed in their reactions; though Nassar was fired
approximately a month after the story broke, the firing came after a police
complaint was filed, and a civil suit was brought forth. Michigan State and USA
Gymnastics did not fire any individuals in authority within the organizations
until close to the conclusion of the January 2018 trial. It may have been easy for
people to ignore their moral outrage when the story first broke because it broke
at the time the womens gymnastics team was dominating on the world stage at
the Rio Olympics. Until the prominent and recent stars of the sport came
forward, the narrative largely centered around Nassar and victims that didnt
have a salient name in the sport to the public at large.
Even when the bigger names came forward, the themes didnt suddenly change in
the coverage. The themes remained episodic and still focused primarily on the
athletes as victims. The amount of coverage increased. This increase is in line with
grabbing cases, and the continuation of focus on the details of incidences and the
individual causing the problem, simply reinforces the notions that CSA just
happens and is too big of an issue to address (Mejia et al., 2012). From this case
and these findings, there is still a significant lack of coverage that focuses the
attention on the prevention of CSA and the effects on society at large.
On a larger scale for sport and society, moral panic and the athletes in terms of
idols can tie into notions of athlete activism. When we have issues in society, the
athletes, or people who are influencers, can be the ones to shift the narrative. We
can see now that this issue extends far beyond Larry Nassar, Michigan State and
USA Gymnastics. Multiple sports (e.g. USA Diving, USA Swimming, USA Judo)
as well as other institutions (Ohio State University) have all faced sexual abuse
allegations in the past several years. This more widespread and continuing issue of
CSA and sexual abuse in sport suggests that this is an issue that should be
prominentlyaddressedonathematiclevel by the news media. Further, many of
these incidents in sport come where power dynamics increase the victimization of
women athletes. Finally, a consideration should be granted as to how these issues
become and stay salient, and why it seems to take more prominent names speaking
up to make people sit up and pay attention.
We should ask ourselves why the biggest sex abuse scandal in sports
history has hardly made a dent in the public consciousness. But asking
why there has not been more coverage is a self-indictment that misframes
volume of coverage. The issue is people not caring. (Graham, 2017,para
14, 15).
Disclosure of interest
Drs Smith and Pegoraro declare they have no conflicts of interest to report.
Ethical Standards and Informed Consent
No human subjects were used in this research.
Notes on contributors
Lauren Reichart Smith, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of sports media in the Media School
at Indiana University. Her research in sports media primarily focuses on issues of gender,
race, and national identity.
Ann Pegoraro, Ph.D. is a full professor in the School of Human Kinetics at Laurentian
University and the Director of the Institute for Sports Marketing.
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... Ипак, важно је напоменути да је приступ анализе медијског уоквиравања најчешће примењиван за oбраду актуелних контроверзних тема, као што су климатске промене, расизам, економске кризе... Насупрот овом стандардном обрасцу, постоје и радови који јесу усмерени на медијско уоквиравања извештавања о личностима од јавног значаја, укључујући спортисте (Boykoff and Carrington 2020), особе оптужене у високо профилним истрагама (Smith and Pegoraro 2020) и политичаре (Araújo and Prior 2021). У овом раду анализа је усмерена на уоквиравање живота и дела једне историјске личности, Арчибалда Рајса. ...
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Sporting environments provide opportunities for perpetrators to commit child sexual abuse (CSA). While awareness of CSA in sport and preventative interventions are increasing, CSA in sport still occurs at alarming rates. A systematic review was conducted to identify and synthesize the extant literature on the enabling factors for CSA in sport. The 34 included articles were peer-reviewed and were primary sources; had full-text versions in English; included the individual, situational, environmental, or systemic antecedent factors and characteristics which enable CSA in organized sport (clubs, schools, universities, and representative teams); and focused on abuse in children (0-18 years old), and included retrospective incidents. The enabling factors from across the broader sports system were identified and mapped using a systems thinking-based approach, the Risk Management Framework (RMF) and the associated AcciMap method. The results indicated that enabling factors for CSA in sport were identified at multiple levels of the sporting system hierarchy. The results show that 24.1% (n = 46) of the enabling factors identified in the literature relate to the hierarchical level of the Athlete, teammates, opponents, and fans levels, and 52.9% (n = 101) of the enabling factors relate to the level of Direct supervisors, management, medical, and performance personnel level. However, only 13% (n = 25) of enabling factors to CSA in sport were identified at the combined top four hierarchical levels. Results indicate that the problem of CSA in sport is a systems issue, and future research is required to explore how these factors interact to enable CSA in sport.
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The media play an important role in practice, policy, and public perception of child sexual abuse, in part by the way in which news stories are framed. Child sexual abuse media coverage over the past 50 years can be divided into five time periods based on the types of stories that garnered news coverage and the ways in which public policy was changed. This systematic literature review of research on child sexual abuse media coverage across disciplines and geographic boundaries examines 16 studies published in the English language from 1995 to 2012. A seminal work is identified, citation network analysis is applied, and a framework model is developed.
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This article reports on Leximancer and Discursis, two visual text analytic software tools developed at the University of Queensland. Both analyse spatial and temporal relationships in text data, but in complementary ways: Leximancer focuses on thematic analysis, while Discursis focuses on sequential analysis. Our report explains how they work, how to work with them and how visual concepts are relevant to all stages of their use in analytic decision-making.
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This article presents the results of a two-wave experiment designed to examine how journalistic news frames can facilitate the communication of advocacy frames designed to influence audience perceptions of a political issue. We constructed five versions of a newspaper article about large-scale hog farms. The versions differed in the weight they gave to frames promoted by organizations interested in this issue. The relative emphasis given the competing frames was reflected in subjects' interpretations of the issue and in their evaluations of hog farms. A retest three weeks after the initial exposure revealed a significant, though muted, cognitive impact of the frames. The implications of these results for journalism, issue advocacy, and the study of issue framing are discussed.
Leading up to the early 2000s, feminist researchers identified numerous representational practices through which the sports media ignored, trivialized and sexualized sportswomen. At that time, a distillation of the research into a set of six unwritten media ‘rules’ concluded that, at best, the traditional media approached women’s sport ambivalently within an either/or discourse of pretty or powerful that constructed femininity and athleticism as incompatible. In the past decade, the rise of Internet-based news and social media has dramatically changed the field of representation, including an explosion in public voice and information sharing on social networking sites. In this changed media landscape, I synthesize U.S. and global research into 15 historical and emerging rules of media representation, in order to extend researchers’ understandings of the current status and range of representational practices. In addition, I employ the theoretical lenses of third-wave feminism and cultural studies to advance the ways in which feminist researchers can conceptualize and understand historical and emerging trends in how sportswomen are imagined in popular culture. In particular, I consider the implications of third wave feminism for understanding the emergence of a pretty and powerful discourse in the U.S. that challenges dominant interpretations of sports media coverage and points to the value for feminist sport media researchers of expanding their interpretive frameworks for making sense of media coverage.
In this commentary on Cooky, Messner, and Hextrum’s (2013) article “Women Play Sport, but not on TV: A Longitudinal Study of Televised News Media,” Mary Jo Kane assesses key findings in light of the changes that have taken place in women’s participation and achievement in sport as well as the central tendencies of sport journalists and broadcasters. Kane’s analysis explores the dynamic tensions at play in cultural sensibilities about interest in women’s sports. Kane presents evidence that rising interest in women’s sports runs counter to the mainstream media logic that “nobody is interested” in women’s sporting achievements. In a closing assessment, Kane calls for the need for audience reception research to broaden the content analytic findings offered by Cooky, Messner, and Hextrum to better understand what draws fans to women’s sports.
This article examines how specialized business magazine Editor & Publisher framed its coverage of the sex amendment of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the legal foundation for the elimination of the help-wanted classified advertising categorized by sex. It charts the evolution of the coverage of its initial 1964 enactment to 1973 when the Supreme Court found commercial speech was not covered under the First Amendment and that laws prohibiting classified ads categorized by sex were constitutional. The article finds three stages in Editor & Publisher's coverage: 1964 to 1967, 1967 to 1970, and 1971 to 1973. In each of these phases, the sex amendment of Title VII was framed as being counter to the fundamental principles of the newspaper industry and the First Amendment. The sex amendment and its women supporters were trivialized and delegitimized in the frames crafted by Editor & Publisher.