Three first- year assistant professors at UTSA have explored the media’s portrayal of social issues in professional sports scandals.

Dr. Emmett Gill, an expert on social work in athletes, brought in Dr. Candace Christensen, an expert in gender based violence prevention and response, and Dr. Alfred Pérez, child welfare scholar, to work on a collaborative study titled “Teaching Culture Competence Through Case Studies: Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Atlanta Hawks,” where they examined the portrayal of race, gender and violence in the media.

Each professor took the lead in dissecting each scandal and came together to create an analysis for each case study.

Gill focused on white privilege, new racism in colorblindness and race talk in his paper “The Sale of Atlanta Hawks: Is it Racism or White Ownership Playing the Race Card.”

“We have this idea that the owner is playing the race card to have the ability to sell his team,” said Gill, when he noticed the team’s worth jumped from $825 million to $1 billion after the scandal hit its peak.

Shortly after Donald Sterling’s racist comments, Atlanta Hawks’ owner Bruce Levenson stated in a business email that “many of our black fans don’t have the spendable income which explains why our (food and beverage) and merchandise sales are so low.” About two years later (and five months after Sterling’s scandal broke) Levenson came forward with his comments and revealed his plans to sell his team.

Two days later, comments made by the team president Danny Ferry in an email regarding free agent Luol Deng, surfaced in the media. Ferry said, “He’s got some African in him. And I don’t mean that in a bad way. But he’s like a guy who would have a nice store out front but sell your counterfeit stuff out back.”

In her case study, “The Ray Rice Domestic Violence Case: Construction Black Masculinity through Newspaper Reporters,” Christensen looked at colorblindness, bipolar depiction and commodification in the report, and in one of her findings she noticed that the media “has a tendency to portray black men in two very dichotomous ways.” They are either portrayed as good black men, who have white male characteristics, or bad black men, who are inherently violent, irrational and deviant, according to Christensen’s study.

“Ray Rice used to be the example of a ‘good black man” before he was caught rendering his fiancee unconscious on video, said Christensen. “Once the video was released, he was a terrible person. He was a criminal. He was the kind of black man who people are afraid of, and that’s not a fair way to look at anybody.”

In his study, “There is a Thin Line Between Discipline and Child Abuse: Child Abuse Discourse in the Adrian Peterson Child Abuse Allegation Case,” Pérez examined how newspaper reports depicted Peterson’s case, how newspaper reports correspond to child abuse and neglect policy and how the public responded to the case based on newspaper reports.

Pérez analyzed 190 Peterson-related newspaper articles between 11 newspapers and found that the majority of newspapers reported on Peterson’s legal process, the relationship between the NFL and the players and corporate sponsorship loss. Only a few editorials looked at the issue through a child welfare policy frame. In response to the newspaper reports, “the public distinguished Peterson’s intent as either discipline or child abuse,” said Pérez.

In their studies, Gill and Christensen found common themes of racial discrimination instead of focusing on the root of the problem such as race and violence.

Contrary to Gill and Christensen’s findings, Pérez found that race was not a major factor in newspaper reports’ portrayal of the Peterson case. The public evoked religion and intent of the situation. “If one believed that Adrian Peterson was disciplining his child, he was a viewed as a good guy. If one believed he was abusing his child, then he was viewed as a bad guy,” said Pérez.

The objective of these studies was to interject professional social work in professional sports and have the media focus on the real problem rather than the individuals and their identities.

After TMZ exposed the photos of Peterson’s son’s injuries, Pérez was concerned about the media’s motives. “From a social work perspective, we will want to work with the media and inform them that they shouldn’t be posting this content.”

“My recommendation is that the NFL come up with community-based interventions to address the problem,” said Christensen, who would like to see the NFL be more invested in its players’ personal lives rather than focus on publicity.

All three professors plan to distribute their papers to the NBA and the NFL in hopes that these organizations will find an alternative solution in the future “because it’s going to happen again,” said Gill.

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