Communications expert discusses sports fandom, sexism and the Taylor Swift effect
The involvement of Taylor Swift this NFL season has highlighted disparities in sports communities among fans. Shifts in cultural norms surrounding sports and the media have left some fans feeling resistant to change. Virginia Tech communications expert Megan Duncan shares her insight on sexism in sports communities.
“The backlash to the attention given to Taylor Swift this NFL season freshly revealed the deep vein of sexism that runs through American sports culture,” said Duncan, a professor in the School of Communication at Virginia Tech. “Commentators and fans alike have described Swift as a distractor, a schemer, or someone who is ruining the ‘purity’ of football. The women who have started paying attention to pro football because of Swift have faced insults and gatekeeping from the fandom.”
“Most fans develop their sports identity at a young age as a social bonding activity with a role model adult,” she said. “For many adults, sports fandom is an essential part of destressing and escaping from reality and is often associated with nostalgia. A change in perception of how the game should be experienced can be unsettling to these types of fans. There are always people who are resistant to change and romanticize the ‘good old days’ to preserve the status quo,” said Duncan.
“Sports organizations and advertisers are already realizing that non-male fans are crucial part of fandom – and one of the most significant sources of growth. The NFL’s audience is 47% women by several estimates,” she said. “But, too many times when sports organizations or advertisers try to cater to women in the audience, they advertise stereotypically feminine tropes. Industries and sports culture can incorporate the whole person, including non-typical gender representations of women and people.”
“Young girls want to feel included in fan events,” said Duncan. “The NFL and the majority of professional sports can extend a more welcoming environment to their non-male fan base by creating inclusive and progressing past gender stereotypes. Women want something other than fitted, pink versions of jerseys.”
Duncan asserts that sports media professionals can be trained to cover sports without invoking and reinforcing gender stereotypes. “Broadcast, print news, and entertainment media have a strong influence on how audiences interpret events and topics like Taylor Swift’s appearances at Chiefs games,” she said.
“The sports media industry can do better to make all people excited to be a fan,” Duncan said.
- Written by Sarah Hern
Megan Duncan is an assistant professor in the School of Communication at Virginia Tech. Her research focuses on how partisans judge the credibility of and engage with the news. Using survey-embedded experiments, surveys, and other quantitative methods, she’s interested in knowing more about audiences, their perceptions of the news, how they form opinions, and how to use this knowledge to make democracy stronger.
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