- Top of page
- Review of Literature
- Results and Interpretation
This research explored Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling’s self-presentation strategies that he displayed on his blog - 38pitches.com, in response to sports broadcasters’ and journalists’ portrayal of him during 2 events that made national sports headlines. A thematic analysis was conducted using constant comparative methodology of Schilling’s blog entries that he authored in response to these events. Three self-presentation strategies emerged from data analysis: (a) critic, (b) committed individual, and (c) accountable person. Using Hermans, Kempen, and Van Loon’s (1992) dialogical self theory, the study revealed that Schilling fluidly moved between multiple positions when self-presenting to combat media framing. Additionally, the findings suggests that blogs and other information and communication technologies (ICT) are valuable tools that professional athletes and other celebrities can employ to counter perceived negative media framing of their personae.
Information and communication technologies (ICT) have increased sports media coverage and altered many practices within the sporting community. For instance, college coaches’ increased use of text-messaging to recruit athletes, while initially used to identify with the student-athlete, seems to result in excessive interference into the student-athlete’s life (Maher, 2007). Additionally, fans are now participating on blogs and electronic discussion boards, allowing them to more directly express their identity, engage other fans across geographic barriers, and express dissent about decisions made by sports organizations and athletes (Lewis, 2001; Thebarge, 2005). ICT also offers sports organizations and athletes the ability to become directly involved in presenting and releasing information, while the press becomes less involved in filtering that information. While ICT can be utilized to accomplish various objectives by these groups, one of the more compelling capabilities ICT provide is enabling individuals to strategically and selectively self-present to the public.
Although, control over self-presentation can be empowering, it also can be problematic, as people may present themselves deceitfully, resulting in communication partners experiencing uncertainty about others’ true identity (Caspi & Gorsky, 2006; Johnson & Dietz-Uhler, 2002). Yet, in cases where individuals may be subject to misrepresentation, ICT can be a powerful self-presentation tool to counter these inaccuracies and provide a direct communicative link to the public wherein one’s true self can be displayed (Bargh, McKenna, & Fitzsimons, 2002). Considering the significant media coverage that is devoted to professional athletes, it seems plausible that professional athletes would be subject to unfavorable media framing from sports journalists, necessitating a response from the professional athlete to offer a more favorable representation.
This paper examines Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling’s self-presentation strategies displayed on his blog in the aftermath of two incidents that received national sports coverage and argues that blogs are valuable self-presentation mechanisms that enable professional athletes and celebrities to have greater control over their representations to the public and also allows them to position themselves in a manner that contradicts negative framing by mass media organizations.
- Top of page
- Review of Literature
- Results and Interpretation
This research examined Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling’s self-presentation strategies in response to media portrayals of him during two events that received national sports media attention. Beyond the emergent themes, the current work demonstrates how Schilling self-presented by fluidly moving between multiple positions, sometimes within the same blog posting. Thus, Hermans et al., (1992) dialogical self theory provides a valuable framework to understand why Schilling called upon the various strategies he utilized at the specific times he employed them. For example, in his “Public Apology” entry, it is noteworthy that Schilling solely self-presents using the accountable person strategy. That is, Schilling clearly used criticism to rebuke sports journalists, and he easily could have used this strategy to defend his public comments about Barry Bonds (e.g. stating he was misquoted or misinterpreted), yet in this particular case, the accountability voice assumes the dominant position. While it is unclear how Schilling arrived at this conclusion, evidence of a struggle between voices appears in the blog entry. Consider that although Schilling fully accepted responsibility for his comments, he did indicate that the time of the interview was personally inconvenient, which could be viewed as an excuse for his behavior. While Schilling did not use this excuse to justify his behavior, this acknowledgement may have reduced negative reactions to his actions. Indeed, several people posted that they are not “morning people” and therefore, understood that Schilling did not have full use of his mental faculties (PA 57, 326), although one individual felt the excuse was “lame” (PA 108).
Thus, Schilling established dialogical relations between voice positions and employed optimal self-presentation strategies to handle the situations he experienced. Consistent with previous research examining self-presentation through dialogical self theory, the current work demonstrates that one’s self-presentation is composed of a multitude of voice positions that are continually shifting (Hermans, 2004; Ligorio & Pugliese, 2004; Lysaker & Hermans, 2007) and also supports previous research which suggests people have a preference for self-presentation strategies (Basset, Cate, & Dabbs, 2002; Jones & Pittman, 1982). Individuals then, seem to alternate between self-presentation strategies and consider some strategies appropriate in certain contexts, but inappropriate in others. For example, Schilling clearly felt criticism was warranted when Gary Thorne questioned his athletic performance, yet refrained from criticizing sports journalists after his Barry Bonds comments, perhaps to minimize and reduce the large backlash he was already receiving from sports writers.
The present study also provides support for Hermans (2004) contention that ICT advances dialogical possibilities. Schilling clearly employed multiple voices and enacted the dialogical self through computer-mediated communication, giving him broad exposure to a large number of people. While Schilling could have utilized other communication channels to self-present, it is significant that he elected to self-present on his blog, as given the independent nature of his blog, Schilling can self-present in a manner of his choosing, without media filtering, a luxury he would be unlikely to experience if he relied solely on sports journalism coverage. In this manner, his blog becomes a new context for self-presentation dialogue to occur (Hermans, 2004).
Blogs then, are an important advocacy tool that celebrities can employ to counteract negative media framing of their persona, by providing a forum where the celebrity can carefully construct self-presentation and have greater control over how self-presentation is managed and distributed to the public (Bargh, McKenna, & Fitzsimons, 2002; Caplan, 2005; Dominick, 1999; Kim & Papacharissi, 2003; Miller & Arnold, 2001; O’Sullivan, 2000). Additionally, blogs also allow celebrities to communicate this self-presentation to the public without being physically present, enabling them to reach larger number of people with their self-presentation messages (Samp, Wittenberg & Gillett, 2003). In Schilling’s case, his blog provided an environment wherein he could selectively employ self-presentation strategies in a domain free from interference. This is significant in that had Schilling attempted to use these self-presentation strategies in a traditional format (e.g. press interview), particularly when one considers his feelings toward sports journalists, his presentation may have been interrupted or questioned, goading Schilling into self-presentation strategies that may have been harmful. For example, in his “Public Apology” entry, Schilling relies solely on the accountable person strategy. However, had he used this strategy in a face-to-face exchange with sports journalists, sports reporters may have questioned his sincerity, which may have prompted Schilling to shift to a critic strategy, thereby minimizing perceptions of his remorse for his actions.
Further, considering many people access blogs to seek information (Kaye, 2005); blogs enable celebrities to carefully craft the self-presentation strategies that blog readers will receive when seeking information about them. Said differently, blogs provide a venue where celebrities can self-present in a manner that contradicts their portrayal in mass media coverage, offering blog readers the opportunity to accurately perceive their identity (Bargh, McKenna, & Fitzsimons, 2002; Jung, Youn, & McCloung, 2007). For example, Schilling is often framed by sports journalists as an attention seeker whose top concern is himself. However, his blog entries suggest he is extremely committed to his teammates, even at the cost of personal harm. Thus, Schilling positions himself as a loyal teammate who will not sacrifice team members to alleviate his personal trials, a trait that diverges from his portrayals by sports journalists.
Dominick (1999) argued that for mediated self-presentation to be effective, it is critical to measure audience response by providing feedback opportunities for audience members. Celebrity blogs that enable readers to comment about blog entries clearly capitalize on this concept. In the current study, a host of people responded to Schilling’s entries, enabling Schilling to discern how people are responding to his self-presentation, which may perhaps guide his future self-presentation selection (Dominick, 1999). While it is unclear how much credence, if any, celebrities would give audience responses in shaping their self-presentation, the comments do provide a convenient, accessible data source from which celebrities can draw upon to gauge public responses to their self-presentation efforts.
While the findings of this study extend the application of dialogical self theory to celebrities’ self-presentation displayed on blogs, the findings are limited to a small sample of one professional athlete’s blog entries. Although the entries were in response to significant, newsworthy events, a larger data set may shed light on the consistency with which celebrities use various self-presentation strategies and possibly uncover additional strategies. However, the present work demonstrates that ICT provide celebrities with a self-presentation tool that can assist in managing their identity and counteract their portrayals by the mass media. As more celebrities turn to blogs and other ICT to directly self-present to the public, exciting avenues for research and exploration will continue to unfold.