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.
Review of Literature
Dialogical Self Theory
Hermans and colleagues (1992) view the self, or I, fluctuating between multiple positions as the individual adapts to change. Thus, the self continually moves between different positions and imaginatively endows each position with a “voice,” thereby establishing dialogical relations between positions. These voices then exchange information resulting in a complex, narratively structured self with a hierarchy of positions (Hermans, 1996a, 1996b; Hermans, 2001; Ligorio & Pugliese, 2004). Hermans (2004) further elaborates that over time, the self assumes different positions, as voices are influenced by externalities, reflecting the internal discussions within a person’s mind and their ongoing interaction with the world (Lyskaer & Hermans, 2007). This process is fluid, as positions move within the hierarchy in response to change, thus, a predominant position can quickly become suppressed, while a previously neglected position moves to the forefront, and dialogue between voices does not follow established protocol, and the self-repertoire is frequently rebuilt in response to an individual’s inner thoughts and interpersonal encounters (DiMaggio, Catania, Salvatore, Carcione, & Nicolo, 2006; DiMaggio, Fiore, Lysaker, Petrilli, Salvatore, Semerari, & Nicolo, 2006; Lysaker & Hermans, 2007).
Hermans (2004) also suggests that the expansion of ICT provides opportunities to advance dialogical possibilities. Hermans argues that individuals using ICT become multivoiced and enact the dialogical self through computer-mediated communication, giving one exposure to a wide variety of people, whose voices, culture, and communication become part of one’s private world, thereby creating new contexts for dialogue. Hermans (2004) posits that participation in a complex and hybrid computer-mediated world affects the dialogical self in three prominent ways. First, the self becomes composed of a higher density of positions and therefore, is subject to an increasing number of positions and voices. Next, self positions become more heterogeneous and integrate into a broad, interconnected system. Third, the self is prone to larger position leaps (one’s ability to negotiate and move between positions paying close attention to their specific purposes, memories, and experiences) than ever before. Dialogical self theory then, seems to be a particularly useful framework to explore mediated self-presentation.
Communication Technology and Self-Presentation
In The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Goffman (1959) considered life as a stage on which people performed for social audiences. Goffman suggested that each performer expressed identity through verbal and nonverbal communication, and posited that the self performs in a manner that projects a credible image, or said differently, through performance, the self constructs an identity that seeks to be consistent with audience expectations. In addition to selecting self-presentation that will please the audience, self-presentation strategy selection is also dependent on the presenter’s goals (Bortree, 2005). Thus, it seems to optimize self-presentation, an individual must consider both of these elements, as if one of these goals is not achieved, self-presentation is likely to be ineffective. While self-presentation has been extensively studied in traditional face-to-face contexts such as dating (Feeney & Hill, 2006; Flett, Hewitt, Shapiro, & Rayman, 2001), marriage (Boeije, 2004; Ragsdale & Brandau-Brown, 2005), and the workplace (Birkner, 2004; Kvarnstorm & Cedersund, 2006), people are increasingly turning to ICT to perform self-presentation.
Considering many people are frequently developing relationships via ICT (e.g. online dating), it is not surprising that mediated self-presentation is capturing scholars’ attention. For instance, Dominick (1999), building on Jones (1990) self-presentation typology, examined 500 websites to determine which self-presentation strategies people employed, and discovered that ingratiation (seeking to be liked and attributing positive characteristics to others) was the most frequently used strategy. Similarly, Bortree (2005) analyzed teenage girls’ self-presentation strategies performed on their blogs and discovered that ingratiation was the foremost strategy used, although competence (seeking to be perceived as skilled by communicating abilities and accomplishments to others) and supplication (asking for help or engaging in self-deprecation) also appeared. Bortree also argued that considering that the teenage years typically involve a search for self-identity, future research should investigate differences in self-presentation strategies between adults and children.
Hevern (2004) analyzed online presentation in 20 personal blogs and discovered that blog authors used self-focused strategies, such as self-description lists (e.g., 100 things about…), diary-like narratives disclosing daily personal, business, and professional activities, and other-focused presentation strategies, such as aggregated links (e.g., constructing or reporting an event or concern via multiple sources), correspondence (e.g., e-mail with annotation or commentary) and research results (e.g., summarizing an active inquiry for personal or professional purposes). Ligorio and Pugliese (2004) examined a multiuser domain (MUD), and discovered that participants moved between positions with rapid frequency, and also found that participants occupied a “silent” position, which they argue performs a communicative function, albeit one that is hard to interpret.
ICT also offer individuals the opportunity to strategically self-present and have greater control over their self-presentation strategies (Caplan, 2005; Gibbs, Ellison, & Heino, 2006, O’Sullivan, 2000; Papacharissi, 2002). For example, Kim and Papacharissi (2003) posited that ICT allow people to highlight aspects of their identity that they may feel are inappropriate or not effective in face-to-face contexts. Similarly, Samp, Wittenberg, and Gillett (2003) suggested that ICT is conducive to strategic self-presentation, particularly in situations where the communicator does not have to be present. Moreover, in some cases, the strategic self-presentation afforded people by ICT can combat stereotypes and stigmas. For instance, Niven and Zilber (2001) examined U.S. Congressional members’ websites and discovered that congresswomen’s self-presentation countered commonly held voter stereotypes that women are not active participants in the U.S. political arena.
Although ICT increase self-presentation possibilities, some research suggests individuals may not alter their self-presentation strategies when interacting via ICT. Thoreau (2006) discovered that individuals with disabilities presented themselves as disabled when using an online discussion board. Albeit, the forum was a supportive and sympathetic outlet for people with disabilities, given the negative stereotypes often placed on people with disabilities, the choice to not alter self-presentation is surprising (Farnall & Smith, 1999; Kama, 2004). However, although ICT expands self-presentation possibilities, it also creates opportunities for individuals to present deceptive images, causing mediated self-presentation to be connected with questions of authenticity and credibility.
Communication Technology and Credibility
While ICT can be used for many positive purposes, people also utilize ICT to engage in deceptive acts. Jordan (2005) examined one of the more prolific online hoax cases by considering the Kaycee Nicole Swenson hoax. As Jordan chronicled, Debbie Swenson, a woman living in rural Kansas, created a blog acting as Kaycee Nicole Swenson, a teenager battling leukemia. Swenson constructed events typical of those experienced by a teenager, and ultimately reported Kaycee succumbed to leukemia. Throughout the process, Kaycee developed a wide circle of friends who participated on her blog and provided words of encouragement and offered social support. Participants bonded around Kaycee’s struggles and formed a virtual community. Eventually, the hoax was discovered and Jordan (2005) noted the status change that occurred within the community, as members who initially expressed doubt about Kaycee’s authenticity were initially reviled, yet once the hoax was disclosed, were viewed as experts and technologically proficient.
Thus, in some instances, information on blogs is discovered to be inaccurate, thereby minimizing blogs credibility as information sources (Wall, 2005). However, despite this finding, people’s trust in the authenticity of online information is surprisingly high (Flanagin & Metzger, 2000). For example, in an Internet survey of 3,747 respondents, Johnson and Kaye (2004) found that almost 75% of participants perceived blogs to be more credible news sources than traditional media outlets, such as television and newspapers. Their findings also indicated that participants viewed online newspapers as the most credible electronic media channel and also revealed that blog usage was a positive and significant predictor of blog credibility perception. These findings are somewhat surprising considering that most bloggers are not bound by journalistic standards and are rarely peer-reviewed. Nonetheless, the high credibility associated with online newspapers aligns with other Internet credibility research (Chan, Lee, & Zhongdang, 2006; Flanagin & Metzger, 2007; Johnson & Kaye, 2002).
However, these findings should be tempered as other research indicates people attribute credibility to factors such as website design and structure (Warnick, 2004) and a belief that government and corporations will protect information accuracy (Turow & Hennessy, 2007). Additionally, some people do not pay attention to indicators of credibility such as professional designations and certifications (Bates, Romina, Ahmed, & Hopson, 2006; Morahan-Martin, 2004). Thus, the credibility of information on blogs and other ICT has been and must continue to be a focal point of research (Dutton & Shepherd, 2006; Jarvenpaa, Knoll, & Leidner, 1998; Johnson & Dietz-Uhler, 2002; Rietjens, 2006; Turkle, 1995; Urban & Sultan, 2000), and in fact, efforts are currently underway to develop a theoretical model of perceived web credibility (Flanagin & Metzger, 2007).
Moreover, with the massive growth of independent and amateur news-oriented blogs, individuals have more options when selecting news coverage. Some scholars trace the increase in news-oriented blogs to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, stemming from perceptions that mainstream media outlets were sympathetic to Arabs (Kaye, 2005). Many of the amateur news-oriented blogs perform a “watchdog” role by scrutinizing traditional mass media sources (e.g. television, newspapers) and illuminating alleged inaccuracies in their reporting (Sousa, 2006). Wall (2005) posits that such blogs are a new form of journalism characterized by personality, noninstitutionalization, audience participation in content creation and connection with other websites. Building on her previous research, Wall (2006) suggested that amateur news-oriented bloggers possessed an adversarial relationship with traditional mass media organizations and frequently criticized mass media outlets that opposed these bloggers views. Wall (2006) further observed that some amateur news-oriented bloggers considered themselves to outperform traditional media sources, thereby creating a notion that bloggers can become secondary correspondents. Similarly, Singer (2005) suggests that blogs challenge long-standing journalistic practices and remove the information gate-keeping task traditionally held by mainstream media conglomerates.
However, Robinson (2006) argues that mass media organizations are increasingly turning to blogs to survive and compete with amateur journalism blogs. Although many amateur blogs compete with mainstream media sources, a paradox exists in this apparent competitive relationship as bloggers often provide links to these organizations’ websites (Tremayne, Zheng, Lee, & Jeong, 2006). Although previous scholarship has examined self-presentation in multiple mediated environments, the sports arena seems to have been overlooked for analysis. Professional athletes are increasingly turning to websites and blogs to communicate with fans, and in some cases, to combat how sports journalists portray them.
When mass media outlets report news items, they often present the item in a story format, through the concept of framing (Kuypers & Cooper, 2005; Paxton, 2004; Tian & Stewart, 2005). Scholars have conceptualized framing in several ways including: (a) strategically emphasizing certain aspects of a story to promote particular definition, interpretation, evaluation, or recommendation (Entman, 1993; Tian & Stewart, 2005), and (b) socially shared meanings that are consistent over time that symbolically structure and organize the social world (Reese, 2001). News events can be understood in different ways, thus, media framing analysis identifies the frames, or perspectives, that mass media sources produce to shape message presentation and audience perception of the message (Miller & Reichert, 2001), and journalists often inject their political and personal preferences into stories, further magnifying the potential for audience manipulation (Kuypers & Cooper, 2005; Stout & Buddenbaum, 2003). Thus, mass media outlets construct certain viewpoints that guide reader’s interpretation toward these perspectives (Kuypers & Cooper 2005).
Additionally, mass media sources often frame select news stories to reinforce ideological systems (Carruthers, 2000; Wolfsfeld, 1997). For example, Reese and Buckalew (1995) interviewed news producers of an Austin, Texas ABC television affiliate and also investigated coverage of the 1990-1991 Persian Gulf War by this station and discovered that this particular media entity framed the Persian Gulf War to develop and encourage support for United States military action in the Persian Gulf region. Similarly, Maslog, Lee, and Kim (2006) examined Asian newspapers coverage of the current Iraq War and found that these media outlets were overwhelmingly supportive of the American/British position. Yet in some instances, mass media organizations use framing to present groups in ways that counter stereotypes of the group (Miller & Ross, 2004). For instance, Williams (2007) investigated media framing strategies in print and televised media stories about young voters during the 2004 U.S. presidential campaign and discovered that positive portrayals of young voters were frequently displayed and also found that younger voters were positioned as an important voting group.
While the mass media clearly shapes and guides interpretations of news stories, in situations where framing calls a person’s credibility into question, individuals can employ mass media tools to combat these perspectives. Specifically, with the advent of blogs and other computer-mediated communication channels, individuals can circumvent mass media organizations and communicate directly with the public to combat negative mass media portrayals. Albeit many celebrity groups receive significant press coverage (e.g. musicians, politicians), professional athletes are constantly evaluated and scrutinized by sports journalists, thus, research examining how professional athletes use ICT to combat perceived negative media framing is warranted. While many professional athletes maintain blogs and websites that would be suitable for analysis, Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling’s blog provides a particularly rich data source.
Curt Schilling, a pitcher with the U.S. Major League Baseball team the Boston Red Sox, is often portrayed as an outspoken individual who has an adversarial relationship with sports reporters (Noyes, 2007; Robbins, 2006; Rubin 2007). Schilling, in contrast to most athletes, directly engages fans and sports reporters. For instance, he has posted messages on Red Sox and New York Yankee electronic discussion boards and frequently calls into sports radio stations to lambaste sports journalists (Beggy & Shanahan, 2006; Poor, 2006). Thus, it was not surprising when in March 2007, Schilling launched a blog named after the number he wears –www.38pitches.com. Schilling’s blog displays typical blog characteristics as information is frequently updated, displayed in reverse chronological order, and date/time stamped posts written by the author appear followed by links to reader comment areas (Kelleher & Miller, 2006; Keren, 2004; Lawson-Borders & Kirk, 2005; Trammell & Keshelashvili, 2005).
Schilling’s decision to establish a blog independent of the Red Sox and/or a public-relations firm is significant for several reasons. First, several of Schilling’s blog entries have drawn the ire of Red Sox management (Brewer, 2007b; Madden, 2007), and it seems plausible that if Schilling’s blog was operated under the auspices of the Red Sox or a public-relations firm, his comments could be censored before reaching the public. Additionally, given Schilling’s history of directly engaging fans, establishing a blog independent of other parties, wherein he can post topics at his discretion, and in a manner of his choosing, seems to fit with his personality (Beggy & Shanahan, 2006; Poor, 2006).
In his first post, labeled “Throwing out the First Pitch”, Schilling appears to criticize sports journalists specifically, and mass media coverage generally, by suggesting his blog will allow him to share his thoughts and beliefs in a format where the originality of his words will be preserved in a manner of his choosing (http://38pitches.com/2007/03/07/throwing-out-the-first-pitch/). Schilling also seems to be using his blog to reinforce his identity as an active sports media participant and sports journalist critic. In fact, one of the first postings Schilling made on his blog was entitled “Why the Media Sucks” (http://38pitches.com/2007/03/15/why-the-media-sucks/). Additionally, Schilling has created a “Question and Answer” format on his blog, wherein he invites participants to post questions that he answers in later blog entries. While Schilling posts blog entries on a variety of topics, two of his blog entries captured national sports attention and seemed to be optimal for analysis. Thus, a description of the circumstances surrounding these blog entries is warranted.
The Authenticity of the Bloody Sock
The “Bloody Sock” is considered one of the key events that led to the Red Sox World Series Championship in 2004. During the 2004 American League Championship Series (ALCS), the Red Sox were battling back from a seemingly insurmountable 3-game deficit against their arch-rival, the New York Yankees. Having won two consecutive games, the Red Sox entered Game 6 at Yankee Stadium in a must-win situation. Schilling had been plagued by ankle injuries and was scheduled to start Game 6. Shortly before the game, Schilling underwent an experimental surgery in which his ankle tendons were sutured together (Mariotti, 2004). While he was pitching, the ankle began bleeding through his sock. Schilling pitched a masterful game in which the Red Sox won 4-2. Schilling’s performance was praised by the sports journalists as “heroic” and his efforts earned the admiration of Red Sox Nation, the moniker that describes passionate Red Sox fans (Cobb, 2005; Mariotti, 2004; Scott, 2004). The Red Sox subsequently defeated the Yankees and Schilling’s ankle again bled during his brilliant pitching performance in the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, which propelled the Red Sox to a World Series title as they beat the Cardinals in four straight games. The “Bloody Sock” soon became established as a symbol by Red Sox players and Red Sox fans of the team’s resilience and determination in coming back to beat the Yankees and finally ending an 86-year “curse” by winning the World Series for the first time since 1918 (Connolly, 2007; Scott, 2004).
On April 25, 2007, during a game between the Red Sox and the Baltimore Orioles, Orioles play-by-play commentator Gary Thorne alleged that Red Sox catcher Doug Mirabelli had informed him that the bloody sock was a fake and that Schilling had painted his sock for a publicity stunt. The story spread quickly through media outlets and Thorne immediately retracted his comments, stating that he had misunderstood Mirabelli. Mirabelli, who was quite irate, stated that his comments to Thorne had been in jest, and that Thorne knew the intent of his comments (Pevear, 2007). Similar allegations had surfaced after the World Series in 2004 (Rubin, 2007) particularly because the bloody sock from the ALCS had been “lost” and only the bloody sock from the World Series remained, preserved in the Baseball Hall of Fame. On April 27, 2007, Schilling created an entry on his blog entitled “Ignorance has its privileges” a 1,549-word open letter to fans, in which he lambasted Thorne and directed criticism towards specific sports journalists, and media coverage in general. In addition to his castigation of sports journalists, Schilling defended the legitimacy of his injury and offered a standing bet of one million dollars (USD), to be awarded to charity, to anyone who could prove the sock was a fake.
Besmirching Barry Bonds
During the 2007 baseball season, San Francisco Giants star Barry Bonds broke the all-time home run record held by Hank Aaron. However, Bonds was the subject of rampant allegations that he used performance enhancing substances, most notably steroids. Although Bonds has denied these allegations, leaked grand jury testimony during a Federal investigation of BALCO (Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative), a San Francisco-based lab accused of providing performance enhancing drugs to athletes, including Bonds, has cast doubt on the authenticity of Bonds’ accomplishments (Smallwood, 2007). Additionally, the leaked testimony became the subject of San Francisco Chronicle sports writers Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada’s highly publicized expose on BALCO and Barry Bonds entitled Game of Shadows.
Schilling has a history of speaking out against steroid use and of being critical towards players caught using steroids (Massarotti, 2005). However, he seems to have softened his stance in recent years and in fact, downplayed the prevalence of steroid use before a Congressional panel investigating the use of steroids in Major League Baseball (Bryant, 2005). On May 8, 2007, during a weekly radio segment on Boston radio station WEEI, Schilling launched into a tirade against Bonds, stating that Bonds admitted to taking steroids, cheating on his wife, and cheating on his taxes, and, based on these actions, it was unfortunate that Bonds would eventually hold the all-time home run record. Schilling was promptly criticized by sports journalists for his comments and Red Sox manager Terry Francona informed sports reporters that he had censured Schilling and advised him to curtail his public comments (Madden, 2007; Ulman, 2007). On May 9, 2007, Schilling posted a 484-word blog entry entitled “Public Apology” in which he expressed regret for his comments made the previous day. Interestingly, Schilling was quite critical of himself, referencing his recent chastisement of sports journalists who questioned the authenticity of the “Bloody Sock”. Although he did apologize for his actions and stated there was no excuse for his behavior, Schilling did indicate the radio interview was quite early in the morning and he was not fully awake when he was being interviewed. Schilling also referenced his Christianity by describing Jesus Christ as the only perfect man to walk the earth and stating that he [Schilling] should have “turned the other cheek” rather than publicly criticize Barry Bonds.
Thus, considering the notoriety and criticism Schilling received from sports journalists following these incidents, and Schilling’s ability to perform self-presentation via his blog, it seems worthwhile to explore how he performed mediated self-presentation on his blog, and the following research question is posed:
RQ1: What self-presentation strategies are utilized by Curt Schilling on his blog?
Results and Interpretation
Three self-presentation strategies emerged from the analysis: (a) critic, (b) committed individual, and (c) accountable person. To denote the location of text excerpts, Schilling’s blog entry is indicated by the following abbreviation: IHP (Ignorance has its privileges), and PA (Public Apology). For participants’ responses to Schilling, the number of the posting is provided along with the denotation of the blog entry to which it was posted.
Given Schilling’s combative history with sports reporters, Thorne’s suggestion that Schilling painted the bloody sock as a public relations stunt, subsequently raising doubts about the authenticity of his athletic performance, Schilling’s image was damaged and a response was necessary. However, rather than commenting to sports journalists about the incident other than stating “It gets stupider” (Edes, 2007, p.C1), Schilling went directly to his blog and crafted the “Ignorance has its privileges” entry wherein he addressed the allegations by presenting himself as a sports journalism critic. Schilling began by lambasting specific sports journalists:
Take Gary Thorne, John, Jack, Joe or whatever his name is, Heyman, Karen Vescey, Woody Paige, CHB, Jay Mariotti, Bill Plaschke, and a host of other people that litter the media landscape, and put them all on an island somewhere (IHP).
Schilling then attacked sports journalists’ professional ethics by stating, “Instead of using the forums they participate in to do something truly different, change lives, inspire people, you have an entire subset of media whose sole purpose in life is to actually be the news, instead of report it” (IHP). He also offered evidence of sports journalists’ inability to cover meaningful stories by relating a pregame event where a wounded American serviceman walked onto the field without a cane:
Instead of finding this kid and writing a story that truly matters, something that would and could truly inspire people, the media chose to focus on a story that was over two years old and a completely fabricated lie. What a job (IHP).
He further suggested that the bloody sock incident was constructed and dramatized by sports journalists as, “the mileage the media got from the incident is all of their own making” (IHP), and that sports reporters manufactured the drama surrounding this incident. Referencing the widespread coverage the bloody sock received, he stated:
The other great part of this is knowing that anyone that wrote anything about a ‘conspiracy’ or a ‘plot’ is someone that is so far removed from understanding how physically and mentally challenging it is to play this game at this level you can almost laugh off their stupidity. Not to mention they obviously have shortcomings, bitterness and jealousy in their own lives that they should probably get taken care of (IHP).
Schilling also posited that sports writers are a collective group of fake, uneducated individuals, who choose a career that requires little ability. For instance, he offered the following rebuke:
If you haven’t figured it out by now, working in the media is a pretty nice gig. Barring outright plagiarism or committing a crime, you don’t have to be accountable if you don’t want to. You can say what you want when you want and you don’t really have to answer to anyone. You can always tell the bigger culprits by the fact you never see their faces in the clubhouse. Most of them are afraid to show themselves to the subjects they rail on everyday (IHP).
Additionally, he stated that sports journalists “have little to no talent at what they do and other than a mastery of the English language their skill sets are nonexistent” (IHP).
Schilling then directed specific rebukes towards Gary Thorne. First, he attributed Gary Thorne’s comments to sports reporters’ poor skill sets:
Watching Woody Paige or the plastered made up face of Jay Mariotti spew absolutely nothing of merit on sports, day after day, makes it easy to understand how Gary Thorne could say something as stupid, ignorant, and uninformed as he did the other night (IHP).
He then suggested Thorne’s unwillingness to take accountability for his comments reflected sports journalists ethical deficiencies, “But even after they spoke Gary Thorne still covered his ass by lying about the conversation and twisting it in a way that absolved him from blame” (IHP), and:
So Gary Thorne says that Doug told him the blood was fake. Which even when he’s called out he can’t admit he lied…Gary Thorne overheard something and then misreported what he overheard. Not only did he misreport it, he misinterpreted what he misreported (IHP).
Finally, Schilling positioned his blog as a necessary tool to combat sports journalists inaccurate reporting:
So for one of the first times this blog serves one of the purposes I’d hoped it would if the need arose. The media hacked and spewed their way to a day or two of stories that had zero basis in truth. A story fabricated by the media, for the media. The best part was that instead of having to sit through a litany of interviews to ‘defend’ myself, or my teammates, I got to do that here (IHP).
Numerous people responding to this blog entry confirmed this self-presentation strategy. For instance, individuals stated, “i [sic] still agree with you when it comes to the media fabricating stories and not focusing on anything important” (IHP 45), “You are right on about the media. They have no talent and no one would know who they were if they didn’t make up stupid stories like this” (IHP 427), “As for ESPN, they’re the biggest frauds” (PA, 463), and “I hate the media with a passion. They are extremely ignorant and have as much use on a deserted island as a lawyer – shark food!” (IHP 377). Yet other people echoed Schilling’s criticisms of specific sports journalists, “It’s about time someone took a shot at those goons on Around The Horn. Woody Paige and Jay Mariotti are two of the most unintelligent debaters I have heard” (IHP 320), and:
Many of us here in Chicago would like to know if Mr. Schilling would like to become the head sports columnist for the Sun-Times rather than a certain idiot that show up on Around the Horn 4–5 time per week (PA 454).
Considering Gary Thorne’s public questioning of Schilling’s athletic performance, his decision to employ a critic strategy is understandable. However, this finding represents a divergence from previous mediated self-presentation research. Specifically, many blog authors seek to ingratiate themselves to audience members, and therefore, refrain from offering critical commentary (Dominick, 1999; Trammell & Keshelashvili, 2005). Yet, despite being criticized by sports journalists for this response (Brewer, 2007a), people overwhelmingly confirmed and validated this strategy, perhaps encouraging Schilling to use this strategy more frequently in the future (Dominick, 1999). While critique was a common self-presentation strategy that appeared in the data, Schilling also used a committed individual strategy to demonstrate loyalty to his teammates, Red Sox fans, and his religion.
Commitment was another self-presentation strategy that Schilling frequently employed in these blog entries. This occurred primarily in two ways: (a) as a loyal teammate, and (b) as a dedicated Christian.
Schilling’s blogging is a frequent target for sports journalists criticisms, and is frequently framed as unpopular with his teammates and Red Sox management (Brewer, 2007b; Cafardo, 2007; LaPointe, 2007), in fact, one reporter has labeled Schilling the “Beantown Blabbermouth” (Madden, 2007, p.64). Thus, it was not surprising that Schilling combated these notions by demonstrating his commitment and loyalty to his teammates. One of the predominant ways this occurred was by Schilling absolving teammate Doug Mirabelli of any wrongdoing in the bloody sock incident. Schilling commented:
Doug is a good friend of mine and I knew the second I saw him that he felt horrible. He didn’t have to. I knew the second I was told what happened that he didn’t say it. I felt horrible for him feeling bad and told him to forget about it. I also knew that being the friends we are, he wouldn’t (IHP).
Schilling then emphatically declared, “Doug never told Gary Thorne anything” (IHP).
Schilling also invoked loyalty as he downplayed his contribution in the Red Sox winning 2004 World Series:
I won’t belittle the night or the event because on a personal and a team level it was an incredible experience. I never took sole credit nor deserved it for us winning that game, or the series. Without Marks [sic] home run or Bronson and Keith doing what they did out of the pen we don’t win that game. Without Derek dealing in game seven, Johnny going deep twice, David’s home run and a host of other people we don’t win the series. What came out of that series from a public perception standpoint was not how we all felt. Was I proud of what we did? Absolutely, but I also never thought for a second that was the sole reason we won (IHP).
However, Schilling also reminded Red Sox fans of the personal risks he took to pitch during the Red Sox World Series run, suggesting he did whatever was necessary to help the team win:
Remember this, the surgery was voluntary. If you have the nuts, or the guts, grab an orthopedic surgeon, have them suture your ankle down to the tissue covering the bone in your ankle joint, then walk around for 4 hours. After that go find a mound, throw a hundred or so pitches, run over, cover first a few times. When you’re done check that ankle and see if it bleeds. It will (IHP).
Along with his demonstrating his athletic commitment, Schilling also emphasized his religious commitment by divulging his strong Christian convictions and emphasizing Christianity’s importance in allowing him to work through his imperfections.
After Schilling criticized Barry Bonds, one of the frequent critiques leveled against him was that his actions did not align with his Christian belief system (Brewer, 2007a; Jones, 2007; Shaughnessy, 2007b; Smallwood, 2007). Schilling responded to these aspersions by affirming how his Christianity influenced his moral character. In discussing his pitching performance in Game 6 of the ALCS, Schilling stated, “I basically said that night was a revelation for me. That my faith in God that evening showed me things I’d never believed” (IHP) and:
What I experienced in NY and again in game two of the world series [sic] was a deeply religious and deeply personal thing. I’ve never been one to hide how I feel and sharing what I went through was not something I had a problem with (IHP).
Yet Schilling also acknowledged his Christianity practice has at times been inconsistent, thereby positioning himself as one who wanders to and fro on the straight and narrow path, and continues to exert effort despite imperfections. For instance, “I’ve forsaken my relationship with the Lord too many times and wasted far too many opportunities to glorify him and what he’s done for me in my life” (IHP). In his blog posting apologizing to Barry Bonds, Schilling stated:
Quite a few people have tossed Biblical references my way in the past week or so after the Thorne incident in Baltimore talking about turning the other cheek and being above the fray. I’ve often thought I do and try to be that way, but it’s very clear in the past two weeks I’ve done the exact opposite (PA).
Additionally, he noted:
The only perfect human being to walk the face of the earth died a few thousand years ago, that much I know. I am far from perfect and make more than my share of mistakes, which is something I have no problem with because that’s part of being human (PA).
People had mixed reactions to Schilling’s committed individual strategy. Some individuals lauded Schilling’s backing of Mirabelli, “I’m glad to hear that you and Mirabelli are friends, and that this incident hasn’t changed that” (IHP 65). Yet others believed Mirabelli shared blame for the bloody sock incident, “Your ‘good friend’ Doug Mirabelli has some culpability in this situation as well” (IHP). Others confirmed Schilling’s commitment to Christianity by declaring, “I also am happy to see you have the courage and profess your faith in God” (PA 334), and “I was not rolling my eyes when you were talking about God in the World Series, I was encouraged, as were hundreds of other Christians” (IHP 435). However, many individuals informed Schilling that his actions were hypocritical and worthy of criticism, “Curt, As [sic] a fellow Christian, be reminded that you will be judged as you judge others” (PA 354), “For a man who claims to be such a big Christian, you certainly have a hard time turning the other cheek” (PA 436), and “If I were a devout Christian, I would be offended at the tactical way in which you use your faith to manipulate the hearts and minds of loyal fans” (PA 442).
Interestingly, Schilling used an activity for which he is roundly criticized to display his commitment and loyalty towards his teammates and Red Sox fans. Schilling could have easily blamed Mirabelli for Thorne’s comments, yet his adamant defense and loyalty demonstrates that his commitment to his teammates is so extreme that he will gladly suffer personal tribulation rather than publicly criticize a teammate. Schilling further evidenced his commitment by displaying that his commitments to the Red Sox goals supersede his personal health and well-being. Thus, his commitment is demonstrated by reinforcing the importance athletes place on loyalty amongst teammates (Park & Kim, 2000; Weiss & Smith, 2002), and sports participation ideology that suggests athletes must play through injuries (Malcolm, 2006; Safai, 2003; Walk, 1997). Moreover, Schilling’s frequent attributions to God for the events that occurred during the 2004 playoffs, coupled with his transgression confessions, evokes images of one who recognizes their shortcomings and diligently works to overcome them. Although blog readers possessed mixed reactions to Schilling’s committed individual self-presentation, Schilling positions himself in contrast with sports journalists’ framing that engages in activity that is unpopular with his teammates. Along with the committed individual strategy, Schilling also used an accountable person strategy, which visibly manifested in the “Public Apology” entry he posted after he was criticized for making derogatory comments about Barry Bonds.
In response to overwhelming criticism from sports journalists for his public castigation of Barry Bonds (Brewer, 2007b; Knott, 2007; Madden, 2007; Shaughnessy, 2007b), Schilling posted a public apology on his blog. Schilling began by declaring his actions were inappropriate:
Regardless of my opinions, thoughts and beliefs on anything Barry Bonds it was absolutely irresponsible and wrong to say what I did. I don’t think it’s within anyone’s right to say the things I said yesterday and affect other people’s lives in that way (PA).
He also discussed that his actions affected diverse groups of people:
However when my mistakes adversely affect other peoples lives, that’s a big deal. It was a callous, reckless and irresponsible thing to say, and for that I apologize to Barry, Barry’s family, Barry’s friends, and the Giants organization, my teammates and the Red Sox organization as well as anyone else who may have been offended by the comments I made (PA).
Another comment added:
The question I was asked and the answer I gave yesterday affected a lot more people that just he and I. His wife, his children, his friends and his family were all affected by that, as were mine and my teammates (PA).
Considering his severe critiques of sports journalists, Schilling also categorized his actions as hypocritical:
As someone who’s [sic] it very clear I have major issues with members of the media that take little or no pride in their work, it’s the height of hypocrisy for me to say what I did, in any forum (PA).
And Schilling also addressed his actions in the context of his religious beliefs:
The only perfect human to walk the face of the earth died a few thousand years ago, that much I know. I am far from perfect and make more than my share of mistakes, which is something I have no problem with because that’s part of being human (PA).
Although Schilling did not downplay his actions, he did acknowledge that the time of the radio interview was not personally conducive:
I’d love to tell you I was ambushed, misquoted, misinterpreted, something other than what it was, but I wasn’t. I’m thinking that waking up at 8:30 am to do the weekly interview we do with WEEI is probably not the greatest format and if you heard the interview it’s not hard to realize that I’m usually awake about 30–45 seconds before it begins. That’s still no excuse or reason to say what I did, or even answer the question that was asked (PA).
People overwhelmingly confirmed Schilling’s accountability self-presentation. Some fans felt his apology was a “class act” (PA 13, 482) and that his accountability earned their respect (PA, 190, 234). Yet others declared that Schilling’s accountability positioned him as a role model, “Young men reading your blog now have an example of how to be responsible for your words and what to do when you mess up” (PA 22). “You manned up and set an example other ought to follow” (PA 279), and “Thank you for rising above the situation to show your professional responsibility. I truly respect that, and hope more people follow your example” (PA 441).
Schilling’s accountable person strategy is interesting, in that the comments he made surfaced during interactions with sports reporters, who he is extremely critical towards. However, rather than blame sports journalists for his actions (e.g. twisting his words, misquoting him), Schilling emphatically accepts responsibility for his actions. Interestingly, Schilling selects a self-presentation strategy that directly counters not only his portrayal by sports journalists, but also demonstrates that he, unlike sports journalists (Gary Thorne in particular) is willing to be accountable for his actions and will accept the consequences that result.
Additionally, Schilling again invokes his Christianity to suggest that although he is willing to take responsibility for the transgressions he has committed, learn from them, and improve his moral character, future missteps will occur. Yet, people overwhelmingly confirmed this strategy, which may reduce stereotypes that Schilling is a “loudmouth,” and also provide Schilling with a guide for future communicative responses when he makes mistakes (Dominick, 1999).
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.