Analysis of Sport for Development in Mainstream Sports Media

Sport is a universal tool with the power to develop individuals and communities by teaching lessons of teamwork, discipline, dedication and achievement. These skills aid in empowering individuals and communities to overcome challenges and obstacles. Sport for development is a segment of the sports industry, which uses sport as a vehicle to drive positive social change.

Upon research of mainstream sports media outlets in the United States, and coverage of sport for development related stories, it is clear there is room for growth. The sport for development field is quickly growing and one of the essential resources to continue this growth is our mainstream sports media. This includes media outlets such as ESPN, Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The New York Times among others. The following is an analysis of our research gathered examining coverage in the United States of sport for development.

Currently, in the sport for development field, there are resources dedicated to networking and informing practitioners on progress being made within this industry. These resources offer news in the form of articles and press releases in order to spread awareness. An example of this is Sport and Dev, the international platform on sport and development, and its website sportanddev.org. Sport and Dev articles and press releases are posted regularly on the organizations website. The content of the material ranges from discussion on why sport is an effective tool for developing our communities to success stories from non-profit organizations in the field.

An example of a story being posted on sportanddev.org is this article; Top football stars play in match to promote peace in Africa written by Tom Browne. In this article Browne’s focus was on a charity game, which was organized to promote peace in Africa through the sport of football (soccer). The match was played in Ghana and was a part of Ghana international’s commitment to raising awareness of peace on the continent. The match featured players from the world’s top teams such as Michael Essien from Chelsea FC.

The articles and press releases, found through our research, were not from mainstream U.S. sports media outlets, but were only found on sport for development specific websites. This limits the reach of sport for development media coverage is due to the difficulty for the reader to access the stories. Unless one is currently involved in the sport for development field and accesses the Sport and Dev website regularly he/she is not likely to come across stories about the sport for development sector. Although the Sport and Dev platform is a tremendous resource to students, experts and practitioners in the field, our goal should be to bring awareness to those who are currently lacking knowledge of sport for development.

Through our research we did discover some sport for development related stories making their way to mainstream sports media outlets. These stories were focused primarily on professional athletes and their involvement in community service.

An article written by Ramona Shelburne; NBA All-Stars show caring side, also retrieved from ESPN.com shows a great example of making people aware of the work being done by athletes to improve communities. This story covered a day in which Carmello Anthony, Kevin Durant, Chris Bosh and a host of other NBA All-Stars served at the NBA Cares Day of Service Project. Rather than discuss the current issues and trends in the NBA, Shelburne focused on the athletes pitching in to paint a multipurpose room at a senior center, plant a community garden and even do landscaping for a family in the community.

Although they are often the most visible, it is not simply professional athletes who are making newsworthy stories by helping others through sport. The growing field of sport for development consists of individuals who are working everyday to create sustainable programs and initiatives using sport to drive positive social change. For example, Street Soccer USA, a non-profit organization who helps to connect our homeless youth to jobs, housing and education through the sport of soccer. The 20+ city league has its participants set 3, 6 and 12-month goals on and off of the field to help them improve their situation and become functioning members of society. Julie Bosman of The New York Times did a cover story; Homeless Soccer Team Roots for New Life, on the Street Soccer New York team and the annual Street Soccer USA Cup held each summer. Having stories of sport for development make it to heights such as the cover page of The New York Times and beyond is what we need to see more of in order to make people aware of the power sport has to develop individuals and communities.

Through this research it has become clear that in order to bring more awareness to work being done in the sport for development field we need more coverage in our mainstream sports media. As is shown in this analysis, there are stories out there, both locally and internationally, which capture the effect sport has on society. The focus of our movement towards creating awareness should be enlightening the average sports fan to the other side of sports, sport for development. It is key to put out stories, which will be more appealing to the average fan as a way to offer a new perspective on sports.

by Eric Payne, Eli Wolff and Mark Pomerleau