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UBC prof asks if sports journalism can promote peace

A University of British Columbia professor hopes research will promote peace journalism in the world of sports writing. Kinesiology professor…

By rvillari , in Sport , on December 31, 2014

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UBC Professor Brian Wilson’s research hopes to unveil a new way of talking–and writing–about sports.

A University of British Columbia professor hopes research will promote peace journalism in the world of sports writing.

Kinesiology professor Brian Wilson is conducting his third major grant-funded research project, this time investigating ways that sports writing could be more helpful in promoting peace through positive representations of sport.

Wilson argues that, in changing the way stories are told about sports, the media can positively influence their readership.

“Our ultimate goal is to speak with journalists about how we, as sociologists of sport, might make a contribution to help foster the growth of peace-promoting journalism, what we’re calling sport journalism for peace, in up-and-coming sport journalists,” said Wilson.

UBC Kinesiology Professor Brian Wilson encounters the sociology of sport (1:30)

Fair and unbiased

Wilson coined the term “sport journalism for peace” after learning about peace journalism on research leave at the United Nations University for Peace in Costa Rica.

Peace journalism encourages fair and unbiased coverage, ethics most journalists strive for but can’t always achieve. However, not all coverage is created equal. Because sport serves as a stage on which race, class, privilege and gender all play, such prejudiced undertones can sometimes be present in sports writing (most of the time subconsciously), and thus these polarizing concepts can sometimes become embedded in society.

“Sport is one cultural space where issues of race, gender, disability—among others—can be analyzed,” said Wilson. “You can see what role it plays in reinforcing problems that may exist outside or the extent to which it might illuminate them, exaggerate them.”

Sociologists study sport to try and understand how it relates to issues in broader society.

“Sport is a major part of culture, and whether people are interested in it or not they are most certainly impacted by it,” said Wilson.

As those responsible for relaying information from the world of sports to the public, the media play a big role in continuing this cycle. Wilson intends to collaborate with sport journalists to explore this influence further.

The language of sports

Media serve as a vehicle that links the public to the players. Kevin Campbell, a sports reporter of the Prince Rupert Northern Review, thinks that journalists are in a unique position with access to both to the exclusive sporting culture and the broader, social culture at large within society.

[pullquote align=right]I personally try to stay away from language that militarizes sport, like using words like ‘battle’ and things of that nature[/pullquote]Campbell understands that the primary function of the media is to bring an event of importance to its readers.

“There’s a surface level to sports that you can watch and take in as a viewer,” he said. “But sports reporters actively try and go beneath it to find stories.”

How they write and what they choose to write about affects the audience, too, and Wilson wants to investigate ways in which positive, peace-promoting effects might be introduced.

But people like Travis Paterson of the Saanich News question whether or not that is possible.

“No time for it,” was his first reaction to peace journalism, although he admitted to empathizing in the motivation behind it.

“I personally try to stay away from language that militarizes sport, like using words like ‘battle’ and things of that nature, and I think a lot of that lies with the reporter’s morals. But, my immediate response is to be scared off. It just doesn’t sound manageable.”

It seems then, that there is a gap between theory and practice.

“I believe in it,” said Paterson. “That’s the main thing. I think it’s just about how you can implement it… if you can make it applicable on a wider scale.”

Innovative methods

Wilson is a realist. He understands that what he is curious about is an ideal and is a complex and rigorous reform to expect journalists to sign on with, and therein lies the challenge: making peace journalism the norm so that reversing prejudiced undertones becomes common practice and not another obstacle for a writer’s game recap to clear.

“I’m not a journalist,” said Wilson. “So my first response is to ask more questions as to why peace journalism may be seen as a daunting practice and to find out more.”

“There are still debates around it and we know not everybody thinks it’s practical,” he said. “We’re still exploring the extent to which it is even useful for people who do sport; we don’t actually know as of right now.”

Entering the second year of his research, Wilson intends to unite theory and practice, interviewing and collaborating with sports journalists to better understand what might constitute a better form of sports writing.

Further, he hopes the two groups can work to develop innovative methods for teaching this new style that bring together sociologists of sport and journalists.