Sport Stars: The Cultural Politics of Sporting Celebrity

By Slater, John | Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview

Sport Stars: The Cultural Politics of Sporting Celebrity


Slater, John, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly


Sport Stars: The Cultural Politics of Sporting Celebrity. David L. Andrews and Steven J. Jackson, eds. London: Routledge, 2001.280 pp. $75 hbk. $22.95 pbk.

What do Michael Jordan, Dennis Rodman, Andre Agassi, Tiger Woods, Venus Williams, Ian Wright, Paul "Gazza" Gascoigne, David Beckham, Diego Maradona, Wayne Gretzky, Hideo Nomo, Martina Hingis, Nyandika Maiyoro and Kipchoge Keino, Imran Khan, Brian Lara, and Cathy Freeman have in common? They are all athletes, they are all sport stars, and they are the subjects of the sixteen chapters in this excellent collection of case studies.

Given the ubiquity of sporting celebrity worldwide, it was inevitable that someone would come out with a volume like this one. It is our good fortune that Andrews and Jackson answered the call, for they have taken advantage of their academic connections to amass a collection of unusually strong essays from contributors around the globe. Andrews, associate professor of sport and cultural studies at the University of Maryland at College Park and a senior visiting research fellow at De Montfort University, Bedford, United Kingdom, is an associate editor of the Journal of Sport and Social Issues. Jackson, senior lecturer in sport and leisure studies at the University of Otago, New Zealand, serves on the editorial board of Sociology of Sport.

In a comprehensive introduction to the volume, they elaborate a view of celebrity that draws on the work of P. David Marshall, Leo Brandy, and Daniel Boorstin. The anthology, they state, "is underpinned by the notion of the sport celebrity as a product of commercial culture, imbued with symbolic values, which seek to stimulate desire and identification among the consuming populace." Celebrity is broadly defined as comprising various forms of public individuality within popular culture. The role of the mass media is, in Braudy's phrase, to act as the "arbiters of celebrity."

The mass media feature prominently throughout the book, beginning with the first newspaper sports section in William Randolph Hearst's the New York Journal in 1895. That innovation and its imitators are credited with providing a mechanism "for the transformation of notable athletes into nationally celebrated figures," while at the same time increasing newspaper circulation.

But it is television, of course, that draws the most attention. The relationship between sport and television is seen as "ever more collusive," and the editors, at least, seem to accept Charles P. Pierce's 1995 pronouncement that sport has become "basically media-driven celebrity entertainment."

We've come a long way since Babe Ruth. Or maybe not, since the editors identify him as the "prototypical sport celebrity endorser," someone who served as spokesperson for a myriad of commercial entities. …

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