Wenner, Lawrence A. (Ed.). Fallen Sports Heroes, Media, & Celebrity Culture

By Way, Maria | Communication Research Trends, December 2013 | Go to article overview

Wenner, Lawrence A. (Ed.). Fallen Sports Heroes, Media, & Celebrity Culture


Way, Maria, Communication Research Trends


Wenner, Lawrence A. (Ed.). Fallen Sports Heroes, Media, & Celebrity Culture. New York, Washington, DC, Baltimore, Bern, Frankfurt, Berlin, Brussels, Vienna, Oxford: Peter Lang, 2013. Pp. 381. ISBN 9781-4331-1299-7 (cloth) $149.95; 978-1-4331-1298-0 (paper) $39.95.

We are used now to the concept of the fallen celebrity. The media industry seems to delight in building up celebrities only to knock them down again. The minor celebrities, who grace the pages of the celeb-mags are built up by the magazines and other media companies in order to sell products. We are meant to care about the love/sex/social life of somebody who briefly appeared on our tv screens in, for instance, Big Brother or X-Factor, and who may or may not go on to forge some sort of media career. I often read these magazines at the hairdresser's and ask myself: "Who is this person?" This is, perhaps, a sign of age!

The sports celebrity is somewhat different. The sportsperson who reaches the top of his or her trade may have spent much of his/her life working on the talent that God gave him/her. So often we read of those who, like Andy Murray who in 2013 became the first male Briton to win the Wimbledon Mens' Tennis for 70+ years, have honed their game since childhood. Such talent may become evident at a very young age--David Beckham was picked up as an apprentice by Manchester United as a young teenager, for instance. In Beckham's case, his status as an international footballer was heightened by being married to someone who was a member of a top-selling girl group--the Spice Girls--and who has since continued to have a high profile herself. The Beckhams have become a sort of celebrity golden couple, as Rick, Silk, and Andrews (pp. 208-221) show. Beckham has managed to rise above scandal, indeed, and has become what the authors describe as "inoculated" against that scandal by his perceived character--that of a generally all-round good guy.

Why do we expect footballers, cricketers, or rugby players, athletes of various sorts, to be heroes? often such hero worship, it seems to me, is tied up with notions of national pride. Not only do sportspersons represent themselves, not only do they make a lot of money in many cases, but they also are a site of national pride. As Wenner notes, the hero is somebody who, archetypically, is born when "they are thrust into situations for which there can be little preparation" (p. 7), and this is evidently not the case with sportspersons.

There are also sometimes problems relating to notions of masculinity/femininity (see, e.g., Cooky & Dworkin's chapter, pp. 148-162; Butterworth's, pp. 284-297, and Hardin & LaVoi's, pp. 267-283).

This book offers chapters written by a number of scholars with a track record in writing about sport, David Rowe, for instance, and also considers a wide range of sports, from skating to athletics, Rugby Union to cricket. The book is divided into five sections: Framing Fallen Sports Celebrity; Fallen Individual Sports Celebrity; Fallen Team Sports Celebrity; Fallen Sideline Sports Celebrity, and an Afterword.

The first section considers how the media deal with the sports hero as celebrity, athlete, media subject, and actor, and contextualizes case studies through a variety of methodologies. The second section looks at a variety of occasions and events, "offenses" (p. 12) as they are called here, that have caused the fall of sports heroes. Drugs, alcohol, and particularly performance-enhancing drugs, feature largely here. In addition, there are also questions around the ways in which sportspersons have moved on to other areas through using their fame as a stepping stone. In the UK, it seems to be all right to move into commentary as a footballer, Gary Lineker, for instance, or as a tennis player, e.g., Sue Barker; turning to other avenues to make a living may not be so acceptable, e.g., the Olympic ski-jumper Matti Nykanen's career as a singer was reported badly by the media in Finland, despite quite good sales (Markula & Avner, pp. …

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