LEGITIMIZING THE CULTURE OF BIG TIME SPORT: RHETORIC AND THE MYTH OF THE STUDENT-ATHLETE
Alt, Rebecca A.
Murray Yang, Michelle
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Legitimizing the Culture of Big-Time Sport: Rhetoric and the Myth of the Student Athlete analyzes and evaluates organizational rhetoric in the context of “big-time” sport, or universities with high-profile, revenue generating [men’s] athletics. I analyze the macro organizational rhetoric of the NCAA, rhetoric at the institutional level (in my project, the University of Maryland), and rhetoric of resistance from two college athlete advocacy organizations. I engage organizational discourse ranging from handbooks, strategic plans, and mission statements to promotional materials, press releases and public addresses. My texts were acquired from archival sources, news sources, and online. I also articulate my analysis in terms of the broader cultural and ideological formations at play, such as corporatized higher education, neoliberalism, and hegemonic masculinity. My purpose is to explore discourse that legitimizes the culture of big-time sport. I argue that the myth of the student-athlete, which hinges on three axiological-ideological topoi – purity, welfare, and excellence – is the primary legitimizing discourse of big-time sport culture – both the good and the bad. This project holds both disciplinary and social significance. Whereas important research has been conducted on sports from mass media or public relations perspectives (i.e., crisis communication during scandal), this dissertation expands the scholarly view to consider the networked and interdependent rhetorical culture of sport and higher education as illuminated through competing organizational discourse. Further, this project is interdisciplinary; it aims to join scholarship in critical/cultural studies disciplines with scholarship in communication. As a result, this project contributes to both the academic and public debates surrounding big-time sport and intervenes with practical recommendations for organizations, leaders, fans, and critics of big-time sport. The issues my dissertation explores are urgent in nature given the issues big-time sport fosters, especially as they implicate the health and well-being of college athletes and the quality of higher education. Aside from shedding light on current issues in big-time sport from a rhetorical perspective, this dissertation makes the following contributions to rhetoric and communication scholarship: First, it explains the ideological and axiological topoi of the myth of the student-athlete; second, it provides an extended critical framework to understand and analyze discourse of and about big-time college sport; and third, it bridges disciplinary and interdisciplinary divides in scholarship to contribute practical interventions for the problems in big-time sport.