Professor’s research examines media framing of athlete concussions, mental health

KENNESAW, Ga. | Oct 21, 2020

David Cassilo
David Cassilo

The manner in which journalists tell stories about football players’ concussions and athletes’ mental health plays a pivotal role in how people react and treat such issues, according to Kennesaw State University’s David Cassilo.

Cassilo, assistant professor of communication, defines media framing as the tendency of journalists to include personal bias in their stories, whether it be through the quotes they include, sentence structure and what information is included or excluded from the story.

Cassilo has researched how the media connect football to the American identity by characterizing the ideal American male through the concepts of hegemonic masculinity and the pain principle.

“Within our society, there’s an idealized version of what it means to be a man – being tough, showing no emotion, being willing to sacrifice your body for your profession and living by the mantra ‘no pain, no gain,’” Cassilo said. “In hegemonic masculinity, that view of a male dominates all other views of a male, so other males who may be more emotional are thought of as weaker.”

Recently, more football players have chosen to retire early because of the risks of playing such a high-impact sport. The way the media frame retiring players – either reacting positively to athletes’ concerns or believing the trend will “weaken” American men in the future – has a profound impact on the way Americans view them in terms of masculinity, according to Cassilo.

Cassilo’s research also examines the role media framing has on athlete mental health and their activism regarding social issues. Cassilo’s paper includes LeBron James’ role in shaping perceptions on athlete inclusion in social justice issues, and how media framing allows for athletes to shape public policy and opinions. According to Cassilo, the influence of social media has allowed for athletes to label themselves as activists and get involved in issues.

“Athletes feel safer to express their activism today, and you see the media responding with not just positive framing, but extensive coverage on these issues,” Cassilo said.

To hear more from Cassilo, listen to the “Thought Provoking” podcast featuring research and expertise from KSU’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

– Paul Floeckher

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