An introduction to the history of Sport Media Ecology and the influence this had on the sport of Golf

Before we can analyse the past media ecology within golf, we first must understand what is media ecology? The term was first proposed by Marshall McLuhan in 1964, with Postman affirming that media ecology is “the study of media as environments”. These ‘environments’ have the ability to affect and influence the people who use them. More recently, McLuhan (buy here) contextualised this by stating that television “has changed our sense-lives and our mental processes’’. Media ecology is also a prevalent feature within the realm of sport, a consequence of professional sport and the mass media’s symbiotic relationship which has grown at unparalleled levels through the phases of globalisation in the last 100 years. Mass media at this time was predominantly one way communication, containing standardised messages to undifferentiated mass.

The history of sport has been to a large extent, both dominated and documented by the mass media. The first prominent form of mass media that attached itself to sport can be dated back to the 1700’s in the form of print media, with local Newspapers covering sports contests in the United States of America (USA). As sport continued to develop and diffuse across the continents, so too did competition between publishers for readership. Consequently, sport as a whole began to gain more space within print and news departments (see here). In an attempt to grow the readership of their papers, journalists began to battle for ‘scoops’, these ‘scoops’ were often exclusive stories about athletes and clubs in order to gain an advantage over their competitors.

As professional sport and mass media’s relationship continued to blossom over the years to come, this strategic alliance resulted in each others meteoric rise to success and growth. This rise to prominence has grown exponentially in more recent years, exemplified by the global sport market now being valued at $471 billion as of 2018. Research that delved into the relationship between print media and sport was historically divided into three categories. Those being: studies of content, studies of who produce the content; studies of those who views the content. Sport has historically been considered a male domain and to this day is largely male dominated. Between 1954 and 1987, 90.8% of Sports Illustrated articles were on men’s sports with 91.8% of these being written by men, the disparity between genders being clear for all to see.

Ben Hogan at the 1950 U.S. Open

One sport that was particularly gender biased in relation to their historic media ecology was the sport of golf, with the game being described as “elitist, racist and sexist”. Women’s subordinate position within the sport was only perpetuated within golf’s media at the time, which replicated similar exclusionary practices that were found within the game itself. Studies on golf magazines (see here) revealed that women were underrepresented, deemed to be inferior athletes in comparison the their male counterparts, and mere spectators within the domain of golf. The print media’s representation of women in the sport only aided in the promotion of hegemonic masculinity within the already male dominated sport. It will be interesting to compare if any similar practices are found within present media ecology, or if any changes have been implemented as a result of a change in society; if new emerging mediums have had an influence on the type of content and who produces it in the modern world.

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