October 6, 2004

Prof: Sports talk radio not a homophobia hotbed

It sounds like a great gig – listening to the radio and hanging out in sports bars, all in the name of academia – and David Nylund admits it was. But the social work professor says what he learned from the likes of sports talk radio personality Jim Rome and his listeners reveals volumes about American men, turning some of his preconceptions upside-down.

Rather than being an anonymous outlet where homophobic or racist remarks are tolerated, Nylund found talk radio was more of a society. “It’s a community where men can discuss issues that relate to gender and sexuality in meaningful ways,” he says.

Nylund’s findings appeared in the May issue of the Journal of Sport and Social Issues and will be submitted as a book proposal. His project was funded by GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

At times, Nylund says, sports radio even functions as a support group, such as in the spring when the Sacramento Kings again failed in the playoffs. “Sports talk radio served as ‘therapy’ for grieving Kings fans. All day long on both national and local shows, callers from Sacramento, men and women, called to express their pain and frustration.”

For the bulk of his study, Nylund used “The Jim Rome Show” because it’s the most popular sports radio talk show in the country. “Rome is known for his strong approach, opinions and speech. He became widely known for an incident where he ‘feminized’ NFL quarterback Jim Everett by calling him ‘Chrissie,” Nylund says, a reference to female tennis player Chris Evert that was Rome’s way of criticizing him for not “being a man” and staying in the pocket.

But in studying transcripts of several months of Rome’s show, Nylund says, “I found him to be rather progressive on some issues. He won’t tolerate racism. He supports gay male athletes and had them as guests on the show.” Nylund says Rome’s seemingly contradictory traits are a metaphor for a contemporary man in his 30s—metrosexual, post-civil rights male intersecting with the hedonistic, “Coors Light ad” male. And he has more potential to influence then a scholar or professor.

Nyland notes that in many ways topics with sports ties—the Kobe Bryant case, women at Augusta National Country Club—bring up greater issues such as race and gender. There are even parallels to the global economy. High-priced players and greedy owners are viewed like CEOs, Nylund says. Teams uprooting and moving to other cities are like outsourcing. “It’s the only area in mainstream media where you see criticism of current economic trends.

“Men historically have had spaces where they can bond and connect, particularly when they are feeling upset. That space is dissipating in current culture, as men move to the suburbs,” he says. “Their solace is in sports talk radio. It’s a mediated version of the old spaces.”

In addition to listening to the Rome program, Nylund met with other listeners in sports bars throughout the area and all over the country. “Sports bars are an extension of sports talk. They bond with other men through imagined community,” he says.

Nylund also sees a place for sports talk in his practice. Though he ran into resistance from traditionalists who felt this sort of a topic wasn’t worthy of study, he says, “Popular culture shapes opinion in people’s lives and sports radio fits in with that. Our clients hear about gender through talk radio.” Nylund’s next book will be on how to use pop culture in therapy.


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