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et al.Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly


Race and Gender

Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly

The Wide World of 89(3) 458­–474

© 2012 AEJMC
Reprints and permission:
Sports Reporting: The sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.nav
DOI: 10.1177/1077699012447922
Influence of Gender- http://jmcq.sagepub.com

and Race-Based
Expectations on
Evaluations of
Sports Reporters

Dana Mastro1, Anita Atwell Seate1,

Erin Blecha2, and Monica Gallegos1

The present experiment examined the influence of gender- and race-based norms
associated with different sports on evaluations of newspaper reporters. Insights from
communication accommodation theory framed this investigation, which predicted that
the gender and racial compositions of sports (i.e., female/male sport, predominately
black/white athletes) and the gender/race of the reporter would interact in predicting
evaluations of reporters (with existing gender and racial attitudes as covariates).
Results generally supported these relationships. Female commentators were evaluated
more favorably in the context of women’s sports. A comparable pattern emerged for
race-based evaluations, although these results were somewhat less consistent.

media, sports, race, gender

Sports are not just an American pastime; they are a mainstay of the American lifestyle,
as well as a multi-billion-dollar-a-year industry.1 Each week hundreds of sports com-
petitions, involving more than 5,000 professional,2 and 400,000 collegiate athletes,3
University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA
Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA

Corresponding Author:
Dana Mastro, University of Arizona, Department of Communication, Building 25,Tucson, AZ 85721-0025, USA
Email: mastro@email.arizona.edu

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Mastro et al. 459

occur across the country at the college or professional level. In addition to being aired
on one (or more) of the dozens of television stations committed to sports program-
ming, these events receive abundant coverage in local and national newspapers. Given
this degree of media attention, one might assume that the diversity of the athletes
involved in these sports would be reflected in both the media’s coverage of the events
and in news reporting on these competitions. Instead, research indicates that women
and racial/ethnic groups (in general) are substantially underrepresented in terms of
both coverage and reporting, despite their prominence and prevalence as athletes.4
One potential explanation for this long-standing disparity can be garnered from
research on communication accommodation theory. Although this framework has tra-
ditionally focused on how or why individuals alter their communication patterns when
interacting in interpersonal/intergroup contexts,5 recent research suggests that sports
reporters use accommodation strategies in mediated contexts as well.6 Accordingly, its
assumptions can be applied to lend insights into how audience members interpret and
evaluate sports news/reporters. To this end, the present study experimentally investi-
gates the influence of newspaper reporters’ gender and race on evaluations of their
expertise and appeal in various sporting domains.

Gender and Race in Sports Coverage

Portrayals of women in sports coverage are both qualitatively and quantitatively dif-
ferent from those of their male counterparts. Women constitute a mere 5% of cover-
age on sports commentary shows, despite the fact that they compose 40% of sports
participants.7 In contrast to male sports coverage (with its focus on ability, skill,
strength, and the like), the emphasis in female sports news is on the athlete’s beauty,
agility, grace, and body.8 Moreover, research finds that the language used to charac-
terize women’s sports describes female athletes as childlike, emotional, silly, and
sexual, whereas male athletes tend to be described as courageous and strong.9
Along with gender distinctions, racial disparities also are present in sports cover-
age. Although blacks are no longer underrepresented, Grainger, Newman, and
Andrews advise that increases in the quantity of coverage of blacks in sports are not
to be taken as an indication of equity.10 Rather, bias can be seen in the manner in
which blacks are characterized: often as poor, criminal, and sexually promiscuous.
Furthermore, race-based differences are apparent in the linguistic cues offered by
sports reporters, with black athletes addressed in terms of their physicality, brute
strength, and natural ability, and whites discussed in relation to their intelligence,
ability to read plays, and strong work ethic.11
It has been argued that such incongruities in gender- and race-based media cover-
age stem from a lack of diversity in the media workforce.12 If this is the case, then
pronounced distinctions are likely to continue in the domain of sports news. Fewer
than one-fourth of sports reporters are racial/ethnic minorities.13 For women, the fig-
ures are even more stark; women compose fewer than 6% of sports reporters.

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460 Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 89(3)

These inconsistencies are meaningful in that they underscore the existence of

unambiguous gender and racial boundaries in different societal contexts14—suggest-
ing that although diversity has increased on the field, sports remains the dominion of
white males. In the context of sports reporting, the implication is that a limited bound-
ary of tolerance may exist in terms of audiences’ acceptance of sports reporters them-
selves. Put differently, group memberships (e.g., gender and race/ethnicity) may set
expectations about reporters’ knowledge, ability, appropriateness, and even welcome-
ness in the broader sporting domain. Research rooted in communication accommoda-
tion theory provides insights into this possibility.

Communication Accommodation Theory

Communication accommodation theory (CAT) offers an explanation for how and why
different individuals/groups alter their communication patterns (e.g., verbal, nonver-
bal, and paralanguage) and identity processes (e.g., style, eating patterns) in inter-
group contexts.15 From this perspective, communication is characterized by individual
accommodation style (convergence, divergence, overaccommodation), which is influ-
enced by a variety of contextual and sociohistorical, as well as group-based and per-
sonal identity-based, factors. These accommodation strategies are used to indicate
intergroup attitudes and manage tensions between the need for inclusion and auton-
omy.16 Thus, accommodation can be defined as an adjustment in communication
behaviors to provoke movement toward or away from others.
Convergence (adapting to others’ mode of communication) promotes inclusion,
similarity, and acceptance, often by conforming to the sociohistorical/cultural expec-
tations of social groups.17 Conversely, divergent communication accentuates differ-
ences between interlocutors,18 and is employed to distinguish oneself (or one’s group)
from another, enhance feelings of self-worth, and uphold existing group identity.
Despite possible benefits, divergence can lead to less effective and more psychologi-
cally distressing interactions than convergent communication.19 Overaccommodation
represents the excessive adaptation of one’s communication style to the other’s (or
dominant group’s) standards. Some research indicates that when accommodation is
perceived to be too competent, or overaccommodating, it may be seen as a threat to the
target group’s identity.20 That is to say, people do not like to think that they are being
patronized or that their group’s distinguishing features can be easily reproduced by
These strategies have clear-cut implications in the context of the current study in
that they speak to the potential (un)willingness of audiences to accept sports news
coverage from diverse news reporters and suggest mechanisms to maximize conver-
gence at the point of message production. Given that media producers (reporters, etc.)
are unable to take into account the immediate feedback of audience members, they
create messages “with an idea both of the audience they are speaking to and of what it
wants.”21 As Bell argues, this leads to the deliberate use of audience stereotypes to

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Mastro et al. 461

serve accommodation needs.22 In other words, because there is no ability for commu-
nicators to mutually converge in the mass media environment (i.e., for more tradi-
tional media such as print news), producers, journalists, and the like use accommodation
strategies founded in audience stereotypes (presumably including demographic fea-
tures) to ensure the approval of their audience and minimize the potential for the psy-
chological discomfort associated with divergence. This results in the careful matching
of messages and messengers (e.g., reporters) to the style and composition of the audi-
ence, as well as the prevailing situational norms. Accordingly, not only are news mes-
sages adapted to conform to audience conventions, but the demographic attributes of
the messengers (such as race and gender) are also designed to promote acceptance and
approval, as well as to decrease social distance (in terms of both the context and the
Thus, although traditionally applied to interpersonal/intergroup interactions, CAT
also can provide insights into mediated, intergroup contexts. Indeed, in their research
examining the influence of sports stereotypes on news reporting, Desmarais and Bruce
contend that reporters serve as “cultural intermediaries,” conforming to what is
socially/culturally expected of them by their audiences.23 They maintain that for
sports-related messages to be effective, reporters’ dialogue must be highly convergent
with viewers’ existing expectations. One can assume that the features of group mem-
berships (e.g., gender, race) would also contribute to perceptions regarding conver-
gence. Accordingly, reporters can be seen to “engage in a form of communication
accommodation with their national audience,” reinforcing preestablished norms and
stereotypes even at the expense of accuracy. The present study extends this rationale
by examining how convergence/divergence from group-based expectations in sports
reporting influences audiences’ evaluations of sports reporters/texts.

The Current Study

Specifically, it is argued that the image of the reporter, coupled with the content itself,
provides cues regarding how the reporter and message should be evaluated. Research
in visual framing further substantiates this assertion, revealing that the pictures pro-
vided alongside news texts affect how individuals perceive both the message and the
Accordingly, it seems reasonable to posit that women may be viewed (to a degree)
as outsiders to sports culture, particularly in light of societal emphases on masculinity
in sports,25 and the media’s positioning of sports as an overwhelmingly male domain.26
If, as CAT suggests, stereotype-based expectations affect perceptions, then long-
standing views of women as less natural in the sports domain,27 less knowledgeable
about sports,28 and deficient at analytic reasoning would imply that female reporters
would be regarded as less effective sportscasters/reporters than men,29 particularly in
male-dominated sports. It would follow, then, that female reporters may be viewed as
more competent, reliable, valuable, and likeable when analyzing sporting contexts
typically associated with women and femininity (and less so in traditionally male

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462 Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 89(3)

domains where they violate the broader macro context). In support of this contention,
research indicates that female athletes involved in “traditionally feminine” sports (i.e.,
involving grace, agility) receive more adequate coverage.30
Similarly, it is likely that stereotypes about black athletes, such as greater physical-
ity, power, and natural ability, but lesser sports intellect,31 would come into play in
much the same manner. As such, black sports reporters may be considered less quali-
fied, useful, and dependable and even less enjoyable than their white counterparts,
particularly in sporting contexts dominated by white athletes.
To test these possibilities, the following hypotheses are proposed:
H1a–d: The gender (male/female) and race (white/black) of sports newspaper
reporters will interact with the sport being covered (traditionally male, female, white,
black) in predicting evaluations of the reporter’s (a) expertise, (b) contribution,
(c) character, and (d) likeability, such that more favorable evaluations will be yielded
when the reporter’s race and gender conform to sport-based expectations.
In other words, in the context of sports news coverage of traditionally male sports,
female (vs. male) newspaper reporting will be perceived as deviant from social norms
and hence will be judged as less valuable and trustworthy. Moreover, the female
reporters will be seen as less qualified and more personally objectionable than their
male counterparts. Similarly, black newspaper reporters will be seen as less qualified,
competent, and likeable than their white peers, in the context of traditionally white-
dominated sports because of the perceived divergence from sociohistorical/stereotype-
based expectations. Moreover, white and black women will be limited (in terms of
favorable evaluations) to domains traditionally associated with both their gender and
race. Altogether, then, reporters should be rated favorably when they converge with
stereotypic expectations based on their race and gender within the mores of the sport.

Preliminary Tests

To ensure the appropriateness of the stimuli used in the current study, preliminary
tests were conducted with participants outside the experimental sample.
Reporter photographs (n = 98). The four images selected for use in the present study
included two women (black, white) and two men (black, white). The gender and race
of the individuals depicted in the photographs were correctly identified by all partici-
pants. The photographs were selected to match in terms of key features such as facial
expression, pose, close-up, and size. No significant differences emerged in the ratings
of reporters’ attractiveness, F(3, 94) = 0.20, ns; intelligence, F(3, 94) = 0.96, ns; trust-
worthiness, F(3, 94) = 0.92, ns; or honesty, F(3, 94) = 1.28, ns. However, the black
female was seen as younger than her counterparts, F(3, 94) = 6.91, p < .05.
Sports (n = 56). To assess sociocultural/stereotypic gender- and race-based associa-
tions within different sports, preliminary tests were conducted to determine the extent
to which different sports were seen as (a) more closely associated with males versus

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Mastro et al. 463

females and (b) predominantly populated by athletes from particular racial or ethnic
First, participants were asked to respond to three questions (on a 7-point scale)
probing the extent to which different sports were considered predominantly male,
female, or neutral (played equally by both male and female athletes). The sports
included baseball, basketball, cycling, figure skating, football, golf, gymnastics,
hockey, soccer, swimming, and tennis. Next, they were asked to indicate (on a 7-point
scale) the extent to which these different sports (at the college or professional level)
typically comprised players from different racial/ethnic groups.
Then, based on the quantitative results from these tests, sports were selected that
were rated as nearly exclusively male, female, white, and black. Only sports highly
associated with one gender and one race were examined. This resulted in the selection
of (a) hockey to serve as a predominantly male sport, populated primarily with white
athletes; (b) women’s gymnastics as a female, mostly white sport; (c) football as a
male sport, dominated by black athletes; and (d) WNBA basketball as a female, mostly
black sport.32
Finally, sports rated neutrally in terms of both race and gender were assessed. To
be considered neutral, the sport must be perceived to be comparably populated with
both black and white male and female athletes at the college and professional levels.
Tennis was selected as a neutral sport.
Newspaper excerpts (n = 160). The newspaper excerpts used in the present study
were modified from existing sports news stories from local and national daily papers.
These brief newspaper articles were seventy-seven to seventy-nine words in length.
They varied in terms of the sport being covered (football, hockey, tennis, WNBA bas-
ketball, women’s gymnastics) but were designed to be equivalent along other known
influential features. Because each reporter was paired with his or her own excerpt for
each sport, four comparable excerpts were created for each of the five sports, for a
total of twenty newspaper excerpts. No significant differences emerged in preliminary
tests of the excerpts’ affective tone, F(19, 140) = 1.71, ns; interest, F(19, 140) = 1.53,
ns; informativeness, F(19, 140) = 1.01, ns; or readability, F(19, 140) = 0.88, ns. Fur-
thermore, all participants correctly named the sport addressed in the article.

Participants from a large public university took part in this study (N = 244). On aver-
age, these students were twenty-two years of age, female (57%), and white (84%).

The study was conducted in two ostensibly unrelated sessions. In the first phase, a
questionnaire was used to measure existing gender and racial attitudes. In the second
phase (two to fourteen days after completion of the survey), the experiment was

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464 Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 89(3)

conducted. Participants were randomly assigned to one of the five sports article condi-
tions, with the sports reporter’s race/gender serving as a within-subjects variable.
Hence, participants in each condition were exposed to all reporters analyzing only one
sport/topic. Participants completed the experiment at individual computer work sta-
tions in a lab. Perceptions about the reporter’s credibility, competence, and character
as well as measures of positive/negative affect toward the reporters were gauged.
Finally, they were asked to provide demographic information. All participants were
fully debriefed.

Between-Subjects Variable: Sport

For each of the five sports, a short newspaper segment was provided. Sports included
women’s gymnastics (female, white), WNBA (female, black), hockey (male, white),
football (male, black), and tennis (race/gender neutral). Four excerpts (one for each of
the reporters) accompanied each sport. A counterbalanced design was used, with all
excerpts and photographs randomly assigned.

Within-Subjects Variables
The race/gender of the newspaper reporters was varied using the previously tested
photographs representing the following levels: white female, black female, white
male, and black male. Cognitive and affective evaluations of these sports reporters,
using the same sets of items at each measurement, were assessed. They were rated on
a 7-point scale with higher numbers indicating more favorable judgments. Reliability
analyses for these measures revealed that alphas at all levels were appropriate, ranging
from .72 to .88. Bivariate correlations (Pearson’s r) between measures ranged from
.17 to .45.
Expertise. Three sets of bipolar adjectives were used to determine evaluations of the
reporters’ expertise. They included qualified/unqualified, expert/inexpert, informed/
Contribution. Two pairs of bipolar adjectives (valuable/worthless, useful/useless)
were utilized to measure perceptions of the value of the reporters’ contribution.
Character. To assess views regarding the reporters’ character, the following two sets
of bipolar adjectives were used: honest/dishonest, trustworthy/untrustworthy.
Likeability. Assessments of likeability were measured with the following two bipolar
adjectives: pleasant/unpleasant, awful/nice.

Because social attitudes can affect stereotyping and decision making,33 existing gen-
der and racial attitudes were measured for inclusion as covariates (in a seemingly
separate study, prior to the experiment). These two scales were created based on

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Mastro et al. 465

Table 1. Differences in Mean Expertise Score by Sport and Reporter Race and Gender
White male female Black male Black female
Reporter M SE M SE M SE M SE F(ηp2)
Sport 2.72 (.04)*
  White male (hockey) 3.23 (0.19)a 2.46 (0.15)b 2.68 (0.17)b 2.32 (0.15)b  
  White female (women’s 2.36 (0.18)ac 2.70 (0.19)a 1.93 (0.15)b 2.10 (0.15)bc  
  Black male (football) 3.32 (0.19)a 2.48 (0.15)b 2.88 (0.17)a 2.43 (0.15)b  
  Black female (WNBA) 2.75 (0.14)a 2.77 (0.14)a 2.75 (0.17)a 2.89 (0.18)a  
  Neutral (tennis) 3.04 (0.18)a 2.89 (0.14)a 2.54 (0.14)b 2.58 (0.17)ab  
Means in the same row with no common superscript differ at p < .05 using Bonferroni tests.
*p < .05.

modified items from several race and gender discrimination and prejudice measures.34
Items were scored on a 5-point scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree (higher
numbers reflect greater perceived discrimination/prejudice).
Gender-based attitudes (α = .73, M = 2.53, SD = 0.74). Five items composed this
measure, for example, “Discrimination against women is no longer a problem in the
United States.”
Racial attitudes (α = .85, M = 2.82, SD = 0.81). This measure included five items, for
example, “On average, people in our society treat blacks and whites equally.”

Testing Model Assumptions

Because the independent variables in the current study include both within- (race/
gender) and between-subjects (sport) categorical variables in addition to two continu-
ous covariates (gender and racial attitudes), mixed-model analysis of covariance was
deemed the appropriate method to test the hypothesized relationships. Results from
Mauchly’s test indicated that the assumption of sphericity was not satisfied for the
within-subjects factor. Hence, all mixed-model analysis of covariance results are
reported with Greenhouse–Geisser correction. To interpret the significant interac-
tions, Bonferroni comparisons were used for the combinations of the repeated-
measure and the between-subjects factors, as this correction controls for familywise
error rate, providing a rigorous test of the relationships under investigation. Tables 1–4
contain all means, standard errors, and a priori post hoc comparisons for expertise,
contribution, character, and likeability.

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466 Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 89(3)

Table 2. Differences in Mean Contribution Scores by Sport and Reporter Race and Gender
White male female Black male Black female
Reporter M SE M SE M SE M SE F(ηp2)
Sport 3.94 (.06)**
  White male (hockey) 3.19 (0.22)a 2.45 (0.19)b 2.44 (0.15)b 2.17 (0.15)b  
  White female 2.87 (0.15)a 3.66 (0.22)b 2.41 (0.15)c 2.55 (0.18)ac  
(women’s gymnastics)
  Black male (football) 3.97 (0.23)a 2.31 (0.16)b 2.83 (0.20)c 2.24 (0.16)b  
  Black female (WNBA) 3.12 (0.18)b 3.08 (0.15)b 2.54 (0.14)a 3.35 (0.21)b  
  Neutral (tennis) 3.08 (0.22)a 2.85 (0.19)a 2.24 (0.15)b 2.26 (0.15)b  
Means in the same row with no common superscript differ at p < .05 using Bonferroni tests.
**p < .01.

Table 3. Differences in Mean Character Score by Sport and Reporter Race and Gender
White male female Black male Black female
Reporter M SE M SE M SE M SE F(ηp2)
Sport 4.66 (.07)**
  White male (hockey) 3.09 (0.17)a 2.41 (0.14)b 2.31 (0.16)b 2.19 (0.15)b  
  White female (women’s 3.23 (0.14)ab 3.46 (0.15)a 3.11 (0.14)b 2.96 (0.16)b  
  Black male (football) 2.97 (0.17)a 2.48 (0.14)b 2.79 (0.16)a 2.35 (0.15)b  
  Black female (WNBA) 3.10 (0.16)a 2.66 (0.15)b 2.78 (0.14)ab 2.90 (0.16)ab  
  Neutral (tennis) 2.78 (0.17)a 2.71 (0.18)a 2.13 (0.16)b 2.51 (0.15)a  
Means in the same row with no common superscript differ at p < .05 using Bonferroni tests.
**p <. 01.

Hypothesis Testing
H1a: Expertise. H1a posited that the race/gender of the reporter and the sport being
covered would interact in predicting evaluations of the reporter’s expertise. The inter-
action between the repeated-measures factor of expertise and the between-subjects
condition of sport was significant, F(10.32, 611.37) = 2.72, p = .01, ηp2 = .04
(see Table 1). Thus, evaluations of expertise differed depending on the race/gender of
the newspaper reporter and the sport being addressed. As expected, when the sport
being covered was hockey (white, male sport), the white male reporter was judged to

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Mastro et al. 467

Table 4. Differences in Mean Likeability Score by Sport and Reporter Race and Gender
White male female Black male Black female
Reporter M SE M SE M SE M SE F(ηp2)
Sport 4.17 (.07)**
  White male (hockey) 5.83 (0.14)a 5.20 (0.18)b 5.17 (0.14)b 4.73 (0.19)b  
  White female (women’s 5.14 (0.14)a 5.22 (0.14)a 3.82 (0.19)b 4.59 (0.18)c  
  Black male (football) 5.58 (0.13)a 4.73 (0.17)b 5.30 (0.13)a 4.14 (0.18)b  
  Black female (WNBA) 5.21 (0.14)ab 5.16 (0.19)ab 4.95 (0.18)a 5.51 (0.13)b  
  Neutral (tennis) 5.98 (0.14)a 5.75 (0.19)ab 5.09 (0.20)c 5.56 (0.15)bc  
Means in the same row with no common superscript differ at p < .05 using Bonferroni tests.
**p < .01.

be higher in expertise than any of his counterparts. Somewhat consistent with expecta-
tions, when the sport being covered was football (black, male sport), the male report-
ers were seen as significantly higher in expertise than their female counterparts. The
men were seen as comparable on expertise.
With regard to the female sports, when the sport being covered was women’s gym-
nastics (white, female sport), the white female reporter was rated significantly higher
in expertise than both her black counterparts, but not the white male reporter. The
white male reporter also was deemed significantly more expert than the black male
reporter. When the sport was the WNBA (black, female sport), no statistically signifi-
cant differences emerged based on the race/gender of the reporter.
When the sport was tennis (neutral sport), both the white male and female reporters
were seen as higher in expertise than the black male reporter, but not the black female.
No other statistically significant differences emerged.
H1b: Contribution. H1b proposed that the race/gender of the reporter and the sport
being covered would interact in predicting judgments regarding the value of the
reporter’s contribution. The interaction between the repeated-measures factor of
reporters’ contribution and the between-subjects sport variable was significant,
F(8.52, 504.76) = 3.94, p < .01, ηp2 = .06 (see Table 2). In the hockey condition, the
white male reporter’s contributions were deemed significantly more valuable than any
of his counterparts. When the sport was football, the male reporters’ excerpts were
rated more valuable than those from the female reporters. In addition, the white male
reporter’s contribution was seen as more valuable than that of the black male reporter.
When the sport being covered was women’s gymnastics, the white female report-
er’s contribution was rated more valuable than all of her counterparts. In addition, the
white male reporter’s excerpt was rated more useful than that of the black male. When
the sport was the WNBA, the black male reporter’s contribution was rated less valu-
able than those of all of his peers.

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468 Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 89(3)

When the sport was tennis, the contributions of the white reporters were seen as
more valuable than those of the black female and the black male. No other significant
differences emerged.
H1c: Character. H1c posited that the race/gender of the reporter and the sport being
covered would interact in predicting judgments regarding the reporter’s character. A
significant interaction emerged between the repeated-measures factor of character and
the between-subjects factor of sport, F(8.73, 517.46) = 4.66, p < .01, ηp2 = .07 (see
Table 3). When the sport being covered was football, the male reporters were rated
significantly more favorably than the female reporters. When the sport was hockey,
the white male newspaper reporter was rated significantly higher in character than all
others. No other differences were revealed.
When the sport was women’s gymnastics, the white female reporter was more
favorably rated on character than the black reporters, but not the white male. When the
sport was the WNBA, the white male reporter was evaluated more positively than the
white female. No other significant differences emerged.
When the sport being addressed was tennis, the black male reporter was rated less
favorably than all of his peers. No other significant differences were revealed.
H1d: Likeability. H1d proposed that the race/gender of the reporter and the sport
being covered would interact in predicting likeability of the reporter. The interaction
between the repeated-measures factor of likeability and the between-subjects condi-
tion of sport was found to be significant, F(9.25, 548.32) = 4.17, p < .01, ηp2 = .07 (see
Table 4). As expected, when the sport was hockey, the white male reporter was rated
more likeable than all others. When the sport being covered was football, the male
reporters were seen as more likeable than either of the female reporters.
When women’s gymnastics was the sport being covered, both white reporters were
seen as more likeable than either black reporter. In addition, the black female reporter
was rated more likeable than the black male reporter. No other differences emerged.
When exposed to coverage of the WNBA, the only impact on likeability was the
greater likeability of the black female reporter compared to the black male reporter.
Finally, when the sport being covered was tennis, the white male reporter was
deemed more likeable then either the black male or black female reporter. The white
female reporter also was rated more likeable than the black male reporter. No other
significant differences emerged.

The current study examined experimentally the influence of sports reporters’ gender
and race (across a variety of sports) on perceptions of expertise, contribution, charac-
ter, and likeability. Although not to be overstated, findings indicate that norms/stereotypes
about gender, race, and sports can influence perceptions of news reporters (as well as
the value of the information they provide), in a manner consistent with CAT.
Sports seen as characteristically white provided clear-cut support for the gender
and race predictions put forth by CAT. Specifically, a white male reporter was rated

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Mastro et al. 469

more favorably in terms of expertise and character, seen as making a stronger contri-
bution, and deemed more likeable compared with his counterparts when the sport was
thought to be a typically white, male sport (i.e., hockey). In terms of white, female-
dominated sports (i.e., women’s gymnastics), the contribution of a white female
reporter was regarded to be more valuable than that of her peers. It should be noted,
however, that white reporters (males in particular) were judged highly favorably on a
consistent basis.
Although findings for football (a black, male sport) and the WNBA (a black, female
sport) supported gender-based expectations rooted in CAT, race-based predictions
were only partially corroborated. In terms of football, male reporters were seen as
more likeable and possessing greater expertise, and were rated more favorably in
terms of character than their female counterparts. Similarly, the black female reporter
was rated as more likeable than the black male reporter when the sport was the WNBA.
On the other hand, the contribution of the white male reporter was rated more posi-
tively than all others when the sport was football—raising questions about the influ-
ence of sociohistorical context on this mediated environment.
Content-analytic evidence speaks to this issue by providing insights into these
somewhat antithetical findings. When it comes to football, research indicates that
although blacks compose the largest portion of professional athletes, whites dominate
what are considered to be “high-profile” positions in the sport, such as quarterback.35
Moreover, white quarterbacks are characterized as more intelligent and hardworking
than their black counterparts.36 Such descriptors have important implications for per-
ceptions of these figures both on and off the field, possibly including subsequent roles
in sports reporting. Furthermore, research by McDonald suggests that although the
WNBA is predominately populated by black females, it is marketed to “idealize”
white players.37 When coupled with the fact that white males are the most prevalent
group in the media workforce (including sports), it seems reasonable to suggest that
they would come to be seen as the norm.38
This overarching pattern privileging whites has the potential to influence group
norms/stereotypes, which in turn would affect expectations associated with communi-
cators as described by CAT. Accordingly, audience members’ overall perceptions of
the reporters can be understood, in part, as a function of convergence (or lack thereof).
This interpretation not only squares with the white-favoring responses revealed in the
present study, but also reconciles these data with results from studies in different
domains that reveal a tendency for audiences to prefer (and favorably evaluate) media
figures/celebrities who validate self-concept and accommodate social norms.39
It should also be noted that although tennis was deemed a neutral sport, white
reporters were, again, generally rated more favorably than their black peers. It is con-
ceivable that while there are highly successful male and female black tennis players
(e.g., Serena and Venus Williams, James Blake), these players may be seen as excep-
tions, with their success not generalizing to their social group as a whole. This inter-
pretation is consistent with literature on intergroup contact and self-categorization,

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470 Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 89(3)

which suggests that when individuals are not seen as prototypical of the group, their
positive traits do not transfer beyond the individual to the larger category.40

Theoretical and Practical Implications

The results from the current study extend CAT in several theoretically important
ways. First, they suggest that even in the case of sports news, sociohistorical back-
ground and context appear to play a meaningful role in the evaluation of communica-
tors and messages. Although not universally, these data suggest that the race and
gender of the reporter, together with the sport being covered, influence evaluations of
both the reporters themselves, as well as the information they provide. As such, these
results build on previous research (which indicates that reporters use accommodation
strategies in sports coverage) by demonstrating that some degree of group-based con-
vergence is also critical to successful message delivery. Indeed, conformity to or
deviation from stereotype-based expectations for the sport appears to affect percep-
tions of both the reporter’s expertise and the appeal of the message.
More broadly, these findings provide further evidence that CAT assertions have
important implications for mediated communication. CAT research has traditionally
examined how the convergence and divergence of interpersonal messages influence per-
ceptions of the communicator in intergroup contexts; more recent evidence, however,
suggests that reporters also use these linguistic strategies to meet the sociohistorical/
cultural expectations of their audiences.41 The current work extends this line of reason-
ing by demonstrating that audiences respond to reporters based on these same
accommodational expectancies. In other words, these findings suggest that mediated
accommodation, in the form of racial and gendered expectations, can affect message
interpretation, communicator impression formation, and even perceptions of source
credibility. As such, this work provides evidence that the principles found in CAT can
help to illuminate our understanding of the relationship between news reporters/
messages and audiences for news.
Last, the results offered here provide tentative support for the accommodation-as-
threat aspect of CAT, which suggests that when accommodation is seen as too compe-
tent, it can be viewed as a threat to group identity.42 In the present context, this can be
seen in the results from the WNBA and the tennis conditions, in which the white male
reporter (and in the case of tennis, the white female reporter as well) was generally rated
more favorably than the black reporters. From the accommodation-as-threat perspective,
it is possible that the dominance of black athletes in sports that had traditionally been
populated by white athletes provoked a threat to white identity, which skewed judgments
toward an anachronous standard. If this is the case, the suggestion is not altogether posi-
tive when it comes to increasing diversity in sports news reporting. Of course, this asser-
tion is not to be overstated, as it is clear that women and diverse groups are gradually
making headway in the world of sports and sports reporting. Clearly, greater scrutiny of
this issue will be required before more definitive conclusions can be made.

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Mastro et al. 471

Limitations and Directions for Future Research

Future research should examine whether the findings from the current study remain
consistent when including well-known, recognized sports reporters. In this investiga-
tion, the reporters were unknown individuals selected for their comparability on key
features. In reality, sports reporters are often established personalities, known for their
particular expertise and knowledge (e.g., Erin Andrews, female ESPN reporter cover-
ing football, hockey, baseball, and basketball) or because they were successful players
in the sport (e.g., Charles Barkley covering basketball). A follow-up study of this kind
would yield more generalizable results. Moreover, the current study examined the
issue of accommodation in print news, yet sports news and commentary on television
are also extremely popular. Importantly, television provides visuals beyond the
reporter and displays nonverbal patterns of accommodation that may play a role in
evaluating a broadcaster’s likeability, expertise, contribution, and character. Continued
research would benefit from examining whether linguistic convergence and diver-
gence with stereotype-based expectations are more or less pronounced in this setting.
Finally, it is critical for ongoing work in this area to explore these CAT-based
assumptions across a broader range of racial and ethnic groups. To this point, in Major
League Baseball, Latino Americans make up 27% of players (with Latinos also com-
posing a bulk of the 27.7% of international players).43 Yet Latinos compose a mere
4.3% of all print news reporters,44 and 5.8% of the television news workforce.45
Certainly, the extent to which issues of communication accommodation are present in
this context warrants consideration.

Declaration of Conflicting Interests

The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship,
and/or publication of this article.

The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of
this article.

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