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Tuesday, July 12 • 10:31 - 12:00
Defining Courage: Examining Social Media & Traditional Media Response to Caitlyn Jenner’s ESPY Award

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Location: PSH (Professor Stuart Hall Building) - 326, 
Goldsmiths, University of London, Building 2
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  • Ann Pegoraro, Laurentian University, Canada
  • Marion Hambrick, University of Louisville, United States

On March 15, 2015, Bruce Jenner completed a “facial-feminization surgery,” one of the last steps in the gender transition to Caitlyn Jenner (Bissinger, 2015). Prior to this transition, Jenner was arguably most famous for winning a gold medal for decathlon during the 1976 Summer Olympic Games and appearing with his family on the reality television show, Keeping Up with the Kardashians (Bissinger, 2015). Post-transition publicity included an exclusive interview conducted by Diane Sawyer for ABC’s 20/20, a Vanity Fair cover story, and a new reality television show, I Am Cait. Accompanying this media blitz, Jenner received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award during the ESPY Awards on ESPN (Bissinger, 2015). The award celebrates “individuals whose contributions transcend sports through courageous action,” and previous recipients include Muhammad Ali and Billie Jean King (Braxton, 2015). 


This research focused specifically on the traditional media and social media coverage occurring during and in response to Jenner’s receipt of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 2015 ESPY Awards. The current study sought to analyze the top-down framing (Goffman, 1974) and bottom-up framing (Nisbett, 2010) processes in more detail. 


Framing allows media producers and consumers to present and better understand news events, respectively (Goffman, 1974). Pegoraro, Burch, Frederick, and Vincent (2014) noted the shift in news coverage, from news stories created and distributed solely by traditional and official media outlets to news produced and disseminated by individuals. In order to address the research purpose and questions, this study compared newspaper coverage of the ESPY Awards (Top-down framing) to social media comments (Bottom-up Framing) made on the Facebook pages of media outlets. To gather the top-down data, a LEXIS-NEXIS news search was conducted for news stories containing the following terms: “Caitlyn Jenner,” “ESPYs,” and “ESPY Awards.” Stories published within a 24-hour period during and after the event took place were collected, and their publication dates ranged from July 15, 2015 to July 16, 2015. A total of 700 stories were collected during this time period. The bottom-up sample was collected from the Facebook page of ESPN and its parent company ABC. Comments were gathered on the articles posted to that page as well as any comments posted directly to the pages that pertained to Jenner. This resulted in 26,221 comments for the sample. The researchers then utilized Leximancer, qualitative software to identify themes in both data sets. Then the researchers immersed themselves in the data to produce the final frames emerging from the data. 


Preliminary results indicate four themes emerged from the traditional media news stories and comments made on the ABC and ESPN Facebook pages: (a) transgender conversation; (b) what constitutes courage; (c) ESPN and the ESPY Awards; and (d) Jenner’s personal life. Differences emerged in framing patterns between the two groups. Media outlets adopted a primarily positive stance in regards to Jenner, including her receipt of the award and her ability to use this platform to seek awareness and acceptance for transgender individuals. Direct quotes from Jenner were frequently included in these stories, giving a voice to Jenner and the transgender conversation. Conversely, SM users engaged in more negative conversations—against Jenner as a transgender individual and her receipt of the award, her perceived need for publicity and attention, the transgender movement and acceptance, and the ESPY Awards and ESPN’s publicity-seeking intentions. These individuals used Facebook comments to counter the more positive frames put forth by traditional media outlets, and instead favoured their personal negative frames and those espoused by likeminded individuals. 


Bissinger, B. (2015, June 30). Caitlyn Jenner: The full story. Vanity Fair. Retrieved from 
Goffman, E. (1974). Frame analysis: An essay on the organization of experience. New York: Harper & Row. 
Nisbet, M. (2010). Knowledge into action: Framing the debates over climate change and poverty. In Paul D’Angelo & Jim Kuypers (Eds.), Doing frame analysis: Empirical and theoretical perspectives (pp. 43-83). New York, NY: Routledge. 
Pegoraro, A., Burch, L. M., Frederick, E., & Vincent, C. (2014). I am not loving it: Examining the hijacking of #CheersToSochi. International Journal of Sport Management and Marketing, 15, 163-183.  

Tuesday July 12, 2016 10:31 - 12:00 UTC
PSH (Professor Stuart Hall Building) - 326 Goldsmiths University, Building 2