Friday, April 5, 2013

(Non)Image Repair at Rutgers: Shifting Blame from Rice to Pernetti to Bureaucracy

News seemingly broke on Tuesday's "Outside the Lines" that Rutgers University men's basketball coach Mike Rice verbally and physically abused players during his 3 seasons as coach. Even though the report wasn't new, Rice's indiscretions were covered by The Star-Ledger back in Dec. 2012, what changed? Well, the difference is the national audience of ESPN programming and video evidence of Rice's inappropriate behavior. In the wake of this report, three individuals are out at Rutgers (head coach, assistant coach, and the athletic director), but the image repair attempted by these firings and resignations has not stemmed the time of controversy at the University. Instead, the bolstering that are a part of these decisions function to continue questions about the climate of governance at RU.

In December 2012, Pernetti highlighted that corrective action was being taken in an attempt to separate Rice's actions from the wider athletic culture at Rutgers which encourages coaches to "act and lead in a responsible manner." In suspending Rice, Pernetti is attempting to bolster the image of Rutgers athletics and connect the suspension to a positive aspect of the culture at RU -- a place where individuals are given a second chance and where abusive behavior is not accepted. Pernetti also attempted to transcend the situation in stating, "This was not an easy decision for me to make but absolutely necessary to ensure what is best for our program." In making a decision with the interests of the entire program in mind, Pernetti aimed to transcend the situation by getting individuals to view his decision to suspend as a positive. Without much media attention, Pernetti's announcement framed the University positively and the controversy seemingly went away.

Pernetti's decision in December, though, came under fire when "Outside the Lines" aired a report on Rice's behavior. With the airing, Pernetti's previous work to repair the image of the basketball program and athletics department is undermined and questioned by the national media. Thus Rutgers University, particularly Tim Pernetti and President Robert Barchi, had a growing crisis on their hands. The discipline of Rice was questioned, which ultimately led to his dismissal on Wednesday. With that decision, Pernetti released a statement where he expresses mortification regarding his decision: I am responsible for the decision to attempt a rehabilitation of Coach Rice. Dismissal and corrective action were debated in December and I thought it was in the best interest of everyone to rehabilitate, but I was wrong. Moving forward, I will work to regain the trust of the Rutgers community.” In admitting fault, Pernetti attempts to begin the image repair process by recognizing a failure in leadership on his part. In taking responsibility, Pernetti ultimately opened himself up further to criticism, including questions of why Rice was not dismissed in December and why his discipline appeared as a slap on the wrist. The above quoted material was Pernetti's full statement; it was not much of an apology, thus leaving unanswered questions and fueling discussions about the December decision. While we all might want to have those responsible apologize, Pernetti's statement reveals that mortification alone is not enough to repair the image of a basketball program or an individual's leadership. Because the controversy continued, Pernetti became the next person to face criticism.

The failure of Pernetti's apology and damage control following Rice's dismissal likely played apart in his own resignation from Rutgers on Friday. While a resignation is meant to begin the repair process for the organization because those who were of ill repute are purged from the organization, Pernetti's focus is not on initiating healing for the University but in repairing his own image. In this respect, Pernetti's resignation follows the verbal self-defense resolution strategies often used by athletes that are outlined by Billings, Butterworth, and Turman in their book, Communication and Sport. Pernetti professes his love of the University in his resignation letter thus bolstering his image: "I write in confirmation of our conversation earlier today during which we agreed that it was in the best interests of Rutgers University that I step down from my position as Director of Intercollegiate Athletics. I do so reluctantly because I always have and always will love Rutgers. . . . My continued tenure as Athletic Director is no longer sustainable for the University which I attended and where a piece of me will always remain." This makes it clear to the audience that his decisions were not selfish or self-motivated, but rather had the University in mind. After this point, Pernetti's resignation letter aims to scapegoat the University bureaucracy, thus thwarting any continued healing or repair process for RU from his departure:
As you know, my first instincts when I saw the videotape of Coach Rice’s behavior was to fire him immediately. However, Rutgers decided to follow a process involving university lawyers, human resources professionals, and outside counsel. Following review of the independent investigative report, the consensus was that university policy would not justify dismissal. I have admitted my role in, and regret for, that decision, and wish that I had the opportunity to go back and override it for the sake of everyone involved.
In blaming other aspects of the University bureaucracy, Pernetti attempts to transcend the controversy. He tried to do the right thing, but the larger culture of bureaucracy prevented him from doing so. Of course, this makes his previous apology where he took accountability for the rehabilitation decision to seem like a farce, thus calling his credibility in to question. This shift to transcendence, though, aims to repair Pernetti's image, not the University's. With Pernetti's salvo, the controversy continues and the image of the University is further questioned because the actions of Rice were protected by more than one mere athletic director.

After transcending the situation, Pernetti bolsters about his time at RU: 
I trust that my tenure at Rutgers will not be judged by this one incident. I am proud of my efforts to lead Rutgers into the Big Ten, and of all of the accomplishments of our student-athletes in the classroom and on the field of play. I want to thank our great fans, the hardest working staff in collegiate athletics, and every one of our fine student-athletes. It has been my great pleasure to serve my alma mater.
Even though the letter is addressed to the RU President, this makes it clear that it is intended for a wider audience. In reminding everyone of his accomplishments, Pernetti stakes a claim (or at least attempts to stake claim) to the future accomplishments of Rutgers. Prior to his resignation, many speculated that Pernetti would be spared because of his negotiations to gain admittance of RU into the Big Ten, so it is no surprise that Pernetti relied on this fact when bolstering about his tenure as AD.

The crisis continues to roil at RU as many faculty members are calling for the dismissal of the University President (Barchi). With such increased attention to the pitfalls and culture of big time athletics, the RU situation indicates a growing distrust of the business. Apologies and dismissals that previously may have repaired the image of a university and got their dirty laundry off the front pages of newspapers are now faced with scrutiny about the strings attached to money of athletics. Interestingly, Pernetti's resignation merely continues the controversy by scapegoating the University rather than being the sacrifical lamb. This points to the risks that associated with individual's attempt to transcend a situation for themselves and the difficulty of an organization to repair its image with a few firings.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Performing Toughness and Sexiness: The Paradox of Ronda Rousey


Ronda Rousey is the first female fighter to join the Ultimate Fighting Championship and currently is its Bantamweight Champion.  All of her victories have come via armbar submission. Through her aggressive style and toughness, she has dominated her female opponents in the ring. But as a female athlete, she must do more than prove her superiority in the ring. Rousey also has to prove that she is a woman. In this regard, Rousey's body becomes a site of resistance as she demonstrates her strength and ferociousness in the ring and a site of inscription as she proves her heterosexuality and femininity; this is a multifaceted performance required from female athletes because if they behave too much like male athletes then questions swirl about their sexuality. 

In the ring, Rousey is unbelievable. She has an intensity that rivals any male athlete. She will stare down her opponent with arched eyebrows and a focus to win. One look at her body and her sculpted muscles stand out. She uses this strength to overwhelm opponents and gain submission. In this respect, her performances in the ring communicate aggressiveness, dominance, and strength. These performances have historically been restricted to male athletes because a woman is just not supposed to act that way. With each punch, each submission, and each victory, Rousey communicates her competitiveness within a taboo sport for women. The question asked, what woman wants to be fight? Rousey's performances potentially inspire young girls to take to the ring and not be afraid of a punch. Rousey also encourages individuals to cheer for a girl fight (or cat fight) because of its ferocity, not its novelty or sexiness. In the ring, Rousey communicates that women can fight like a man. 

These types of performances by Rousey resist expectations of women being weaker, inferior, and feminine. As Billings, Butterworth, and Tuman note, performances by female athletes which resist cultural expectations have often come at the price of questions regarding whether they are really a woman or heterosexual (p. 148). Rousey reminds individuals of her heterosexuality while also continuing her performance of masculinity. On HBO's Real Sports, Rousey reveals to viewers that she enjoys having sex before a fight because it increases her testosterone. While discussing this choice, she acknowledges her heterosexuality. As many will recognize, this isn't appropriate behavior for a "good woman." She may have these feelings, but she shouldn't express them! In easily discussing this ritual, Rousey seems more like a man than a woman--she is performing the "boys will be boys" attitude yet she is a she. This admission by Rousey further confirms her performance of masculinity.

Such masculine performances by Rousey, though, are tempered by the inscription of femininity upon her body. Make no mistake, Rousey consents to this inscription by posing in provocative ways often associated with models. One look at her Twitter feed and the background image stands out. Sh has wet hair, a pouty look on her face, and an exposed body that reminds a viewer of her sexiness. If you didn't know her profession, you might think she is a model (either for the SI Swimsuit Issue or for other adult materials). Her hoodie is falling of her shoulders, her fists are down, and she is pushing out her chest. She no longer appears or behaves like a fighter. Instead, she transforms into a sexy (and desirable) woman. Rousey also performs femininity out of the ring by wearing her hair down, jewelry, and heels. She smiles and the stare disappears. Her Twitter followers comment on her attractiveness and she snaps pictures like those at the top of this point where she is in provocative clothing, although her sass remains -- just look at the cock of her hip.

The performances of Ronda Rousey reveal a paradox for female athletes. They are expected to hit, kick, train, and win like the guys or face deriding comments about their skill levels, lack of commitment, or carnival appeal. But they are also expected to prove their heterosexuality by acting like a lady. Mixed martial arts fighting seems to be no place for a lady with the grappling, punching, and bloodthirst elements of the sport. Rousey, though, creates a space for female fighters to show that they too can fight and it not be a sex show. Instead, women can execute the same moves as their male counterparts and not leave crying for their mama (except when a submission occurs but they guys do it too). In this way, Rousey's dominance, strength, and skills allow her to challenge expectations and beliefs about female fighters. Her performance does not completely challenge the gender and sexuality aspects of how female athletes are to behave. In showing off her sexiness, she continue discussions of attractiveness and sexuality in relation to female athletes.

While her performances are not completely revolutionary, would you want to step in the ring with her? Based on the reaction of her opponents, it appears that the armbar move hurts so I think I'll pass and I suggest that you do too. Just respect the moves in the octagon!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Riding Off Into the Sunset: The Story of Ray Lewis

To say that Ray Lewis is a controversial figure in the court of public opinion would be an understatement. But as a mythological character, he reminds individuals of the fallibility of humans, particularly in our ability to make mistakes and gain forgiveness by embarking on a journey of redemption. The particular redemption story of Ray Lewis (along with others) functions universally as cautionary tale about choosing those we associate with and about redeeming yourself through character, hard work, and God.

After winning the Super Bowl, many news stories characterized the victory as a successful "last stand" and as a "perfect ending" for Lewis. The end for Lewis is neat and tidy it seems in anointing him as one of the greatest linebackers to play the game. He helps his team stop the 49ers on the goal line and rides off into a post playing career of father and commentator. Importantly, he remains a team player up until the end and wanted to gets his teammates another championship.

But the story is not that neat for Lewis. As many of the stories discussing Lewis in the lead up to the Super Bowl reminded fans and non-fans alike, Lewis was a part of a fight after the Super Bowl in Atlanta in 2000 where two men died and Lewis was accused of murder. Ben Shigpel notes, "One day, he is the snarling leader of an ascending defense. The next, at 24, he is accused of murder. Two people dead. Future uncertain. Reputation stained. Perception altered, then and evermore." As Lewis acknowledges, "I live with that everyday." The incident lead Ray to renew and strengthen his faith. And, as Shigpel points out, "He is different now, he said. Less of a follower. More of a leader." The result has been an individual who is revered by NFL players: Peyton Manning waits to speak to him after a crushing defeat, he befriends other players and fans to provide them inspiration, and he is a figure Tagliabue and Goodell recruit to advise the league and its players. For other players, his resiliency on and off the field leads to respect from others. In this respect, the values of perseverance, hard work, and faith are affirmed for the players, thus confirming the mythology that sports is a great equalizer and provides opportunity for individuals of varying socio-economic backgrounds. The story of Lewis is the cautionary tale for all individuals--one wrong choice can require years of hard work to gain redemption. The journey, though, will make the individual a stronger leader.

For the larger public, Ray Lewis remains a controversial and conflicted player. There is concern that he got away with something, but his embracing of God enables a level of forgiveness. He reveals that we all make mistakes and must ask for forgiveness to gain redemption, but that does not make the story less complicated even when the ending is seemingly perfect on the field. Because of our wrong doing, we never fully are forgiven and that is an important thing to remember.

Monday, January 21, 2013

From Fan to Owner: The Packers Create Community Through Stocks

What is a piece of paper worth to you? Maybe a few cents, right? To Packers fans, a 2.5 cent sheet of paper was worth $250! Of course, this sheet of paper recognizes the individual or a group of individuals as shareholder in the team. This has to get them special treatment on season tickets or something, right? Nope. As Darren Rovell noted, "The shares haven't been approved by the SEC, don't appreciate and won't move you up the season ticket waiting list." So, why would 250,000 people buy 268,000 shares in the team? To be a part of a community.

Based on the size of the investment, we can assume that the individuals who bought shares of the Packers are lifelong fans of the team and tie part of their identity to the team. In this respect, the fans gain emotionally from their monetary "investment" in the team and from their fandom as they gain a sense of fulfillment or eustress desire by supporting improvements of their team. And, since they are a shareholder, their pride and devotion to the team also bolsters their self-esteem. This illustrates the point that individuals can gain from their emotional attachments to teams.

The Packer shareholders also gain by being a part of an "exclusive" group and one that supports a unique organizational structure. The Packers rhetoric surrounding the stock sale encouraged stockholders to view themselves as community minded individuals who helped the small market team thrive against the rich teams in the NFL or goliaths in cultural mythology: 
Green Bay Packers, Inc., has been a publicly owned, nonprofit corporation since Aug. 18, 1923, when original articles of incorporation were filed with Wisconsin’s secretary of state. One of the more remarkable business stories in American history, the Green Bay Packers organization has been kept viable by its shareholders — its unselfish fans. Even more incredible, the Packers have survived during the current era, permeated by free agency and the NFL salary cap.
The answer, then, to the question of why an individual would "invest" $250 in a sheet of paper that will never appreciate or provide you of individual gain is that it provides fans to shift from mere fans to a particular group which can go to shareholder meetings and feel as if they have an influence over their favorite team. In this respect, the decision to buy a share in the Packers classifies as a behavioral motivation. Instead, it is a move by an organization to increase the identification between their team and their fans. And, it allows the Packers to applaud their fans as a special group. The Packers President/CEO Mark Murphy stated following the sale, "It’s a tribute to the organization, the support of our fans, and the uniqueness of the Packers. I think that really appeals to people. You can’t say enough about how appreciative we are for the support."

Those who invest in the team can feel an sense of achievement and social connection to the Packers with each win. The Packers are glad that being a shareholder can make a fan feel connected to the team. Mark Murphy touted the achievement and social connection shareholders should feel toward the team following their purchase: "Our fans are much more loyal and have a stronger bond with the organization because of our ownership structure. To triple the number of shareholders, giving that many more fans a tie to the Packers, it really bodes well for the future in terms of the support we’re going to have in the years ahead.” But how special is that community when it grows so quickly? Will the "uniqueness" wear off? I guess we will all find out during the next stock sale in 10 to 15 years. New shareholder Chris Silver, though, will be savoring his connection that the piece of stock gives him and his fellow shareholders: "[S]afe on the sidelines and in our armchairs, we Packer owners can imagine we have a deeper, more socioeconomic connection with our team than other fans with theirs." And, isn't that connection to a community all each of us fans want when we cheer our team on to victory?