Date of Award

Summer 8-5-2015

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Mass Communication and Journalism

Committee Chair

Jae-wha Shin

Committee Chair Department

Mass Communication and Journalism

Committee Member 2

David Davies

Committee Member 2 Department

Mass Communication and Journalism

Committee Member 3

Christopher Campbell

Committee Member 3 Department

Mass Communication and Journalism

Committee Member 4

Fei Xue

Committee Member 4 Department

Mass Communication and Journalism

Committee Member 5

Cheryl Jenkins

Committee Member 5 Department

Mass Communication and Journalism

Abstract

Professional golfer Tiger Woods and former professional cyclist Lance Armstrong were both involved in cheating scandals beginning in 2009 and 2010, respectively. In 2009, allegations of Woods’ infidelity surfaced after Woods crashed his car and had an argument with his wife Elin outside their Orlando home. Woods remained quiet about the incident with his wife and about his alleged infidelity until a press conference was held months later. In the press conference, Woods apologized and admitted the cheating allegations were true.

Lance Armstrong was initially accused of doping and using performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) by a French sports newspaper in 2005. Unlike Woods, Armstrong adamantly denied the cheating allegations for over ten years. Armstrong was formally charged by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) with doping in 2012. In January of 2013, he admitted in an interview with Oprah Winfrey that he cheated and used PEDs.

A content analysis was performed to analyze the use of social media, traditional media and controlled online media of these two athletes engaged in conflict. Results show public relations theories in play as the athletes attempted to handle their cheating scandals. Both athletes edited their respective Twitter accounts, resulting in positive media framing. The message tone on traditional media was not positive and reflected emotions of sadness and shame for Armstrong and Woods. The main subject of “attack” on traditional media was the individual for Woods, meaning that he was the individual or person under attack. Traditional media blamed Woods for his cheating scandal.

A significant finding showed Armstrong did not utilize image restoration on social media. Nike Corporation and LIVESTRONG apologized for this cheating and severed all possible ties with Armstrong. On traditional media, Armstrong was linked to denial. Woods did not use image restoration strategies on any media. However, reduction was a strategy that was connected to Woods on his traditional media. The most significant finding was discovering how the athletes were received on media they could not change or manipulate. Armstrong was perceived as a villain and athlete, while Woods was seen as a womanizer and athlete.

The results suggest that social media and controlled media can potentially help a person who is facing intense media scrutiny. Social media and controlled media can attempt to camouflage or mask a crisis. However, traditional media is a formidable force and will make the crisis public.

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