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Title: Stories of athlete maltreatment and revictimization: media data from three elite gymnastics teams
Authors: Seanor, Michelle
Keywords: Athlete maltreatment;elite sport;gymnastics;media data;reflexive thematic analysis
Issue Date: 17-Nov-2021
Abstract: Media headlines have recently brought to our attention a stark duality present in elite athlete development. Although elite sport has often been portrayed as a positive developmental context (Coakley, 2015), current media coverage is ripe with sinister stories of athlete maltreatment. The outcries from elite athletes have encompassed a range of abuses including sexual harassment and abuse, physical violence, emotional abuse, financial abuse, and neglect. These stories have triggered researchers to hypothesize that athlete maltreatment is present across all levels of sport, however most prominent within elite sport (Ljungqvist, et al., 2007). Elite gymnasts have been one of the most vocal groups of athletes calling for change and demanding protection from a sport culture that has sacrificed athletes’ physical and emotional well-being (Weiss & Mohr, 2018). Despite acknowledgements by athletes, media sources, and researchers that athlete maltreatment is a pervasive issue, little is known about the long-term consequences that plague athlete survivors. Researchers have identified that elite athletes do experience ongoing challenges with their mental (Gouttabarge, et al., 2017; Schinke et al., 2017) as well as their physical (Mountjoy et al., 2016) health resulting from elite athletics. Comparatively, the longterm consequences for survivors of maltreatment in non-athletic contexts are better understood. Researchers from other disciplines know all to well that one of the most dubious outcomes for survivors of maltreatment is their propensity for revictimization, a cyclical phenomenon wherein survivors of maltreatment have a pervasive increased risk of future victimization compared to others who have not experienced interpersonal trauma (Tseloni & Pease, 2003). I engaged in this research project to answer three research questions: 1) How does athlete maltreatment (including physical, sexual, emotional, and financial abuse and neglect) occur in elite gymnastics and why are elite gymnasts victimized as derived from media (re)presentations? 2)What revictimization pathways are foreshadowed in the interpretation of media (re)presentations of elite gymnasts’ stories of athlete maltreatment and why might this be the case? And 3) Does the media change the framing of athlete’s stories of maltreatment in relation to the characters (i.e., the victim or perpetrator gender), setting (i.e., country) and story line (i.e., type of abuse) and why does the media change their (re)presentations accordingly? Addressing the research questions necessitated a novel application of media data to develop our understanding of the phenomenon of athlete maltreatment. I explored media data of athlete maltreatment narratives from three elite gymnastics teams across three unique cultural contexts: the Brazilian Men’s Gymnastics Team, the Australian Women’s Artistic Gymnastics Team, and the British Men’s and Women’s Gymnastics Teams. Each case study culminated in nuanced interpretations that contributed to four overarching conclusions from this project. First, I present athlete maltreatment as culturally constructed and recommend that researchers and practitioners improve their understanding of culturally constituted risk factors for athlete maltreatment. Second, I present athlete abuse as a chronic phenomenon that demands we elongate our understanding of athlete abuse timelines and further consider abuses that both do and do not cross the threshold for criminality. Third, I conclude that athlete maltreatment extends outside athletes’ sport domain and recommend researchers and practitioners broaden their scope to include non-sport mechanisms and consequences of abuse. Fourth, I interpret the media as an active agent in the cycle of abuse and present considerations to protect survivor athletes through carefully harnessing healing narratives.
Appears in Collections:Human Studies and Interdisiplinarity - Doctoral Theses

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