Investigative sports journalism is a subgenre of sports journalism that focuses on exposing the corruption within major sports organizations. Andrew Jennings began investigating corruption within the International Olympic Committee in the 1990s and was laughed at for looking into a function of sport that was considered irrelevant. As funding for large sports organizations increased, investigative journalists became more attracted to the genre. Following Jennings’ lead, more journalists started to uncover scandals involving bribes, drug usage, and other cases of corruption within these corporations. Jennings stated “Sports organizations are in the public sphere. They’re backed by public money. They wield power. Why should they escape scrutiny?”
Investigative journalists function as “watchdogs” of sports. Many of these scandals are covered up by major sports committees that believe they can control the media’s image of themselves. These journalists seek to uncover the truth for the public. Investigative sports journalism is necessary in a society controlled by money-hungry institutions. However, there are many stakeholders involved in sports organizations that have it in their own best interests to prevent journalists from investigating their secrets. This creates a tension between these two competing interests and can become a threat to these journalists
Controversy & Danger
Many of these investigative sports journalists have been censored and/or put into dangerous situations by trying to uncover the truth about these big sports organizations. As Jennings said, these organizations have so much money and power, which allows them to manipulate the public perception of themselves. Jennings was banned from attending IOC and FIFA press conferences, but another journalist Hajo Seppelt received death threats in 2014 for his investigation of Russia’s doping scandal. In other cases, some journalists were subjected to physically assaults, arrests, damage to personal property, having their passport seized, and other forms of threats and violence.
Some journalists believe that these stories investigating the corruption of sport organizations do not help create a change, but rather demonize the athletes and people behind them. Specifically within college athletics, many believe that the press is not actually concerned with resolving the problems of the NCAA and its partnered universities, but rather with uncovering and reporting on new scandals. The continuous cycle of discovering new scandals enforces the idea that these athletes, coaches, and individuals are the problem, rather than the whole system that allows this behavior. These journalists are calling for change within the NCAA and other organizations to create a discourse that may prevent these scandals from continuing.
Investigative sports journalism has been displayed in many different formats, especially at the turn of the century with the introduction of technology. As with most early forms of journalism, this genre was displayed in newspaper articles or sometimes full books for in-depth cases. The rise of the documentary style has created a new format in which journalists can display their findings both audibly and visually. However, all forms of sport journalism are centered around a journalist seeking to discover the truth about an issue that is either hidden from the public or has a lot of uncertainty surrounding it. The genre seeks to satisfy the public’s ambiguities about many of these organizations.
- Sparre, Kirsten (April 15, 2019). Journalists investigating sports corruption exposed to many kinds of risks. PlaytheGame.
2. Libit, Daniel (September 2011). The Scandal Beat. Columbia Journalism Review.
3. Whitlock, Jason (September 13, 2013). Exposés distract from real issues in sports. ESPN.