Exploring newspaper media representations of athlete experiences with eating disorders through critical discourse analysis


Sport has been criticized as an institution that puts athletes at greater risk of developing eating disorders (EDs) than the general population. Recently, media attention on athletes with EDs has substantially increased. Given the media's role in shaping our thoughts, attitudes, and behaviours, the purpose of this study was to examine dominant discourses surrounding the portrayal of athlete experiences with EDs as presented in newspaper media. Data were collected using the NexisUni Academic database to search for full-text newspaper articles from January 1, 2022 to June 7, 2022. Articles were included if they presented in-depth details of at least one athlete's experience with an ED. The first author conducted an initial screening, and both authors conducted a second screening to reduce the 111 articles retrieved to 38 for analysis. We performed a critical discourse analysis with the first author generating themes and the second author serving as a critical friend to challenge and refine them. Through an iterative analytical process, two key discourses were identified, each composed of underlying subject positions. The first discourse constructed meanings of who to blame for the ED: the sport system or the athlete. The second discourse centralized the (in)accurate depiction of the complexities of living with or recovering from an ED. Within our findings, journalists' discursive strategies revealed contrasting subject positions based on the athlete's gender. Therefore, journalists should be more mindful of their discursive strategies when discussing athlete experiences with EDs to avoid perpetuating stereotypical notions surrounding the topic.