Research Paper Proposal

Nicki Karimipour


Research Paper Proposal

Title: Blogger depictions of NFL athletes who died by suicide from 2000 until 2012

Statement of Purpose: The purpose of this research is to examine the ways in which sports bloggers from the popular sports website Bleacher Report write about and depict NFL athletes who have died by suicide from June 2000 until September 2012. This research looks at the dominant media frames of NFL suicides, how the frames changed over time; trends in the increase of media coverage; specific language and framing tools used to discuss the suicides, external factors the media suggest as contributing to the suicide, discussion of motive or the presence of a suicide note or last wishes, and the use of official and unofficial sources that were interviewed or quoted in such articles.

Background: Sports are a cornerstone of American culture and an intricate part of our national psyche. Since Greek and Roman antiquity, humans have bestowed hero-like qualities upon athletes and held them up to extremely high standards. Football players are like modern day gladiators and heroes. They are prided on their masculinity and their nature of being seemingly impervious to pain. “In an industry (regardless of sport) where bravado and machismo drive each play, an athlete’s admission of any mental health problem could be just as damaging to a career as a torn ACL” (Ulanday and Crowder, 2011). This may explain why so many players stay silent about the emotional, physical and mental issues they face as high profile, professional athletes. “Cases of athletes suffering from a mental illness are under-reported (if reported at all). And the instances where depression and mental illness do become a topic of conversation among major news outlets usually follow a tragic event like [NFL player Dave] Duerson’s death” (Ulanday and Crowder, 2011).

In contemporary American culture, sports are consistently among the most popular and highest grossing events ever, and the NFL is no exception. The Super Bowl Brand was rated number one among other sporting events by gross revenue generated per day of competition in 2010, as reported by Forbes Magazine (Schwartz, 2010). The Super Bowl brand value was rated at $420 million in 2010, attracting a record U.S. audience of 106.5 million and increasing every year (Schwartz, 2010). The NFL has the “highest average per game attendance” with 67,357 fans per game in 2011 (Statista, 2012).

In addition to events and franchises, sport websites have grown exponentially in recent years. During the early 1990s, sports websites were “static” and content was not regularly updated or maintained, and there were almost no multimedia elements (Chapman, 2009). The primary function of these websites was to inform and disseminate information without heavy use of text, graphics, photos or hyperlinks, in addition to maintaining a “linear layout” (Edison, 2010). ESPN SportsZone was ESPN’s first-ever website which began in 1995. Since then, the website has changed its name to in 1998, as it currently is known today (Bryant & Raney, 2006, p. 41). Sport websites of today are markedly different from their early precursors—integrating social media and live updates to keep readers informed. Sports blogs have also become important sources of information for fans.

NFL players have been dying by suicide since the 1920s when the league was officially instated, but perhaps even earlier. In 2000, 1936 Heisman trophy winner Lawrence “Larry” Kelley died from a “self-inflicted gunshot wound” at the age of 85 (Goldstein, 2000). There have been 10 NFL player suicides to date; one in 2005 and 2006 each, then one per year from 2009 to 2011, and four occurring in 2012 alone. As a result of these suicides, the NFL has gained national media attention.

High-profile NFL athlete deaths always make headlines. This subsequent media coverage can have long-lasting effects on the general public, especially if it is a suicide case. Suicide contagions are well documented in research and they can inspire “copycat” deaths among regular citizens, especially among youth (Gould, p. 201).

The news media has been focused lately on sport-related concussions and traumatic brain injuries (TBI). A neurodegenerative disease closely connected with sport-related concussions or traumatic brain injuries is Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). It is classified as a “progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including symptomatic concussions as well as asymptomatic subconcussive hits to the head” (Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, n.d.). CTE “manifests as a progressive worsening of cerebral neurologic symptoms, initiated and maintained from repetitive concussions” (Chin, et al. 2011. p. 33). The media has attempted to make connections between concussions, development of CTE and suicide, which is something I am particularly interested in.

Significance: This topic is important because it has had a large presence in news and mainstream media recently. Researchers and sports professionals are beginning to better understand how concussions and other sport-related injuries can impact the quality of life and mental condition of an athlete, especially after they retire from the game.

Suicide is also an important public health topic. Every 18 minutes, someone dies by suicide (Joiner, 2005, p. 29). Worldwide, there are more than half a million suicides per year, and more than 30,000 people in the United States die by suicide annually (National Institute of Mental Health, n.d.; Joiner, 2005, p. 29).

Through this research, I hope to learn about how bloggers portray these athletes and investigate how those portrayals can affect how public audiences view the act of suicide. What elements are commonly discussed in relation to the suicide? For example, do the bloggers cite external factors that may have been plaguing the athlete at his time of death, such as marital problems, debt, and/or substance abuse? Do the bloggers mention the presence of a suicide note or last wishes for death (such as player Dave Duerson who indicated that he wanted his brain to be studied for evidence of CTE)?

Suicide is a preventable act—thus, do the bloggers provide readers who may be suffering with depression or struggling with mental health issues with any sort of intervention or prevention-based solution? Do they provide a hotline phone number or a link to local suicide prevention organizations?

Description: Library research will be a component of this paper, but online research will be imperative. Thus, I will use a combination of resources such as books and print articles from the UF Library West and the Health Science Library, in addition to resources available on their website (such as scholarly articles available on various databases), and services such as Google Scholar.

Methodology: Qualitative framing analysis will be used to conduct this research. Articles will be retrieved from the Bleacher Report website using the keyword “nfl” and “suicide.” Only articles about NFL athletes whose deaths were ruled as a suicide by law enforcement or medical experts will be included. Suicide attempts, drug overdose, accidents, and murder suicides will not be included. Online articles must discuss the suicide at a substantive level—for example, articles simply mentioning the player briefly or alluding to their death in one or two sentences will be excluded. The overall sample size will be further screened to include Bleacher Report articles written in English only with a minimum word count of 100 to ensure it contains adequate textual content for coding. To retrieve articles, the keyword “NFL suicide” was used on the Bleacher Report website. Duplicates were excluded.

Problems/limitations: This research should be relatively problem-free in terms of retrieval of online articles. Library resources needed to conduct this research are readily available. Online articles can be easily accessed through Bleacher Report’s website using a keyword. Coding the articles will not be a problem, as I have been trained in qualitative research, particularly coding.

Annotated Bibliography:

Center for Study of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. (2013). Chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Retrieved from

This is the website for the Boston University center that researches CTE. It provides good information about the disease and how it develops, risk factors, relation to concussion, etc.

Chin, L., Toshkezi, G., & Cantu, R. (2011). Traumatic encephalopathy related to sports injury. US Neurology7(1), 33-36.

This article shows the evidence between concussions, TBI and CTE and the symptoms of each. There are no treatment options for CTE, so it discusses concussion prevention especially in sports where the injuries can be more common. Sports-related injuries account for 10% of head and spinal cord injuries. Yearly, 1.5 million Americans suffer traumatic brain injury (TBI) without loss of consciousness or need for hospitalization. Football is the sport where players are highest at risk for concussion due to its high impact nature.

Goldstein, R. (2000, 06 29). Larry Kelley, 85, a Yale end who won the Heisman, dies . New York Times. Retrieved from

This article recounted the death of a popular NFL athlete who died by suicide in 2000.

Gould, M. (2001). Suicide and the media. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences932, 200-224.

This journal article discusses the relationship between the media and suicide, particularly the ways in which the media can inspire contagions. The author looks at articles from English language publications to see how the stories talk about suicide. She provides statistics about the effects and gives suggestions on how to minimize harm and risk associated with these stories.

Chapman, Cameron. (2009, November 29). The evolution of web design. Retrieved at

This website gave more information about sports content and the history of its online dissemination, particularly about how early versions of sport websites were set up and what kinds of features they contained and did not contain. Reading about these websites helped me understand how to better compare and contrast them with today’s online sport websites.

Edison, Paul. (2010, September 3). The History of Web Design in a Nutshell. Retrieved at

This website gave more information about sports content and the history of its online dissemination, particularly about how early versions of sport websites were set up and what kinds of features they contained and did not contain. Reading about these websites helped me understand how to better compare and contrast them with today’s online sport websites.

Bryant, J, and A Raney. Handbook of Sports and Media. London: Routledge, 2006.

This book is a handbook of sport and media. It traces the development of sport media and coverage, which is what I was most interested in learning more about from this handbook. It talks about how sport coverage began and how it changed over time, particularly how media coverage of sport has been shifting throughout the ages—the Agricultural, Industrial, and finally, the Information Age.

Joiner, T. (2007). Why people die by suicide. (1 ed.). Boston, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

This book provided information about suicide statistics, reasons people commit suicide (such as external factors and risk factors). The biggest risk factors for suicide include the feeling of being a burden on loved ones; sense of isolation and ability for self-harm. Written by a clinical psychologist, the book examines suicide from various lenses, such as anthropologically, historically, culturally, from an epidemiological and genetic standpoint, etc.

National Institute of Mental Health. (2013, 05 17).Suicide prevention. Retrieved from

This website provided statistics about suicide in the United States and globally. This information was useful to me because it showed how serious the problem is and that it is a pressing public health issue. It also provided information about prevention tactics and organizations that help individuals who are contemplating suicide, such as local and national organizations and 24 hour hotlines for those in distress.

Schwartz, P. (2010, 03 05). The world’s top sports events. Forbes Magazine, Retrieved from

This magazine article illustrated how important sports are in the United States. It gave me information about finances and what the highest grossing events are.

Statista. (2012, 06 04). Statistics and facts on the nfl . Retrieved from

This website showed facts and statistics about the NFL such as cost of the game, player salaries, television, media and merchandise and financial information about the Super Bowl.

Ulanday, M., & Crowder, E. (2011, 02 03). Behind the wins and losses: Changing the way mental health is viewed in sports . Retrieved from

This article discusses mental health issues and sports. It talks about how there needs to be a profound change in the way athletes are treated and the avoidance of stigma for mental health issues like depression, suicide—and even how physical injuries can have powerful mental health implications.


One thought on “Research Paper Proposal

  1. Ronald R. Rodgers

    Good. Your lit review should certainly also have a section on qualitative framing


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