Catching up with... Jacco van Sterkenburg

Focused on culture and diversity with a specialization in sports, Jacco van Sterkenburg has been an Assistant Professor at the Department of Media & Communication since 2013. He teaches several courses to both bachelor and master students and combines this with multiple research projects. “In my research I am mostly focusing on diversity in sports media, especially in football on television. It is about how sport journalists as well as football media audiences give meaning to athletes of different origins, but also how they give meaning to males and females and how they make use of stereotypes”.

Jacco has been doing research in the broader field of sports and sports media since his MA thesis. While looking for an internship for his MA in cross-cultural psychology, Jacco came across a position that focused on sports media, race, and gender. After an inspiring and motivating conversation with his supervisor, Jacco decided to get involved in this research topic. His interest in this field has remained with him ever since.

Minority managers in sport

For one of his recently accepted papers. Jacco did research on how and why there are many more white top managers in football than there are black top managers. “We looked at the issues that black coaches face by interviewing them on what kind of obstacles limit (or enhance) them in their career. One of the things linked to that are stereotypes that come through the media.”

Jacco looked further into this process of in and exclusion through sports media. He explains that sport journalists often only associate black athletes with natural athletic skills rather than tactical skills. “What appears from research - mainly international studies but also some Dutch studies - is that black athletes are very often seen as physically strong, and white athletes more often as intelligent and tactically skilled. This may be problematic for black athletes who want to become a coach, since for such a position it would be better to be associated with tactical skills than athletic skills. Black athletes that I have talked to say that they get opportunities in the field, but not in the board.”

While part of Jacco’s research zooms in on sport journalists’ expressions, another important aspect within his research is the perspective of the media audiences. Within this research theme he cooperates with colleagues within our department, like Rens Peeters (PhD candidate) and Dennis Blokzeijl (Research Master student). “How do viewers interpret what the journalists say? How do they give meaning to that, and what kind of stereotypes do they use therein?” These kinds of questions are central in Jacco’s 2-year EUR Fellowship study. Furthermore, Jacco is interested in how audiences and journalists interpret the Paralympics and how they see disabled athletes. “This is a relatively new field that has not been researched much. I have studied the Paralympics in 2012 in London, and I would like to see if in 2016 there is any improvement in the way athletes are represented by journalists and perceived by the audience.”

Refugee migration

Even though Jacco devotes most of his time to research in sports, he does not limit it to this topic. “Recently I have started to present - in a conference as well as in my courses - on refugee migration in the media – how are refugees represented in the media? Are the media portraying refugees in the right way, in an ethical way?”

Over the past months, Jacco worked with colleagues dr. Jiska Engelbert and dr. Isabel Awad as joint editors on a special issue for the European Journal of Cultural Studies. This issue is about migration,  refugees and wider processes of in/exclusion.

Teaching in IBCoM

In his teaching Jacco deals with many issues related to topics of race, migration and diversity. For Jacco, the international composition is the greatest aspect that he likes about IBCoM. “I come from Utrecht University, which I feel is very Dutch, and I do notice that I am a quite a Dutch person as well when I speak to international students. I am not always happy realizing that, but it helps me actually learn more about my own cultural background and reflect on myself.”

“In a way it would be easier to have the same ‘cultural knowledge’ as your students, but it’s more challenging in front an international group. It has added value on a personal level because you learn much more about other contexts and cultures.”

Upcoming & Read more

Last September Jacco has started to work on a new 5-year project about sports, national identity and citizenship. Dr. Gijsbert Oonk is the project leader of this so called REI project while Jacco acted as a co-applicant and is a co-promotor. Together Gijsbert and Jacco supervise PhD-candidate Gijs van Campenhout who will explore, amongst other things, migration patterns in football over time and consequent changing ideas around citizenship.

Are you interested in the topics that dr. Jacco van Sterkenburg researches? Learn more through this selection of his work:

  • Van Sterkenburg, J. (2016, accepted for publication). Sports media in Europe. An international context. In C. Campbell (Ed.) The Routledge Companion to Race and Media,. London/New York: Routledge
  • Van Sterkenburg, J. & Spaaij, R. (2015). Mediated football, representations and audience receptions of race/ethnicity, gender and nation. London/New York: Routledge.
  • Bradbury, S. Van Sterkenburg, J. & Mignon, P. (2016). The under-representation and experiences of elite level minority coaches in professional footbnall in England, France and the Netherlands. International Review for the Sociology of Sport. Published online July 2016
  • Peeters, R. & Van Sterkenburg, J. (2016). Making sense of race/ethnicity and gender in televised men’s and women's football: reception research among British students. Sport in Society. Published online 17 March 2016. Doi: 10.1080/17430437.2016.1158472
  • Van Sterkenburg, J. (2015). The Paralympic Games on television: representation of athletes and the event. In D. Jackson, Hodges, C., Molesworth, M. & Scullion, R. (Eds.) Reframing Disability?: Media, (Dis)Empowerment, and Voice in the London Paralympics (pp. 138-153). London:  Routledge.
  • Van Sterkenburg, J., Knoppers, A. & De Leeuw, S. (2012) Constructing Racial/Ethnic Difference In and Through Dutch Televised Soccer Commentary. Journal of Sport and Social Issues, 36(4), 422-442.

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