Media and Communication Ph.D. Dissertations


An Intersectional and Dialectical Analysis and Critique of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's Ambivalent Discourses in the New Racism

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Media and Communication

First Advisor

Alberto Gonzalez (Committee Co-Chair)

Second Advisor

Lisa Hanasono (Committee Co-Chair)

Third Advisor

Christina Lunceford (Other)

Fourth Advisor

Ellen Gorsevski (Committee Member)


In 2014, the leadership performances of National Basketball Association (NBA) Commissioner Adam Silver and National Football League (NFL) Commissioner Roger Goodell (both men who occupy White positionality), in response to two critical moments in their respective leagues, offered insight into prevailing racial and gender ideologies between United States (U.S.) professional men’s sport, and ultimately, U.S. society. In the NFL, a domestic abuse incident between NFL star Ray Rice and his then-fiance Janay Palmer, two individuals who do not occupy whiteness, and in the NBA, racist comments made by then-owner of the Los Angeles Clippers Donald Sterling, a man who occupies whiteness, required responses and disciplinary action from the commissioners. Utilizing critical rhetorical analysis as a method of textual analysis (McKerrow, 1989), this dissertation examines and critiques Commissioners Silver and Goodell’s rhetorical performances as leaders in response to these incidents as well as the surrounding global news and sports media reactions to their decisions. Informed by concepts within critical whiteness studies (e.g., Nakayama & Krizek, 1995), intersectionality (e.g., Crenshaw, 1989; 1991), Black Feminist Thought (BFT) (e.g., Collins 1991; 2004; Griffin, 2012b; hooks, 2004), hegemonic masculinity (e.g,., Trujillo, 1991), and dialogism (Bakhtin, 1981; Baxter, 2011), this dissertation examines the intersection of whiteness and hegemonic masculinity within the commissioners’ performances to explore how whiteness functions dialectically and intersectionally to secure its persuasive power as a strategic rhetoric. The analyses within the two case studies revealed two distinct dialectics: (1) rhetorics of postracism vs. critical rhetorics, and (2) rhetorics of honor vs. rhetorics of shame. Overall, this project extends understanding of how the rhetorics of whiteness work dialectically and intersect with the rhetorics of masculinity within the NBA and NFL via the rhetorical performance of those in leadership to maintain and protect White masculinity as central, thereby marginalizing racial and gender “Others” within the NBA and NFL. The dissertation closes with a call for future scholarship within the emerging study of communication and sport to function as scholarship of resistance and to examine race and gender intersectionally.