Kelly E. Wright, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Linguistics, recently published an article examining the role of racialized language in media coverage of the fight between football players Myles Garrett and Mason Rudolph during the final seconds of the November 14 game between the Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers. The article appeared in The Undefeated, ESPN’s online publication covering the intersection of sports, race, and culture.
Garrett’s actions during the fight, in which he removed Rudolph’s helmet and struck him with it, were met in the media with what Wright describes as semantic intensity, word choice that elevates the seriousness of the events in question. The altercation was described as an “assault,” a “brutal attack,” and a “massive brawl,” while Garrett himself was referred to as a “brute,” “thug,” and “criminal.” While semantic intensity is a normal part of human language, Wright goes on to explain that, when used in this way, it is often a marker of racialization—the use of particular words and phrases more than others when referring to people of color like Garrett. Wright has employed this concept in her research at U-M, where she developed an algorithm that can reliably predict the race of an athlete based on the words used to discuss them in media articles.
In addition to her doctoral research, Wright recently completed the Mellon Public Engagement and the Humanities Workshop, an eight-week summer series that helps faculty and graduate students develop skills for communicating research to the public, skills which she says helped convey her expertise through this article.