“Basketball Diplomacy” and the Media

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In what was an attempt at a “goodwill mission,” Dennis Rodman and his squad of former NBA players competed with a North Korean team for Kim Jong Un’s 31st birthday. Although some have asserted that the game had positive effects for U.S./North Korean relations, many more have decried this instance of “Basketball Diplomacy” as an embarrassment. 

Rodman (who, as of Sunday, was recently checked into an alcohol-rehabilitation center) may have not been the optimal ambassador for this instance of sports diplomacy in North Korea, but who would have been a better candidate? Should the game have even taken place? The media seems to think not.

Professor Rhonda Zaharna wrote an interesting take on the controversial event in Pyongyang, discussing the media’s role as a public diplomacy player (http://uscpublicdiplomacy.org/index.php/newswire/cpdblog_detail/culture_post_basketball_diplomacy_in_cnns_court/).  She states that the U.S. team had apolitical motives for the trip, which were taken advantage of by the media. At the end of a politically charged interview with CNN news anchor Chris Cuomo, Rodman had an emotional outburst, which has been continually replayed and broadcast on many news outlets. Turning a seemingly innocent, apolitical game into controversy defeats the original purpose of “bringing people together through basketball.”

How much can the media affect the public’s perception on current events? How can it affect the public’s opinion of a foreign country? Without getting into whether the recent game was right or wrong, it is still important to consider the media’s role in public diplomacy.

 

Photo Credit: (Jason Mojica/VICE Media/AP)

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2 thoughts on ““Basketball Diplomacy” and the Media”

  1. You bring up some really good points about a very interesting topic! This is a highly relevant issue for our course, particularly because sports as public diplomacy is one of the topics students are interested in studying in groups, and especially in light of the upcoming winter Olympics.

    As you mention, this particular case of “basketball diplomacy” was not seen as a success amongst most Americans. In fact, many were highly disturbed by Rodman’s comments and displays of “friendship” with Kim Jong Un.

    In general though, how effective can sports be within the realm of public diplomacy? The University of Southern California’s Center on Public Diplomacy makes the following statement regarding the ambiguous role of sports within public diplomacy:

    “In sum, a well-played game might win some respect from foreign publics for the skills of a nation. A show of noble sportsmanship might chip away at antagonisms borne in the minds of foreigners. But otherwise, performance on the field does not seem to move opinion in any important way abroad. Further, why assume all games will showcase sportsmanship?” (Sanders, B. Sports as Public Diplomacy. PDiN Monitor. http://uscpublicdiplomacy.org/index.php/pdin_monitor/article/international_sport_as_public_diplomacy/). Essentially, what truly is the scope and impact of sports on public diplomacy, if there truly is one in this day and age?

    The Olympics have historically been seen as a means to avoid international conflict; a transcendent event that has been utilized to engage in truces and peace movements amongst nations. It will be interesting to see how this year’s Games play out, and if and how they will affect the Olympians and the nations involved. Sports have often been seen as a tool in “soft power” diplomacy. Cull states that ” It is only to be expected that today’s governments pay close attention to international perceptions of their actions and seek to maximize awareness of their positive traits.” (Cull, N.J. (2012). Listening for the Hoof Beats: Implications of the Rise of Soft Power and Public Diplomacy. A Journal of the East Asia Foundation: 7 (3).

    I am interested in hearing what you all think about this topic, although this perhaps might be something we will here more of in the group presentations!

  2. I too am interested in sport as a viable form of diplomacy! I think it’s important to not dismiss non-traditional forms of diplomacy, especially if they can be ground of mutual interest for both countries. In this case, it’s easy to look at the “credibility” of Dennis Rodman as a person (through the lens of the media) and say that he could never be a diplomat, but maybe that’s why Kim Jong Un was so keen on establishing a friendship with him; because he saw Rodman as anything but a threat.

    You also bring up a good point about the media having a role in public diplomacy. Throughout history we definitely have seen situations where the media played a huge role in public diplomacy. As Young Sam Ma has asserted in “The role of global media in public diplomacy,” (http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/opinion/2014-01/11/content_17230295.htm), the media can be used by countries to establish their own brand, essentially drawing appeal to themselves in the global arena. However, it is important to also note that the audience is very important. Without an audience, the efforts of the media would be futile.

    I’m interested in learning more about the role of the global media, as well as how everything comes together under the larger umbrella of public diplomacy!

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