Star Players

During the Superbowl and the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final, media outlets built the stories of the winning teams around compelling individual players.  

Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, retiring after a 17 year career, was the veteran who deserved to win the championship ring.  Louisville Sophomore guard Kevin Ware, who fought back against a horrific injury, was the rookie who on sheer grit deserved the nation title.

See below for more about photo coverage of the star players.
Baltimore Ravens inside linebacker Ray Lewis (52) hoists the Lombardi trophy after winning Super Bowl 2013 in New Orleans, La., February 3, 2013. (Photo by Michael DeMocker, | The Times-Picayune) 2/4/13

Ray Lewis, iconic player for the Baltimore Ravens, celebrates his Super Bowl win, ending his long career with a championship. –  The New Orleans Times-Picayune/Michael DeMocker.

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Kevin Ware was the breakaway star of the 2013 NCAA Championship, cheering his team on in the face of a terrible injury. – Sports Illustrated/David Klutho.


Linebacker Ray Lewis starred for the Baltimore Ravens for years. The 2013 Super Bowl was his last game, with Baltimore fans hoping Lewis would end his career with a championship. Already a subject of intense media focus during the game, when the Ravens beat the 49ers, Lewis’ emotional response captured even more attention. 


This photograph is one of the many positive photographs of Ray Lewis celebrating the Ravens’ Super Bowl championship. – Getty Images/Chris Graythen.

More than half of the photos of Lewis in this study were coded by researchers as “positive.”

Half of the photos of Lewis  depict his joy during the award ceremonies and post-game celebrations, but almost as many are of Lewis during the game.

Ray Lewis was just as much a focus of media attention during the game as he was after it. (Derick E. Hingle - USA TODAY)

Ray Lewis was just as much a focus of media attention during the game as he was after it. – USA Today/Derick E. Hingle.

Home team player — The positive photographs of Lewis during the game as well as celebrating after the game, demonstrate how iconic Lewis had become as a symbol and source of pride for the Ravens and Baltimore.  But while Lewis’ win was especially sentimental for Baltimore, it wasn’t  just the Baltimore Sun that focused on Ray Lewis — had more photos of Lewis than The Sun, according to  researchers.


The San Francisco 49ers’ new quarterback Colin Kaepernick was the most photographed player on the losing team, according to researchers.  As the photos appeared in the news outlets after the game’s outcome was known, it was not a foregone conclusion that news outlets would publish many photos of Kaepernick during the game — it was as likely that they would run photos showing him dejected by the 49ers’ loss.  Yet researchers observed that the majority of photos of Kaepernick showed him during the game — but the images were used not just to illustrate key plays, but to emphasize the storyline of his and his team’s future potential.

Despite the negativity surrounding Kevin Ware's gruesome injury, photos of him during the championship game were overwhelmingly positive.

Despite the negativity surrounding Kevin Ware’s gruesome injury, photos of him during the championship game were overwhelmingly positive. – The Atlanta Journal Constitution/ Hyosub Shin.


Two days before the NCAA Championship sophomore Louisville guard Kevin Ware broke his leg in a game against Duke. The gruesome compound fracture captivated the media, and Ware quickly became the gritty role model for the determination and spirit of Louisville, a powerful inspiration urging them towards a win.


The analysis of the 2013 NCAA championship supports this claim. Despite the grim and painful photos of Ware’s leg break just two days earlier, most photos published of Ware from the championship game showed him after the game, as Louisville celebrated its victory.  Many photos captured Ware cutting down the net, which had been lowered to accomodate his injury.

After he was injured, Kevin Ware became a symbol for the team's resiliency.

After he was injured, Kevin Ware became a symbol for the team’s resiliency.– USA Today Sports/ Bob Donnan.

Surprisingly it wasn’t the Louisville paper that gave Ware the greatest attention, it was USA Today, indicating that Ware’s story of resiliency held national interest. With every photo of him, the media reminded their audience of Ware’s  refusal to quit — during the game, many of the photos were of him suited up courtside, reminding viewers that Ware remained a core team member.

Point Guard Trey Burke was the most frequently photographed member of Michigan’s losing team, according to researchers. Researchers noted that although Burke didn’t win the game, the majority of the photos published of him didn’t picture him frustrated, dejected or angry — in negative terms, in other words.  The photos, in essence, documented the fact that while Michigan lost, SB Nation named Burke the best player in college basketball.

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