Butches, Bullies and Buffoons: Images of Physical Education Teachers in the Movies

Bryan McCullick, Don Belcher, Brent Hardin, Marie Hardin

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


The purpose of this study was to examine the cinematic images of physical educators during the past decade. This study is approached from two perspectives: (a) framing and (b) social cognition. Framing, an approach to media studies most often reserved for critical analysis of news, provides useful generalities for a formative study of movie images, which directs explicit attention toward the construction and use of media frames. Contemporary social cognition theory blends social learning theory with an understanding of the power of media images. Media observers (i.e. movie viewers) can acquire symbolic representations of behavior through media images and these images are powerful and informative enough to inform subsequent behavior. Using the Internet Movie Database (IMDB), each researcher compiled a list of movies. After an initial list from the IMDB was compiled, researchers added films that they knew, from personal knowledge, included physical education teachers. A final list of 18 movies was distributed to each of the four coders, with a stipulation that the coding take place during a specified time period of no more than three months. Each researcher observed the videotapes independently while noting the dialogue and camera shots of all scenes involving physical educators for emerging frames of reference regarding physical education teachers. Ethnographic content analysis, a media studies variation of the constant comparative method, aided in the identification of frames (categories and themes) that emerged from the data. The researchers independently made notes concerning the video observations and then later developed a system of classification by comparing notes and discovering regularities within the data. The constant comparative method was used to assist in the assessment and grouping of framing approaches. Agreement between researchers had to be 100% for a frame to be included in research findings. It was agreed that frames had to be constructed by both verbal and visual indicators in the films, and it had to be strongly associated with at least three films. Although nuances in setting, plot and the personalities of characters might arguably make frames in each film studied 'unique', several frames emerged as characteristic of depictions of physical educators: (a) there is no distinction between physical educators and coaches, (b) physical educators are incompetent teachers, (c) physical educators are drill sergeants and are the proverbial 'bully from hell' who enjoys seeing a student humiliated, and (d) characteristics of physical educators are gendered: women are often depicted as 'butch' or lesbian; men, as buffoons devoid of 'masculine' leadership qualities. An understanding of these frames is important because it provides clues about social cognition and behavior in regard to issues of physical education - from the classroom to the school board meeting, from decisions made about participation in physical education class to decisions made about the priority of physical education in the school setting.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3-16
Number of pages14
JournalSport, Education and Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2003

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Education


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