Protests in Sports and their Impact

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With the football season upon, fans around the country are discussing the prospects of success, where the squad is ranked, and how well they will fare against the upcoming competition. 

At the professional level, commentators and fans are also discussing athlete activism.

Colin Kaepernick began his Black Lives Matter protests in 2016, and since that time, various players and teams have engaged in some form of protest or resistance. 

Several questions emerge from these actions. Why do some players protest and not others? What is the impact? And, how do the protests influence fans, their attitudes, and their behaviors? 

Recently, a group of researchers out of the Laboratory for Diversity in Sport at Texas A&M University examined these very topics. 

They suggested that many athletes and coaches taken on celebrity status in the US. As a result, these sports figures might be more likely than others to use their celebrity status as a platform to engage in activism and resistance. 

Of course, celebrity status alone will not explain much, so the research team examined also contributing factors, including context, demographics, and psychological characteristics. For example, the WNBA and NBA are sport leagues where activism and protest are more accepted than, say, in the NFL. Further, players from underrepresented backgrounds are more likely to protest, as are those who have a strong social justice orientation. 

The researchers also examined how fans might receive the protest message. They argued that the demographics of the fans and their sport involvement would affect their reactions, as would how credible they perceive the athlete or coach engaging in the protest. 

Together, the research illustrates how multiple factors influence the efficacy of athlete activism.