Politics-Free in the Sports World?: an Empirical Examination of the Social and Marketing Implications of Athlete Activism

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Despite countless arguments pertaining to the desired separation of political elements from sports, the intersection of sports and politics can be found more visibly and frequently through athletes and their involvement in sociopolitical issues. Additionally, given the increasing number of athlete activism, notably coupled with recent Black Lives Matter movements as well as the critical social and marketing impacts of athletes, it is imperative to further delve into athlete activism. Thus, this dissertation examines (a) whether and how differently people perceive athlete activism, with a focus on the role of news media exposure and (b) the subsequent effects of athlete activism through a 2 (What: attitude-consistent vs. counter-attitudinal) x 2 (about Who: an in-group athlete vs. an out-group athlete) x 2 (How: selective vs. forced) experimental study. Based on various theoretical underpinnings, including media effects, selective exposure, and social identity theory, a total sample of 378 participants recruited from Amazon MTurk was empirically analyzed via statistical tests such as ANCOVA and regression. The results showed the significant moderating role of news media exposure (attitude consistency) in that there were attitude differences between participants in the attitude-consistent news report condition and participants in the counter-attitudinal news report condition. Additionally, this dissertation found that people’s political attitudes can be reinforced and polarized through attitude-consistent media consumption as participants’ attitudes became either more negative or more positive (depending on their prior attitudes) after exposure to the attitude-consistent news exposure. A strong positive relationship between attitude toward the protesting athlete and attitude toward the endorsed brand, along with the moderating role of the sponsorship decision was revealed, implying the importance of sponsorship decision when its sponsored athletes are involved in controversial issues. Lastly, this dissertation identified the positive relationship between athlete activism and political participation, supporting the idea that athletes have the power to change our society as well as showing the inextricable link between sports and politics.

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