Purdue University Graduate School
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Athlete Activism Online: An Examination of Subsequent Fan Engagement

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posted on 2019-05-15, 19:38 authored by Lillian B FederLillian B Feder
The impact of athlete activism online remains understudied in academic scholarship. To gain a better understanding for fan response to athlete activism online, this study examines the patterns in perception and response among sports fans with respect to politically-charged content posted online by professional athletes. The purpose of this study is to use this understanding of fan response to help athletes and their representatives manage fan reaction to athletes’ politically-charged content. By examining fan response to politically-charged content, this study suggests principles for eliciting positive impact, fostering open discourse, and promoting awareness through social media. Patterns in perception and response among sports fans with respect to politically-charged content posted online by professional athletes were examined through in-depth interviews conducted with sports fans between the ages of 18 and 30 who follow the profiles of professional athletes on social media. An understanding of the potential benefits and drawbacks of athletes’ use of social media for social movements has been gained through an analysis of the emergent themes among perception and response patterns revealed by study participants. The emergent themes of this study inform recommendations for professional athletes posting politically-charged content online. The findings of this study suggest that athletes who post politically-charged content online should do so with their goals and audience in mind. Knowing their goals as well as their audience grants athletes the ability to frame their content accordingly, rendering them more likely to receive positive responses to the politically-charged content they post. Based on the findings of this study, athletes who frame politically-charged content as a narrative highlighting their lived experience and employing appeals to emotion and humor yield the most positive responses from otherwise uninterested or hostile fans. The insights gained from this study stand to fill the gap in existing literature surrounding athlete activism online.


Degree Type

  • Master of Science


  • Communication

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Dr. Brian Smith

Additional Committee Member 2

Dr. Josh Boyd

Additional Committee Member 3

Dr. Sorin Matei