Sunday, June 21, 2020

Athlete activism

    Athlete activism may come at a high cost for athletes that support controversial issues.  They face public scrutiny and possible financial backlash as they lose endorsement deals, contracts, their jobs, and even public humiliation.  Still, some athletes are risking it all and supporting Black Lives Matter in light of the recent social developments and injustices the Black community in America faces.  

    Recent research by Schmidt et al. (2018) studied the effect of the type and effort exerted by the athlete in their activism on an endorsed product's brand image and purchase intention.  They surveyed 305 people. Most of them were men and most of them were White.

    They found brand image and purchase intentions were not impacted by athletes activist effort. Namely, it made no difference if the athletes just posted on social media occasionally or were as invested as creating local chapters for the organization they support. Brand image and product purchase intentions remained intact.  On the other hand, more controversial issues, what they called risky activism (i.e. social equality), impacted brand image and purchase intentions differently than safe activism, such as childhood obesity (Schmidt et al., 2018).  
    However, even though there were statistically significant differences between safe and risky activism, the brand image perceptions and purchase intentions under risky activism conditions were still positive, and possibly better than not having an endorser.  This is important for marketing departments to keep in mind. As for athletes, how much effort they put into their activism did not make a difference, what makes mattered was controversial causes, such as racial equity (Schmidt et al., 2018). 
    So, athletes currently trying to support Black Lives Matter with the occasional twitter post will have similar effects on endorsed brands than athletes leading protests, opening local chapters, and making physical displays of support.  More importantly, those out in the streets may send a stronger message to their fan base and the movement as a whole, making the best use of their influence and platform to advance social reform (Matt 25:28). 

    The authors pose important questions in their discussion.  First, what is the impact that organizations' goodwill has on their brand image perceptions and purchase intentions? They present the NBA and Adidas not penalizing players wearing "I can't breathe" shirts during warm ups instead of their official Adidas issued warm up gear.  This is a wonderful Sport Marketing research question to address.  They also present the question of society's views and behaviors towards athletes using their platform for political protests.  This is a great Sport Sociology research question (Schmidt et al., 2018). 

    I challenge you to think above and beyond what they have proposed and come up with your own questions.  For example, from a Sports Communications perspective,  we could research the ways athletes are using their influence for political protests on and off the field, and what types of causes athletes are most vocal about.  Now, a high order thinking question for my students.  Do you see a practical scenario where a good endorsement fit and a great marketing team can leverage an endorsement deal into a win-win-win? This win-win-win scenario will be one where the social movement is advanced, the athlete gains contracts and visibility, and the brand image and purchase intention increase. Leave your research or scenarios ideas in the comments. 


Schmidt, S. H., Shreffler, M. B., Hambrick, M. E., & Gordon, B. S. (2018). An experimental examination of activist type and effort on brand image and purchase intentions. Sport Marketing Quarterly, 27(1), 31-43.


  1. There has not been a day that goes by recently that my heart has not ached for what is going on in our country. There is so much emotion and anger and we are all trying to process the next steps. I have no idea what my black friends have gone through in the past or what they are going through now. Earlier this year, my husband and I attended a friends funeral who was black. My husband and I were some of the handful of white people in the church. It was the first time I really thought about race and what black men and women might feel around mostly white people. It was then I started paying attention to any biases I might have. It was very eye-opening and thought provoking for me and I knew I had to continue to be aware of it, but to be kind to people no matter what I might think at a particular time. I say all of this to say, Nike has a great slogan, "Just Do it!"This is so simple, but as American's can we Just Do it? Can we just be kind? Can we just live by the Golden Rule? This may be very simplistic and maybe naive, but if we have a Nike endorsed athlete get behind a slogan of just being kind, could that work? I keep thinking about all the BLM anger and if people had treated them with respect and kindness in the first place, would we be here today? It doesn't erase history, but it's a start. I see a win, win, win for the athlete, Nike, and our country to get behind kindness and humanity. My heart aches for our country and if we "Just Do it," can we start some healing?

  2. As a white, heterosexual male, I have experienced quite a lot, if not the highest level of privilege available. As a society, we can no longer explain or standby the injustices and systematic racism in which people of color experience on a daily basis. It has been great and very wholesome to see the worldwide support, especially within the sports community. Although these brands and individuals are reaching a large community, I wonder how many are actually listening and changing or altering their behavior. Athletes and activists, alike, can set the tone and groundwork for change, but people and individuals need to be willing to first listen and then to enact or engage in change. Too many individuals respond to the outcries and messages with more criticism and hate. As a white male, I especially need to understand that first, I may and will likely never understand how an individual feels and second, that I need to respond by listening. It is no longer about simply being "not racist" but anti-racist. The sport's world has always been a good example and platform for our society, at large. Therefore, by reaching these larger communities, athletes and activists can create much needed dialogue, partial understanding, and change. Only then, can we move forward as a society.

  3. I think that what we have seen over the course of the last month cannot be compared to anything we have ever witnessed in terms of athlete activism, or just activism in general. It used to be athletes were scared to speak out for fear of losing contracts, now it is almost the opposite. You have athletes from all walks of life coming forward, speaking out, and fighting for change that is definitely needed. It is a great thing to see. The things athletes have been saying and doing for the last month should be supported by every decent human being. I am so happy to see athletes joining in on the protests because it is going to change people's minds. Hearing the anecdotes some professional and elite collegiate athletes have recently shared have showed that these issues are wide spread and systemic. It is kept the movement alive and in the news, it is keeping people talking about it. The bottom line is that there are a lot of people who look up to and idolize athletes. Their words and stories carry a lot of weight. These athletes have earned their platform. I am happy to see that they can finally use it with the support from their equipment manufacturers, teams, leagues, and other partners they have.

  4. I think it is great that people of all races, genders and sexual orientations are in a world that they have a voice to express their feelings about issues they feel are important to them. The one thing I think athletes have to remember is with the same voice they use as a famous athlete that has a national platform to express opinions on they are also role models and need to do it respectfully. I understand there is a lot of anger about perceived injustices. I also agree there are in fact injustices that have occurred but the athletes have a national audience that includes children that see them as people to look up to. The way they voice their opinions is important and it should not be taken lightly and statements should not be made without much thought going into it. They should also know sometimes they are at the mercy of their employees. They are contracted employees to a business entity and are subject to consequences. If they remain respectful that is not an issue but sometimes people speak with and angry tongue without thinking and that can be an issue.

  5. It's ironic to me that we had many athletes, several years ago, taking a stand against the injustice towards black people from the police and many people were staunchly against their protests. During that time, their coaches, team owners, and even the commissioner of the NFL were against their protests. Within a few years and countless further deaths at the hands of the police, athletes and millions of others are taking a stand yet again. An apology has been offered to Colin Kapernick. While athletes must be aware of who their audiences are when putting their advocacy messages out to the world, being able to use their platform of millions of followers to increase awareness of the worlds problems is amazing.

    Many people have told celebrities throughout the years to "shut up and stick to acting," but in my opinion, celebrities and athletes have the perfect platform to use their voice for good. Most celebrities and athletes have more than a million followers and if they can use their platform to educate and help their followers understand why people are protesting and fighting back that is a great thing for the world.

  6. The world has seen some unpleasant experiences within the last few months, and I have been very emotional through all of it. I am a white male and I recognize the white privileged I have had my entire life. We need equality for all, and we need to fight against racial injustice. A very frustrating part of all of this is how so many athletes spoke up in the past against racial injustice, but sadly it was not fully listened to. Even the athletes who did speak up (Colin Kaepernick) were punished and ridiculed (Kaepernick for his protest inequality back in 2016.) Now Colin has been apologized to and listened to more. I believe a true athletes character isn't just defined on the field, but can be shown off the field by using their voice/platform to inform, educate, and benefit society as a whole to fight against racism throughout the world. During this time, companies want to separate themselves from others and I believe this is a great time to endorse athletes that have the passion to fight for justice. There can be some amazing messages that can be seen by so many people if the right partnerships can be made with big sport brands and athletes. Back in 2016, ESPN even ruled out any political discussion on their broadcasts, but I believe people need to talk about this issue because obliviously it is still present within our society. We need to keep educating, donating, and supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and together we can make a change.

  7. I recently discussed in another course Kaepernick being one of the first players to take a knee to peacefully protest racism and police brutality. In 2018, the National Football League approved a national anthem policy that required all players and employees to stand or remain in the locker room during the national anthem. The policy was unanimously approved by team owners. Now that more athletes are taking a stand and speaking out for what they believe in, the NFL's commisoner decides to apologize to Kaepernick. An apology isn't fixing the situation. Kaepernick lost his job, money, endorsements, and him and his family were threatened. How does a sport where more than half of their players are African American allow this to happen? The fact that the protest was peaceful didn't matter to ignorant individuals uncornerned with what/who he was fighting for while kneeling. It is unexcusable the way that people of color and the LGBTQ community have been/is being treated.

    Nike has been a company that has experienced a lot of ups and downs in sales when it comes to them speaking out about social issues. When Nike added Kaepernick as a brand embassador, they seen a lot of people burning product and critizing the business. Kaepernick was able to make money through being a Nike embassador, his social movement advanced, and Nike sold out on the first day of the Kaepernick shoe release. The Kaepernick/ Nike deal was a win win win.

  8. One of the major things I have noticed from all of this tragedy is the way it has brought people together for real this time. Unfortunately, there are hundreds even thousands of George Floyd's everyday across this country and now it seems to have become an issue not just for young men who look like myself but the rest of the world as well. In these situations we always look to athletes to speak out on our behalf but these last few weeks have shown these men and women despite their accolades are human, just as you and me.

    As a black man who was a collegiate athlete at a Division I university, I know what its like to wear team gear when you're around town so you're not taken as a "troublemaker" or hwo it feels to have the same people cheering for you, call you a racial slur a few hours later. I love seeing these young men and women use their platforms to combat this but in order for things to get better they must first change.

  9. These past few months have been very telling about how the athletes really feel about the BLM movement. One that really stood out to me was Brett Favre. He released a statement that basically said Colin Kaepernick would be remembered has a hero, just like Pat Tillman was. For me, hearing someone like Brett Favre say that, it really goes to show just how many people are on board with the movement. Another was the Drew Brees incident. During an interview he went on to say how he still didn't agree with people kneeling for the flag. This brought a lot of backlash and anger from the black community and he was informed by his teammates of the struggles of African Americans in the United States. He has since retracted his statements and taken a stance against social injustice and with the BLM movement. Through everything going on I feel like a lot of people, including myself, have gained a lot of information and have a better understanding of what is really going on in this particular situation. For me, dating someone who is African American/Filipino has really opened my eyes to the unfair treatment given to people who aren't white in this country. While there has been strides to help end racism, this movement has been bigger than any one during my lifetime. I love to see and hope to see the big name athletes continuing to push for a change.