Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Manship School of Mass Communication

Document Type



Contemporary athletes are using their platforms to discuss more social activism issues than ever before. This dissertation examines how attitudes and perceptions of activist athletes may differ based on the social activism issues they advocate for. Further, how different social activism issues may prime individuals to associate different gender and racial stereotypes to the athletes involved. To accomplish this goal, a mixed methods convergent approach was used to explore how certain social activism issues and athletes’ level of activism involvement alter perceptions of the issues and the athletes themselves. This approach combines findings from study 1, in-depth interviews with sports fans, along with study 2, an online priming experiment. Study 1 consisted of N=21 in-depth interviews with sports fans recruited through Reddit. Various themes were established during these interviews, for example, politically conservative sports fans had more caveats associated with supporting an athlete using their platform to discuss social activism issues. But, overall, sports fans were generally supportive of the athletes using their platform to advocate for different social activism issues.

Study 2 was an online priming experiment that consisted of a 3 (social activism issue: mental health, police brutality, and pay inequity) X 2 (activism language: steadfast activism language, circumstantial activism language) between-subjects study design. The main study with a sample N=802 was fielded through Amazon Mechanical Turk. The findings from this study show to individuals did associate different gender and racial assumptions based on the type of social activism issue an athlete was involved with. Such that, individuals perceived the athlete as Black when they were involved with police brutality activism and a woman when they were involved with pay inequity activism. These findings along with open-ended responses on how individuals decided the race and gender of the athlete suggest that the different social issues are serving as issue primes. Additional findings show that more negative perceptions and stereotypical traits were associated with the steadfast activism language condition compared to the circumstantial activism language condition. In totality, Study 1 and Study 2 provide a better understanding of the societal and stereotypical perceptions of athletes and social activism.



Committee Chair

Sanders, Meghan S.



Available for download on Monday, April 07, 2025