Abstract: The Effect of Political Protests and Statements Made by African American Professional Athletes on the National Conversation About Racial Injustice over Twitter

On September 23, 2017, President Trump tweeted “If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!” President Trump’s tweet came more than a year after former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s initial decision to sit and later to kneel during the National Anthem in protest of the oppression of people of color and police brutality in the United States. Kaepernick’s protest occurred amidst an ongoing series of political protests and statements about racial injustice made by African American athletes over the past few years. Most academic scholars and pundits assume that these athletes are influencing the national conversation, but there has been no meaningful effort to quantify the impact of these actions, examine the nature and scope of such an impact, or compare it to the impacts of other actors on the national scene.

I plan to analyze Twitter data from before and after political statements or protests by notable African American athletes to quantify the direct effects of the athletes’ political behaviors on the national conversation about racial injustice. Specifically, I will analyze Twitter data to determine (1) whether these statements and protests have resulted in statistically significant increases in the overall volume of tweets mentioning keywords related to racial injustice; (2) which qualities of athlete protests correspond with the most significant effects on volume tweets, and (3) whether African American athletes’ tweets about racial injustice are favorited and retweeted at higher rates than those of elected officials or other political opinion leaders.

My results will hopefully provide a well-rounded understanding of African American athletes’ influence on the national conversation about racial injustice and provide a foundation for future research using Twitter data to measure the influence of different societal actors and activities.

 

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