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A Focus on Race/Ethnicity and Political Identities

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 June 2021

Rachel Allison*
Department of Sociology, Mississippi State University
Chris Knoester
Department of Sociology, The Ohio State University
B. David Ridpath
Department of Sports Administration, Ohio University
Corresponding author: Professor Rachel Allison, Department of Sociology, Mississippi State University, 207 Bowen Hall, 456 Hardy Rd., Mississippi State, MS39762. E-mail:


Drawing on insights from Critical Race Theory and framing theory, as well as previous research, this study ties together and analyzes public opinions about two racialized and politicized sports-related issues: (1) the financial compensation of college athletes, and (2) athlete protests during the national anthem. Consequently, we highlight racial/ethnic identities, racial attitudes, and political identities as predictors of these public opinions. Data for our analyses come from a nationally representative sample of U.S. adults who were surveyed just prior to the 2016 presidential election. Descriptive results suggest that well over half of U.S. adults opposed having the NCAA pay college athletes; also, about two-thirds of adults viewed athlete protests during the national anthem as unacceptable. Regression results reveal that Black and Latinx adults were more supportive of paying college athletes and athlete protests during the national anthem than White adults. Other people of color were also more likely than White adults to support paying college athletes. Racial attitudes such as a lack of recognition of racial/ethnic inequalities in education and support for Black Lives Matter also shaped public opinions about these issues in expected ways. Finally, we find that political identities were linked to public opinions about these issues even after accounting for racial/ethnic identities and racial attitudes. Overall, this study documents public opinions about these prominent sports-related issues just prior to the 2016 election of a President who particularly racialized and politicized sports issues. Even then, these sports-related issues had been similarly filtered through both a White racial frame that encourages colorblind racism and a counter frame that promotes antiracist activism. Altogether, the present study offers further evidence of how sports provide cultural terrain for individuals to enact and negotiate racialized and politicized views of sports and society and illustrates how these processes were reflected in public opinions in 2016.

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© The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of Hutchins Center for African and African American Research

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