Does Protest “Distract” Athletes From Performing? Evidence From the National Anthem Demonstrations in the National Football League
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This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Sage in Journal of Sport & Social Issues on October 21, 2021, available online: https://doi.org/10.1177/01937235211043647
While there is a long tradition of activism within sport, a popular criticism of athlete protest is that it is a “distraction” that hinders on-field performance. The widespread demonstrations against racial injustice in 2017 among players in the National Football League (NFL) provided an opportunity to test this “distraction hypothesis.” Using data drawn from multiple sources, we first explored which factors predicted player protest, finding that Black players and those playing for underdogs were more likely to protest. Then, using a series of analyses at the player-game level (n = 19,051) and the team-game level (n = 512), we tested the assertion that protest is detrimental to individual or team performance, finding no evidence for a distraction effect. The results of this study allow us to better understand social factors that may affect athletic performance or constrain athlete activism.