Sports at Play in American Politics


  • Jonathan Shen St. Andrew's College
  • Courtenay Shrimpton Mentor, St. Andrew's College



American Politics, American Sports, Activism


Sports have been a vital element to American entertainment for decades, which are only gaining popularity. Various sport events allow Americans to temporarily escape the stress associated with their social lives and the divisiveness of partisan politics; however, a closer look at the numerous features of sport games reveal an intricate connection between American sports and politics. With the mandatory playing of the national anthem and the integration of sports and political terminology, sport games in America have become a platform to impose various political ideals. This paper will first introduce how the usage of sport terminologies in politics can simplify a complex process into a game of “winners and losers,” which can further political polarization and disincentivize bipartisan collaboration. It will then aim to demonstrate how the imposition of novel rituals that stem from nationalistic and militaristic values can silent dissenting opinions and enforce a homogenous yet unjustified “American Identity.” However, the final part of this paper aims to showcase the alternate impacts that sports can have on politics, especially in the realm of sports-driven activism. This paper does not aim to take a stance on the exact impact that sports can have on American politics, as it is mostly likely to be multi-dimensional, but to unveil to the reader how sports, an entity that is seemingly designed as a form of escape from political agendas, can in reality have substantial impacts on America’s political atmosphere. 


Download data is not yet available.

References or Bibliography


The Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. (2014, September 17). Americans know surprisingly little about their government, survey finds. The Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.

Bass, A., & Bass, A. (2002). "That's My Flag". In Not the triumph but the struggle: the 1968 Olympics and the making of the Black athlete (Ser. Critical American Studies, pp. 233–290). essay, University of Minnesota Press.

Billings, A. C., Butterworth, M. L., & Turman, P. D. (2017). Politics and Nationalism in Sport. In Communication and sport: surveying the field (pp. 161–186). essay, Sage.

Bineham, J. L. (1991). Some ethical implications of team sports metaphors in politics. Communication Reports, 4(1), 35–42.

Branch, J. (2017, September 7). The Awakening of Colin Kaepernick. The New York Times.

Brown, R. S. (2004). Sport and healing America. Society, 42(1), 37–41.

Bryant, N. (2012, September 27). The shared language of sport and politics. BBC News.

Butterworth, M. L. (2005). Ritual in the “Church of Baseball”: Suppressing the Discourse of Democracy after 9/11. Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, 2(2), 107–129.

Campbell, J. A. (2019). Political Gridlock: The Ongoing Threat to American Democracy. Gettysburg Social Sciences Review Fall 2019, 3(2), 4–41.

Gorsevski, E. W., & Butterworth, M. L. (2011). Muhammad Ali's Fighting Words: The Paradox of Violence in Nonviolent Rhetoric. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 97(1), 50–73.

Ivie, R. L. (2002). Rhetorical Deliberation and Democratic Politics in the Here and Now. Rhetoric & Public Affairs, 5(2), 277–285.

Jhally, S. (1984). The Spectacle of Accumulation: Material and Cultural Factors in the Evolution of the Sports/Media Complex. Insurgent Sociologist, 12(3), 41–57.

Jones, D. R. (2001). Party Polarization and Legislative Gridlock. Political Research Quarterly, 54(1), 125–141.

Lovinger, J., & Lipsyte, R. (2002). Prophets. In The Gospel According to ESPN: Saints, Saviors & Sinners (First, pp. 9–58). essay, Hyperion.

Mill, J. S. (1869). Chapter 2. In On Liberty (Fourth, pp. 38–38). essay, London: Longmans, Green, Reader and Dyer.

Moradi, E. (2020, September 7). 'Generation Kaepernick': Activist-athletes uplift voices for justice. Berkeley News.

Nweke, O. N. (2020, October 13). How have sports shaped the Black Lives Matter movement? Public Interest Media.

Orwell, G. (1950). The Sporting Spirit. In Shooting an Elephant: and other essays (pp. 151–155). essay, Reclam.

Piršl, D., Petković, E., Dragić, B., & Piršl, T. (2017). Sports Metaphors Make Political Discourse More Punching. Proceedings of The 5th Virtual Multidisciplinary Conference, 124–127.

Rankine, C. (2015, August 25). The Meaning of Serena Williams. The New York Times.

Rowe, D. (2013). The Sport/Media Complex. A Companion to Sport, 61–77.

Stewart, D. (2013, May 3). It's time to stop treating politics as a sport. The Week.

Tower, N. (2020, November 12). In an ethnic breakdown of sports, NBA takes lead for most diverse. Global Sport Matters.

Vieth, D. (2015). The Impact of Sports Metaphors on the Media and Public Sphere. Lexia: Undergraduate Journal in Writing, Rhetoric & Technical Communication, 3.

Younge, G. (2012, March 30). The man who raised a black power salute at the 1968 Olympic Games. The Guardian.



How to Cite

Shen, J., & Shrimpton, C. (2021). Sports at Play in American Politics. Journal of Student Research, 10(3).



HS Research Articles