Athletes as Agents of Change

Athletes as Agents of Change Image

Sports are an important part of our civic infrastructure and create a basis for community engagement. Scholars have long recognized the value of sport participation, not only for the physical benefits, but also for the development of social skills, moral development, academic achievement, as well as the ability for sports to unite individuals from different cultures and serve as an intervention strategy for integrating newcomers. 

In the intricate web of sports and society, athletes manifest as potential catalysts for social change by transcending the confines of the sports field to influence their communities. As role models, many professional athletes not only influence attitudes and behaviors within their communities and broader audiences, but their high-profile status also enables them to spotlight significant social issues, thereby promoting discourse and sparking transformative changes.

Over time, international, refugee, minority and foreign-born or immigrant U.S. athletes from Caster Semenya, to Paul Gasol, Yusra Mardini, Jackie Robinson, Billie Jean King and Roberto Clemente used their voice and platform to raise awareness of social issues and challenge the status quo.

In this commentary piece, IIR PhD Candidate and Graduate Research Assistant, Zikun Li, and Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Dr. Marissa Kiss, capture the stories of iconic athletes and sporting teams, demonstrating their role as agents of change through attitudinal and behavioral displays across various categories such as philanthropy and community engagement, public health, social justice and anti-racism, religious freedom, cultural diversity and inclusion, gender equality, immigrant and refugee advocacy, labor rights and economic empowerment, and anti-war activism. The diverse stories presented in this commentary piece, highlight the multifaceted nature of athletes' contributions to society and how sports are more than just a game.

Click here to read our commentary piece on athletes as agents of change.

Click here if you would like to nominate an athlete, coach, staff member, or someone else in your organization who has gone above and beyond in your community.