The role of social media in athlete role-modeling

By Marianna Kazazi

Undoubtedly, social media has become an integral part of our lives, serving not only as a method of communication but also as a powerful influencing tool, shaping our thoughts and actions.

When it comes to athletes, they are often idolized by their fans due to their on-field performances, however social media helps make them more relatable to the audience on a more personal level. As a result, athletes acquire considerable influence through their social media platforms which comes with great responsibility.

Sports fans worldwide seek to stay updated on the daily lives of their favorite athletes by following them on social media platforms. Numerous athletes provide personal content to foster a sense of transparency with their fan base, such as glimpses into their gym routines, daily meals, and even personal and family lives. Through the development of their personal brand on social media, athletes effectively need to act as role models to their fans, leading by example.

The way in which societal issues are conveyed online has drastically evolved, and professional athletes have the power to leverage social media platforms to communicate their message to a much broader audience and in a much more personal way. For instance, several NBA players wore an ‘‘I can’t breathe’’ t-shirt before a game after the tragic death of Gardner following a confrontation with a New York Police Department officer in July 2014. This quickly became a social media sensation and users were sharing photos and stories regarding the actions of the NBA players. LeBron James, as one of the NBA players who wore the t-shirt, aimed to express solidarity to the victim’s family and raise awareness regarding the particular social problem. He highlighted the issue through his Instagram as well by sharing a picture showing Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin, both African American men, who also fell prey to police brutality, standing and hugging each other.

While social media can be a powerful tool for athletes to serve as positive role models, it also presents a significant risk since negative behavior online can lead to poor role-modeling for fans, especially young ones. An example of an athlete who has been criticized for promoting negative and inappropriate behavior, is Antonio Brown, a wide receiver in the NFL who has been involved in many controversial incidents both on and off the field. Specifically, through his social media accounts, he is known to make inappropriate and offensive comments, post inappropriate content and he also takes part in arguments with other users.

In conclusion, social media has transformed the way athletes are perceived by their fans with the ability to act as influential role-models to millions of people worldwide. The transparency and personalized content demonstrated through social media provides a sense of relatability and familiarity to athletes that was not possible in the past. Furthermore, athletes can leverage their social media platforms to raise awareness and address social issues but the negative effects of social media cannot be ignored. Inappropriate online behavior from athletes can lead to negative examples being set towards fans and the general public. Overall, athletes must use their social media with caution and great responsibility to ensure that they are promoting positive behavior; being great role-models to their followers.

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