Sports, Celebrities, and Politics

For many in contemporary American society, the dream is to become a celebrity or famous in some way. Some will go to extraordinary lengths to achieve this, committing violent acts so as to gain infamy. However, for many others, the idea is to cultivate a talent and utilize this talent to achieve great success. This type of celebrities can be of a number of different type; there are sports stars, actors, musicians, and many other possibilities. These iconic figures become role models to young people, especially in sports, where for many it is a chance to move out of an underprivileged situation into a better one in which they can provide for themselves and their community.

This situation makes professional athletes ideal candidates for sponsors of certain companies, products, or messages that are being advertised to a large group of people. One recent instance of this was LeBron James being enlisted by the White House to promote Obamacare. Not only is the scope of the audience which LeBron has access to incredibly vast, but it is also an audience which may not have previously been paying attention to Obama’s recent policies. The spheres of sports and politics (not the politics in sports) can sometimes share avid fans, but for the majority of sports fans, politics may not be their top priority.

Obama’s administration is aiming to get 6 million people signed up for Obamacare by the end of March, and are currently at about 4.2 million. LeBron is not the only name in professional athletics enlisted in the Obamacare cause. Magic Johnson, the Baltimore Ravens, the Washington Nationals, and Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney have all been public supporters of the law recently. The White House claims that by reaching out to people through sports, they may “reach communities that stand to benefit from many of the law’s new programs and the young adults that it needs to enroll in the exchanges for the law to succeed” (Waldron). The use of professional athletes for advertising is definitely not limited to the White House or politics. Many chain food companies, such as Subway, make use of professional athletes in their advertisements. Why are these athletes such a good choice in sponsorship?

Relating back to the Bourdieu article that we read for class recently, sports are often viewed as a means for people of lower classes to attain social mobility to more upper class positions in society. “A sporting career, which is practically excluded from the field of acceptable trajectories for a child of the bourgeoisie – setting aside tennis or golf – represents one of the few paths of the upward mobility open to the children of the dominated classes” (Bourdieu 832). Because the concept of being a sports star is something that is more accessible than some other means of gaining success and status, professional athletes can act as role models and be something that youth and adolescent working class people alike can aspire to.The commercialization of not only the sports events and teams, but specific individuals points to the larger move of our society towards commodification of most forms of life.

This post was based on this article from ThinkProgress:

Here is the video PSA featuring LeBron, and the one featuring Magic Johnson as well:


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