Analyzing Social Movement Theory and Sport: Exploring the Presence of Athlete Activism in Brazil and the United States


The relationship between athletes and activism is ubiquitous in United States (US) history. I became curious as to how this relationship operates in other countries. Comparing US athlete activism to Brazil athlete activism offered an intriguing case study to explore why athlete activism occurs in some counties and not in others; my research centered on why athlete activism flourished in the US and not in Brazil. To understand and explain why athlete activism occurs or why it does not, I studied political scientist Doug McAdam’s Political Process Model. McAdam’s political process model examines what societal elements inspire social movements. Using McAdam’s theory as framework, I determined three factors that supported the presence and absence of athlete activism in the US and Brazil. McAdam’s theory provided three dimensions of social movements: political opportunity, organizational strength, and insurgent consciousness. The three factors that I researched in an effort to explain athlete activism include state strength and nationalism, history of race relations, and sport institutions. Each of these factors correlates to the three dimensions of social movement theory offered by McAdam. McAdam’s social movement theory appropriately frames and supports my research as to why athlete activism occurs more in the US than in Brazil. Based on my framework, I conclude that the US has more athlete activism due to increased political opportunity, stronger organizational strength, and a stronger insurgent consciousness within the country than occurs in Brazil. The US’s strong nationalism and state strength, segregated history of race relations, and specific structure of sport institutions all encourage athlete activism. Brazil has weak nationalism and state strength, a nuanced history of race relations, and sport institutions which discourage athlete activism.



politics, sport, United States, Brazil, comparative politics, athlete activism, activism