Playing Offense: How Athletes are Impacting a Changing Administrative State

AuthorMichael Blair Thomas,Jamie Levine Daniel
Published date01 November 2022
Date01 November 2022
Subject MatterPerspectives
Administration & Society
2022, Vol. 54(10) 2101 –2120
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/00953997221102612
Playing Offense: How
Athletes are Impacting a
Changing Administrative
Michael Blair Thomas1
and Jamie Levine Daniel2
The start of the 2020s presents a broken American administrative system
plagued by state ineptitude in a time of turmoil and government distrust.
In their protests, marginalized citizens have seen their voices amplified by
integral parts of their communities for whom they have cheered: Athletes.
This Perspective draws attention to the idea of super citizens and their
ability to influence policy. We argue that Black athlete activism that
centers their social reality and legitimizes Black Lives Matter for broader
populations is one example of a punctuated equilibrium that work to
achieve administrative state change.
administrative state, Black Lives Matter, citizen engagement, protest, social
justice, sport, systemic racism
1Florida State University, Tallahassee, USA
2Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, USA
Corresponding Author:
M. Blair Thomas, Gov. Reubin O’D. Askew School of Public Administration & Policy, Florida
State University, P.O. Box 3062250, 113 Collegiate Loop, Tallahassee, FL 32306, USA.
1102612AAS0010.1177/00953997221102612Administration & SocietyThomas and Daniel
2102 Administration & Society 54(10)
The American administrative state has faced extraordinary challenges over
the past two years, many of which highlight profound disparities (Chatters
et al., 2021; Vilda et al., 2021; Yearby, 2021) stemming from state ineptitude
in a time of turmoil and government distrust. The May 2020 murder of
Minneapolis resident George Floyd at the hands of then-Minneapolis police
officer Derek Chauvin ignited domestic discussion systemic racism and
White nationalism (Thomas & Wright, 2021; Wright & Thomas, 2022).
Floyd’s death coupled with an overwhelming swell of support for Black
Lives Matter (BLM, hereafter) generated the largest protests in the nation’s
history in July 2020 (Buchanan et al., 2020), with current and former Black
athletes among the forefront (Thomas & Wright, 2021; Wright & Thomas,
2022). Amid this confluence of events, we are witnessing an administrative
state positioned to make policy changes based on the influence of powerful
citizen actors who have exercised an impact on public opinion, at a specific
moment in time.
Historically relegated to legitimization only in the American popular cul-
ture spheres of fashion, music and style, the influence of the Black athlete has
been celebrated in nearly all corners of the United States except in the politi-
cal sphere. This structural disempowerment reflects the concept of Othering,
in which a small group of people decide who counts as citizens, with rights to
services. More specifically, Powell and Menendian (2016) describe Othering
as “a set of dynamics, processes, and structures that engender marginality and
persistent inequality across any of the full range of human differences based
on group identities.” According to Roberts (2021), public administration
scholars often use “citizen” to refer to the general population in a given juris-
diction without explicit definition. However, “citizen” has a distinct legal
connotation, often related to political status and/or affiliation with a sover-
eign state (Alexander, 2021; Shearing & Wood, 2003). People viewed as citi-
zens are subject to and granted protections by the state. Non-citizens are not
necessarily afforded these same protections, and, in some instances, may be
viewed as a threat to the state. In these cases, they are Othered, often along
lines of race, gender, and/or religion.
Dating to the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome and continuing
into the current Western and non-Western societies of today, athletes exercise
a powerful role in shaping public opinion due to the role of sports as a pur-
veyor of culture and public identity (Houlihan, 1997; Reid, 2017; Tomlinson
& Young, 2006). They can be viewed as “super citizens” (Pope, 1997), who
have the respect and admiration of the masses, specifically from the commu-
nities that they represent. This relationship may allow them a way to break
down the boundaries that Other them, providing a platform to increase aware-
ness of political, social, and human rights issues.

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