Image Repair Using Social Identity Leadership: An Exploratory Analysis of the National Football League’s Response to the National Anthem Protests

in Journal of Sport Management
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  • 1 Institute for Sport Business, Loughborough University London, London, United Kingdom
  • | 2 Department of Sport and Event Management, Bournemouth University, Poole, United Kingdom
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Events such as player protests can create image crises that require sport organizations to engage in political issues. In this manuscript, we blend image repair theory with the social identity approach to leadership to advance knowledge about how sport organizations communicate in response to crises. Applying a discursive social psychology framework to analyze 21 NFL communications and interview statements, we explored how the NFL’s rhetoric evolved in response to the 2016–2020 national anthem and Black Lives Matter protests. The NFL augmented its traditionally militarized patriot identity as the crisis progressed, to address the social change issues raised by protestors. We show that sport organizations use rhetoric to mobilize support for their version of events to manage threats to organizational image. Accordingly, we provide theoretical and managerial implications arguing that apolitical identities are increasingly untenable in sport.

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