Chloe Burdette

The “Shut Up and Dribble” Conundrum: A Qualitative Cyber Ethnographic Analysis of LeBron James’ and Stephen Curry’s Social Media Activism on The Black Lives Matter Movement and Low-Income Education

April 6, 2021   /  

Student Name: Chloe Burdette
Major: Communication Studies
Minor: Global Media and Digital Studies
Advisor: Dr. Rob Razzante, Second Reader: Dr. Ahmet Atay

The purpose of this study is to analyze how professional athletes, most specifically LeBron James, have broken through the stereotypical athlete barrier in order to shed light and encourage justice for social activism issues such as educational opportunities for low-income youth and the Black Lives Matter Movement. Furthermore, this study focuses on the ability these athletes have in our social media enhanced society, with the use of platforms such as Instagram and Twitter, to more easily participate and influence a broader audience. This study utilizes a cyber ethnographic qualitative content analysis to compare two subjects — Stephen Curry and LeBron James. To drive my analysis, I used two research questions regarding how athletes (specifically James) use their social media profiles to fight injustice within our society with strategies such as hashtag activism and language that serves as a “call to action” to followers and viewers.

For future research, I would recommend that researchers are able to carve out a longer period of time to carry out this study — if researched again, researchers could use James’ full career of posts on Instagram and Twitter, and this could lead to more patterns found in his subject matter in posts. Furthermore, a researcher could take this study and expand the pool of subjects to five or more NBA athletes who may come from even broader backgrounds and see if there is a difference in the number of posts related to activism. Additionally, a researcher could analyze a perspective from female athletes. I focus on race as a primary factor in this study, but I do not touch on gender, which could be an intriguing element to unpack as many female athletes use their platforms for issues such as the wage gap and other sexist issues that occur in the media’s portrayal of female athletes.

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Chloe will be online to field comments on April 16: Noon-2 pm EDT (PST 9am-11am, Africa/Europe: early evening).

45 thoughts on “The “Shut Up and Dribble” Conundrum: A Qualitative Cyber Ethnographic Analysis of LeBron James’ and Stephen Curry’s Social Media Activism on The Black Lives Matter Movement and Low-Income Education”

  1. Hey Chloe, great I.S.! I was wondering if you came across any criticism of these athletes encouraging justice and using social media to promote activism. Your title includes, “Shut Up and Dribble”, did you find any users were saying things like that to James or Curry?

    1. Hi Waverly!

      Yes, criticism came from many different outlets, even including other athletes. The “shut up and dribble” is actually a real comment that was said to James from Fox News reporter Laura Ingraham criticizing James for his opinion on political matters. Athletes who criticized James included Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a star soccer player from Sweden. Ibrahimovic stated that James “. . . is phenomenal at what he’s doing, but I don’t like when people have some kind of status, they go and do politics at the same time . . . Do what you’re good at. Do the category you do.”

      Thanks for the question, Wave! Miss you and hope you are doing well!

  2. This is a very timely project, Chloe. Congratulations, and we wish you the best in your future plans beyond Wooster!

  3. Chloe- great project! How do you think these results would differ in other social media influencers, like actors or music artisits?

    1. Hi Kate!

      Athletes get a bad reputation for only being intelligent in the sport that they play, and nothing else. Society only really allows professional athletes to stay in their own realm of sports and are frowned upon if they speak their opinions on political or social matters. I would assume that the results would be slightly different as celebrities are often praised for their exploration of other career avenues once their “prime time” is over. Luckily, there are some athletes who have broken through this stereotypical barrier and have had very successful post-athlete careers (such as Kareem Abdul-Jabaar who now has authored over 13 books).

      Thanks so much for the question! Congrats on finishing!

  4. Congrats Chloe! This is just a great project with important implications. I love the poster you made it’s so visually appealing, engaging, and easy understanding!

  5. Terrific work, Chloe! Such a BIG accomplishment, congrats! LeBron James has been a big supporter of education for low-income BIPOC students and in fact has funded a private school in the Cleveland area to support these students. It would be interesting to see as his social activism has increased, has the increase been more along the lines of education or BLM topics. Both are such important topics! Thank you for your wonderful work research this!

    1. Hi Mrs. Olszewski, thank you so much for the compliments! I really appreciate it. Yes, his IPromise School is something that I touch on extensively in my thesis!

  6. Go Chloe!!! Congratulations. As you know, I love watching sports and know how much LeBron has done for many communities and people outside of his own family. Your project is super interesting!! What was your most fascinating finding if you could choose one?

    1. Thanks Matt (or Oatt, if you prefer)!

      I think one of the most fascinating findings was James’ persistent use of clothing to speak an important message. I coined this term as “Social Media Activism Fashion,” where a figure wears clothing that speaks a significant message and then posts the clothing on their social media. Through this method, he not only can reach his immediate audience in-person but can also reach a digital audience on his social media platforms such as Instagram and Twitter.

      Thanks for the question! Proud of you!

  7. Tremendous job Chloe! Very proud of you and the incredible work you have done to get to this point. Congratulations!

  8. Hi Chloe! This is a super interesting project. What got you interested in this specific topic and why LeBron James as the focus?

    1. Thanks, Claire! I was interested in this topic initially because I knew I wanted to focus on LeBron James as not only an athlete, but an activist. Especially due to his upbringing in Akron, OH (where my family is from), I was very focused on how James has bettered the community for low-income students and for BIPOC. Through his social media, this is extremely evident and he is extremely persuasive in enacting change. Thanks for the question!

  9. You have done an incredible job, Chloe! It’s a really interesting perspective to see how LeBron’s and Stephen’s media activism compare. Out of all the research you conducted, was there anything specific that you wished to study further?

    1. Thank you so much, Kevin! Thanks for being such a great mentor in athletic communication these past few years.

  10. Chloe, this is interesting. Do you think you would see similar patterns with women athletes who have engaged in social activism? Congratulations on the completion of your project!

  11. Congratulations, Chloe! Fantastic poster and really interesting topic about how celebrities can use their social media as a tool for activism. It’s also exciting that you created your own terminology for using clothing online for activism as well.

  12. Congratulations Chloe!! Poster was super engaging, I loved how you combined your passion for sports, social justice, and communications in this project! I was especially interested in the correlation between James’ and Curry’s socio-economic upbringings and their activism. So excited for everything you do!

  13. Congratulations Chloe!! This is super interesting and the poster was very engaging!!

  14. Chloe!! Super interesting and timely topic, do you think your research would be applicable to other sports? I just saw Brett Favre mention how politics should stay out of sports… On another note, it is so weird to see LeBron referred to as “James” – I forgot he had a last name lol. Congrats on being done!!

  15. Congratulations Chloe, I absolutely love your topic and the way you have presented it here! Your poster is bright and engaging and presents a very important topic in a digestible way. It is clear that you were passionate about your research, and the findings are very cool!

    1. Thank you so much, Georgia! Thank you so much for being such an integral part of my life here in Wooster, and I hope you are able to play an integral part in my life post-Wooster as well! 🙂 Congrats on finishing!

  16. Thank you for sharing your project! It is so interesting to read through your analysis and continue to see how much of an influence social media has on almost every aspect of life. It is great to see that you were able to combine your interests in communications and sports together in your project. Congratulations, Chloe! You should be extremely proud of yourself and I wish you all the best in the future. So proud!

  17. Awesome job Chloe! I loved reading about your topic and your poster is amazing! Miss you!!

  18. Chloe, this was a very interesting and relevant topic! I enjoyed reading about your project and findings!

  19. Thank you for doing this research and for bringing the topic of activism among professional athletes to the forefront. As a mother of a college athlete, I often find myself encouraging my son to know what he stands for. The “shut up and dribble” commentary has always rubbed me the wrong way. Nice job!

  20. Chloe!

    I am so very proud of you! Props to you on completing an ethnography, that’s not easy!

    If you were to pick another athlete, possibly outside of basketball, who would you choose? Were any of your findings surprising?

  21. From FYS to IS! Wow, what an accomplishment! Congratulations Chloe, I’m so proud of you!

    1. Thank you so much, Dr. Morrow! I really appreciate your guidance during my first year here at Wooster. I couldn’t have stuck it out without you!

  22. Interesting research, Chloe! Great job!! So relevant for our times! Hopefully, such analysis will encourage more athletes to use their voice and public platform to engage in social activism. Your observance that a study should be done to see if female athletes utilize their social media voice to create social change and whether it can be as impactful as male athletes is insightful! Your poster was terrific too! Congratulations on all your hard work!!!

    1. Thanks so much, Devon! Congrats on finishing, and thank you for being so supportive during this IS process!

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