Professional Athletes and Gen Z: A Commentary on Social Media Influence During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Jean G. Beaupre, Priscila Alfaro-Barrantes, Brittany Jacobs


In the century since Honus Wagner and Babe Ruth first endorsed the Louisville Slugger baseball bat, the influence of professional athletes on society has become undeniable. The proliferation of television in the mid-20th century expanded the exposure of athletes, and now in the early 21st century, social media has seen the impact of athletes explode. The intimacy of social media has enabled professional athletes to interact with their fan communities, changing the perception that they are untouchable elites and creating a dynamic where fans, particularly those in Generation Z (Gen Z), now relate to athletes more like peers than idols. The unique communicative opportunities afforded by social media, combined with declining trust in traditional institutional sources such as the media and government, have created potential for athletes to have even greater behavioral influence on their followers and hence, on society. Drawing on media consumption and credibility trends, normative social influence theory, and parasocial relationships, this commentary considers how the COVID-19 pandemic underscores the potential influence of professional athletes on the behaviors of Gen Z. Given the stakes, this commentary raises the importance of examining the impact and implications of athlete influencers and concludes with recommendations for future research.


influencer, trust, professional athletes, social media, Generation Z, COVID-19, Coronavirus

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