Athletes’ success fights prejudice against stigmatized groups, says researcher

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Inspired by the song “Good Enough” by English rock band Dodgy, Liverpool fans created a song to honor striker Mohamed Salah.

“Mo Sa-lah lah lah lah, if he’s good enough for you, he’s good enough for me. If he scores some more, then I’ll become a Muslim too. If he’s good enough for you, he’s good enough.” enough for me. Sitting in the mosque, that’s where I want to be.”

The song was created in the 2019/20 season, when the Egyptian led the English team to the Champions League. It helps to understand why the player has become a symbol in the fight against Islamophobia in England.

The importance of the player in this fight was verified in a recent study coordinated by professors from Stanford, Yale and Colorado universities, in the United States. The work is entitled: “Can exposure to celebrities reduce prejudice? Mohamed Salah’s effect on Islamophobic behavior and attitudes”.

Salma Mousa, an assistant professor of Political Science at Yale and one of the authors of the research, believes that the success of athletes who belong to stigmatized groups, such as Muslims and LGBTQIA+ people, helps in combating prejudice, as long as they are recognized as members of these groups. groups.

“Exposure to athletes and celebrities from any stigmatized group, be it religious, ethnic or sexual, should theoretically work in the same way and also reduce prejudice,” says Salma to Sheet.

The teacher also emphasizes the importance of “success on the soccer field, positive media coverage and [o atleta] to be seen as a ‘typical’ member of one of these groups.” According to her, this is an essential component for “attitudes toward one person to generalize attitudes toward an entire group.”

The study found that since Salah joined Liverpool in 2017, there has been an 18.9% drop in hate crimes in the Merseyside area, where the team is based. “While no similar effects were found for other types of crime in the region.”

There was also a halving in the rate of postings of anti-Muslim tweets by Liverpool fans — a drop from 7.2% to 3.4% of tweets about Muslims. According to the survey, there has not been a similar movement in the supporters of other Premier League clubs.

The scientists arrived at the data by analyzing Merseyside police police reports and more than 15 million tweets from England fans. There was also a survey of 8,060 Liverpool fans.

“We think the explanation for this reduction in hate speech and hate crimes among Liverpool fans is because of the parasocial contact with Salah,” says Salma.

Parasocial interaction is often described as an experience in which the audience interacts with a media personality as if there is a reciprocal relationship, albeit without direct personal contact.

According to the American researcher, the concept was applied to the study involving Salah, as fans are exposed to the player’s behavior not only in matches but also in the media and social networks.

“This type of relationship can reduce prejudice in similar ways to traditional contact, building empathy, emphasizing similarities and refuting negative stereotypes,” says the professor. “Salah is able to have that effect as well, in part, because the media covers him positively, because he is extremely successful, avoids controversial political issues and is seen as a typical Muslim.”

Salah never hesitated to show his Islamic identity at Liverpool matches. In celebrations of his goals, he usually bows on the lawn. “It’s a way of praying and giving thanks for everything I have. I’ve always done that, from a young age and everywhere,” he declared.

The Egyptian also remains connected to his country’s social issues. There he founded the Salah Foundation, which built health posts and centers to distribute food to vulnerable groups.

It also provides monthly financial assistance to over 400 poor families and has built a religious school for about 1,000 boys and girls. The mission is to teach moderate Islam in an effort to keep young Muslims from extremism.

All this contributes to the positive image that the player has built in English football. Now, the researchers want to find out what would happen if a player who belongs to a stigmatized group didn’t achieve similar success to Salah.

“What happens when they have a bad day, or when they decide to take a political stand, remains to be seen. That’s what our current research is about”, concludes Salma Mousa.

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