Dehumanization of Professional Athletes and Implications for Brand Attachment

Ben Larkin
Brendan Dwyer
and Chad Goebert

A growing amount of attention has been paid to the topic of dehumanization of professional athletes in recent years, both in mainstream media and in academic literature. Even professional athletes themselves have begun speaking out on the issue. Nevertheless, the academic scholarship on this phenomenon remains sparse, with scholars yet to provide empirical evidence that sport fans do, in fact, dehumanize professional athletes. The current research fills this void by exploring fans’ implicit tendencies to view professional athletes as both machines and animals, with a particular emphasis on the marketing implications of this phenomenon. The results of the implicit association test (IAT) support the idea that participants view professional athletes as animals and displayed a negative association with athlete brand attachment. The findings advance multiple research lines and provide practical implications for sport teams and athlete brand managers.