Magic Johnson and Mark McGwire The Power of Identification With Sports Celebrities

Michael D. Basil University of Lethbridge

William J. Brown Regent University

In November 1991, Earvin "Magic" Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team held a press conference to announce that he had contracted HIV and was retiring from professional basketball. The news of his infection spread quickly, and instantly the world had a well-liked, high-profile celebrity who demonstrated that heterosexuals were at risk for AIDS. This appeared to be a potentially critical event in people's perception of the disease. The press quickly predicted that Magic would be immensely effective in conveying this risk to the public. They speculated that his charisma would personalize the concern to other heterosexuals who had otherwise rationalized that the AIDS risk was limited to gay men. Magic's immediate interviews with the press, public service announcements, and appointment to the President's AIDS Council reinforced this hope (Anonymous, 1992; Baker, Lepley, Krishnan, & Victory, 1992; Fumento, 1992).

In September 1998, Mark McGwire, closely pursued by Sammy Sosa, crushed home run after home run. In the end, both broke Roger Maris's 37-year home run record and became heroes in the process. In this case, the news media made two interesting facts known about McGwire: he is a strong advocate and supporter of child abuse prevention programs, and he used a muscle-building dietary supplement, Androstenedione (McGregor, 1998;

Turner, 1998; Verducci, 1998a, 1998b). Thus, in this case, Mark McGwire's influence could have positive and negative consequences: against child abuse and in favor of steroid use.

This chapter reviews a series of four studies that explored the effects of these events in shaping people's perceptions and behavioral intentions. The first was a survey administered a week after Magic Johnson's press conference. The second was an experiment that assigned classes to watch a tape of the press conference or to engage in an interpersonal discussion about HIV and AIDS. The third was a survey conducted 1 year after the news conference. The fourth was a survey immediately after the 1998 baseball season. The results of each study show that identification with the celebrity determined the effects, shaping personal concern, perceptions, and behavioral intentions. They reveal that a sports celebrity can be immensely effective in advocating behavior. But this hinges on the extent that people identify with that celebrity. The theoretical literature and the four studies are reviewed next.

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Baseball For Boys

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Since World War II, there has been a tremendous change in the makeup and direction of kid baseball, as it is called. Adults, showing an unprecedented interest in the activity, have initiated and developed programs in thousands of towns across the United States programs that providebr wholesome recreation for millions of youngsters and are often a source of pride and joy to the community in which they exist.

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