Effects of Participation in High School Sports and Nonsport Extracurricular Activities on Political Engagement among Black Young Adults

Article excerpt


The impact of involvement in high school athletics and nonsport extracurricular activities on political engagement among young Black adults was examined. We developed a conceptual model to identify school engagement factors and assess their influence on political participation (i.e., voter registration and voting behavior) of Blacks in early adulthood. Using data from the National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988 (NELS:88), bivariate and multivariate (logistic regression) analyses revealed that participation in varsity individual sports and participation in nonsport extracurricular activities have significant net effects on political participation. Furthermore, the effects of participation in these school engagement activities are mediated by educational attainment. However, the effect of participation in varsity team sports on political participation is not significant. While our study confirmed the importance of participation in school engaging extracurricular activities, both sport and nonsport, in shaping political engagement of Blacks in early adulthood, the model was only partially confirmed. Limitations and implications of these findings for future research are discussed.


A viable and effective democratic society requires a citizenry that understands and actively engages in civic and political life. A recent Carnegie Corporation report, The Civic Mission of Schools (Carnegie Corporation, 2002), notes that for several decades, Americans have shown increasing disengagement from civic and political institutions (including voluntary associations, religious congregations, community-based organizations, and political and electoral activities such as voting and being informed about public issues). Similar trends were found to be reflected among American youth who are less likely to vote and are less interested in political discussion and public issues than either their older counterparts or youth of past generations. For example, a number of recent studies have suggested that political participation and civic engagement among America's youth is less than ideal. This pattern has been observed for both volunteer activities (e.g., Child Trends, 2002; Flanagan, Bowes, Jonsson, Casp, & Sheblanova, 1988; Harris Interactive, 2001 ; National Association of secretaries of State, 1998; Zaff, Moore, Papillo, & Williams, 2003), and political involvement (Putnam, 2000). According to Zaff, Malanchuk, Michelsen, and Eccles (2003), data from the National Election Studies show that only 46% of eligible youth born in 1975 or later voted in the 1996 presidential election, and that figure dropped to 38% for the 2000 presidential election. Similarly, they report that figures from non-presidential federal elections are even less impressive, with only 20% and 15% of youth voting in 1994 and 1998, respectively.

Many institutions-family, religion, education, the media, community groups, and the like-help to develop Americans' knowledge and skills and shape their civic character and commitments. Schools, however, bear a special and historic responsibility for the development of civic competence and civic responsibility. Indeed, it has been argued that civic education should be considered central to the purposes of American education and essential to the well-being of American democracy (National Alliance for Civic Education, 2002). American schools have, therefore, served the function of preparing students to become informed, participating citizens committed to the values and principles of democracy. Indeed, the primary purpose underlying the establishment of public schools in the United States was to develop literacy and nurture citizenship. This civic mission of the schools was recently affirmed in the National Education Goals included in the Goals 2000: Educate America Act of 1994 (Goals 2000: Educate America Act, 1994). Schools seek to fulfill that responsibility through both formal and informal curricula beginning in the earliest grades and continuing through the entire educational process. …


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