If he scores another few
Then I’ll be Muslim too
You wouldn’t be remiss in thinking that the cheers that greeted Mohamed Salah, star forward for the Liverpool Football Club and observant Muslim, were a little unusual. At the very least, you’d be in good company.
“We had been following with interest this rise to fame of Mohamed Salah, this Egyptian soccer player, and we were particularly interested in what was going on with fans on the field during these games,” says Alexandra Siegel, a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford’s Immigration Policy Lab. “These are a lot of old British men who, in general, according to public opinion data in the U.K., really aren’t supportive of Muslims.”
When Liverpool fans were reminded that Salah is an observant Muslim, they were significantly more likely to then say that Islam was compatible with British values.
Siegel and three colleagues were curious whether this apparent cultural turnaround was statistically supported. They found that since Salah had joined Liverpool FC, levels of hate crime in the team’s home county of Merseyside had decreased relative to other British counties and anti-Muslim speech had declined in the Twitter accounts of Liverpool fans compared with those of other soccer teams’ enthusiasts. When Liverpool fans were reminded that Salah is an observant Muslim, they were significantly more likely to then say that Islam was compatible with British values.
Since the working paper’s online release in late May, strategically timed to coincide with the European soccer championships, it’s been shared tens of thousands of times on Twitter and Facebook and picked up by big news outlets, like the Economist.
“It’s kind of cool to see what people who are not specialists in this field want to know about it,” says William Marble, one of three political science graduate students who co-authored the paper with Siegel. “They’re much more interested in the big-picture takeaways.”
The biggest of those takeaways? That exposure to members of a minority group in the context of apolitical leisure activities can be a powerful tool for shifting perceptions.
“This highlights the need for a broader research agenda into these kinds of celebrity effects,” Siegel says. “Not just by academics, but by policy makers who are interested in prejudice-reduction efforts.”
Mei-Lan Steimle, ’21, is an intern for Stanford.