The “I Believe” Chant: A Brief History

By | April 4, 2016

During Friday afternoon’s student protests at Duke University, the crowd approaching the Allen Building (which was occupied that afternoon by nine students, who are still in the building as of today), broke into a very particular chant, as seen here in a video posted by the Duke Chronicle.


They repeated the chant on Saturday morning, during negotiations with administrators, and again later that day.

Sports chants and slogans often find their way into political life — and vice versa — but this is a particular interesting example of this, particularly given the genealogy of the chant, explained in a 2014 segment from ESPN.


At the same time, especially given the popularity of the chant among supporters of the U.S. Women’s team this past summer during the World Cup, and the recent court filing by women’s players charging wage discrimination, it makes sense that this quickly came to mind as part of a student movement and a way to infuse confidence and energy to their march.


Category: Fans Soccer Politics United States

About Laurent Dubois

I am Professor of Romance Studies and History and the Director of the Forum for Scholars & Publics at Duke University. I founded the Soccer Politics blog in 2009 as part of a course on "World Cup and World Politics" taught at Duke University. I'm currently teaching the course under the title "Soccer Politics" here at Duke. My books include Soccer Empire: The World Cup and the Future of France (University of California Press, 2010) and The Language of the Game: How to Understand Soccer (Basic Books, 2018)

2 thoughts on “The “I Believe” Chant: A Brief History

  1. Andrew Cho

    I agree with Nick in that this topic in lecture was very interesting. In a sense, the chant in it self is simply a way to unite a crowd, brought together by a common goal. In sports, this may be fans supporting their team and fighting against the opposing team. You hear the chant from a nearby bar, and you can’t help but peak with curiosity. The chant instills fire and emotion to the fans, just as Duke students are excited by our fight song or “crazy towel guy” in Cameron. With all our differences and diversity among the student body, when we are in Cameron and cheer for crazy towel guy, we are one.

    The students protesting Duke administration might have had a similar mentality. In a sense, they are fighting an opposition and required unity, energy, and attention. Not only did the chant incite one-ness among the students living out in the cold, but also grabbed the attention of other students and passerby. We at least turned our heads and looked over as if peaking at a sports bar.

    I had never considered the intersection of sport chants and politics. I wonder if my parents used sport chants, when they engaged in active protest in the 80s, or if this is a recent phenomenon.

  2. Nicholas Vega

    I thought that this discussion during lecture today was very interesting. How could it be that this chant, which is seemingly so simple, can emerge as one of the most chilling and inspirational crowd mantras out there? The first time I heard the chant was in high school, when our football team was down a touchdown heading into the fourth quarter. One ambitious and enthusiastic student emerged in front of the entire student section, got everyone’s attention and said “repeat after me.” He began the chant, “I,” to which everyone replied. And you know the rest of the chant. In that moment, you could see the true passion of the student section. The fans yearned for a win, and it gave me the goosebumps watching the coach of the football team point to the fan section in a huddle with his team, likely telling the kids that we were there for the team and had their backs.

    I think one of the biggest reasons that this chant has become so popular is because it can be applied to so many different games, situations or competitions. While many crowd chants can be sport-specific, this one is very universal and flexible in this regard. It’s short, catchy and incredibly powerful. I look forward to seeing how this chant, which has somehow become a symbol of United States soccer, can carry future teams on international stages, such as the World Cup or the Olympics.


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