Date of Award

Spring 4-21-2021

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Kinesiology and Health

First Advisor

Dr. Beth A. Cianfrone

Second Advisor

Dr. Timothy Kellison

Third Advisor

Dr. Elodie Wendling


In the summer of 2020, after a series of incidents of police brutality, deaths of Black Americans, and protests throughout the world, people flooded social media with their opinions. As people and organizations began to raise their voices on social media about the country’s injustices, sport organizations and athletes also utilized social media to speak out, including college athletics departments.

Framed by critical race theory, researchers have examined how fans (e.g., Frederick et al., 2017) and athletes (e.g., Agyemang et al., 2010; Intosh et al., 2020) feel about athlete activism. However, research on sport organizations’ activism is limited. At the collegiate level, athletic directors may be concerned with student-athletes’ perceptions of athletic departments’ efforts in the racial justice movement, as 18% of NCAA student-athletes are African American, and representation drastically increases in the highest revenue producing sports (Kluch & Wilson, 2020). Researchers have noted that Black student-athletes frequently perceive their institutions as unsupportive (Cooper, 2017). Meanwhile, activism efforts through social media can build community and promote civic engagement (Skoric et al., 2015). The purpose of this study is to explore perceptions of student-athletes based on factors identified by Sappington et al. (2019)—namely, student-athletes’ emotional response to posts (affective response), the impact on the team (perceived conflict), and the role or perceived qualification of the athletics department to post about race relations.

To assess student-athlete perception of college athletics departments involvement in the BLM movement, an online survey was distributed to NCAA student-athletes. A modified version of the Attitudes Toward Athlete Activism Questionnaire (7-point Likert scale; Sappington et al., 2019) measured the student-athlete’s response to athletic department’s social media activism. In addition, original open-ended questions were asked to gauge specific response and feedback for future practices.

The findings suggest that overall student-athletes welcome their athletics departments’ activism efforts, especially in terms of low perceived conflict and affective reaction. Student-athletes were less likely to believe it was their athletics departments’ role or that they had the proper qualification. The answers to the open-ended questions suggest that athletics departments should work on authenticity, education, and being proactive.


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