Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Elisabeth O. Burgess - Committee Chair

Second Advisor

Elisabeth Sheff - Committee Member

Third Advisor

Mindy Stombler - Committee Member

Fourth Advisor

Philip W. Davis - Committee Member


This project examines the experiences of 37 gay, lesbian, and bisexual employees of professional, collegiate, and club sport. Using intensive, non-directive interviews and Grounded Theory Methodology (GTM), I explore how employees negotiate the near-total sport institution, perceive the environment for sexual minorities in sport, manage their sexual identities, and identify potential allies at work. Participants informed their beliefs about the sport workplace by the totality of their direct and indirect experiences, their observation of others, and their accumulated experiences in sport as athletes and employees. While employees’ perceptions of the sport environment were slightly negative, their actual experiences were predominantly neutral or positive. Participants discussed their workplace experiences in terms of coming out, being out, and acting out. They identified levels of “how out” they were, even as their behaviors belied that designation. “Being out,” for these participants, involved relying on various motivations and strategies at work. One group of participants felt coming out was part of a larger moral imperative to create social change, and did so by emphasizing gay identity over sport or work identity. A second group felt it was professional or responsible to stay closeted at work, noting that personal lives and private lives should not intersect. A third group also highlighted their work and sport identities over their gay identity, without attaching any liability to their sexual identity. These employees, who were the youngest members of the sample, did not place significance on sexual identity as a salient feature of their overall identity. “Acting out” involved both active and passive strategies to emphasize or deemphasize sexual identity at work. This project suggests that the processes by which employees negotiate their workplace environments (and, particularly, sport as a workplace) are complex and nuanced. For non-heteronormative employees working in sport, their processes of coming out, acting out, and being out were mediated by many factors, including age, type of sport, workplace hierarchy and identity formation processes.

Included in

Sociology Commons