A Framework for Understanding Internal Athlete Activism in College Sport

Jessica K. Brougham – University of Florida
Christopher M. McLeod – University of Florida

Most research on athlete activism has focused on external athlete activism, where high-profile athletes use broadcast media or social media platforms to engage in activism. This paper draws from organizational behavior literature and Cooper et al.’s (2019) operational definition of activism to conceptualize internal athlete activism. Athletes perform internal athlete activism through formal or informal organizational channels with the explicit goal of challenging organizational power structures to advance social justice aims. Internal athlete activism is characterized by 1) internal, upward voice, 2) prosocial intent, 3) a clear opponent, 4) challenging power structures, 5) specific goals or measurable objectives, 6) connection to social justice movements, and 7) threat of organizationally imposed silence. Internal athlete activism is especially relevant for low-profile athletes with fewer opportunities to use external channels. Our framework illustrates the unique challenges of internal athlete activism and highlights strategies for activists.