College Athletes, Social Justice, and the Role of Social Workers in Advocating for Change

Lauren Mc Coy – Western Kentucky University
Evie Oregon – Western Kentucky University
Dana J. Sullivan – Western Kentucky University


Social justice activism from college athletes is considered a rare occurrence often due to the intensity of negative public response and the possibility of athletic repercussions. The likelihood of negative reactions did not stop the unique, highly publicized protests at Grambling State University and the University of Missouri. These protests set the tone for college athlete unionization and a new era of college athlete activism. College athletes recognize their power as corporate brands and standing as a group made it so their voices had to be heard or else face financial consequences. While these protests achieved their initial goals, their silence in the aftermath lessens that power and increases the consequences of negative response. These college athletes should be encouraged and supported to speak out on matters that concern their lives like any other student through social work advocacy.

This article will address how social workers should be advocates for college athletes engaging in social activism by using the protests at Grambling State University and the University of Missouri as examples. These examples highlight why college athletes may be reluctant to use their influence, what motivates them to speak out, and illustrate the need for social workers to assist in encouraging lasting change. Social workers must be aware of their campus environment and be involved in advocacy to assist college athletes in using their voices for change.