[Self]perceptions of Whiteness: An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis of White College Athletes

Joshua D. Vadeboncoeur – University of Florida
Trevor Bopp – University of Florida

The primary purpose of this exploratory study was to move toward a nuanced understanding of how whiteness serves to uphold structural racism within intercollegiate athletics, particularly through its influence on the experiences of White college athletes. More narrowly, as it relates to White college athletes, how do they make sense of their racial identity and understand their racialized experiences within the college sporting context? Through a methodological lens informed by interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA), semi-structured interviews revealed three common phenomena. First, participants perceived whiteness as representing no definitive cultural or racial identity, allowing them to moderate its sociopolitical implications. Second, in developing and maintaining relationships with non-Whites, participants reported challenges in connecting across race, some of which manifested as unintended racist pitfalls. Lastly, participants found it difficult to conceive of an association between race and structural inequalities in college sport. Moving forward, implications derived from this study’s findings include: issues concerning personal accountability and the moderation of both personal and structural effects of whiteness within sporting spaces; how White college athletes compartmentalize their own racial identity while actively engaging with the racialized identities of teammates; and how White college athletes navigate the resultant internalized tension(s) from said interactions.