A Racial Reckoning in a Racialized Organization? Applying Racialized Organization Theory to the NCAA Institutional Field

Ajhanai C.I. Keaton – University of Louisville
Joseph N. Cooper – University of Massachusetts at Boston

During the summer of 2020, NCAA athletic departments, conferences, and leaders felt compelled to address racial inequity in the broader United States. Interestingly, there was a wave of excitement for racial equity, as Black lives “appeared” to matter to the NCAA institutional field (NIF) (e.g., athletic departments, conferences, leaders, etc.), as anti-racist initiatives, race-specific hiring tactics, and inaugural diversity, equity, and inclusion committees were formed and celebrated. Additionally, many Athletic Diversity and Inclusion Officer (ADIO) positions were adopted following this fervor. To support NIF leaders in their espoused aims, we argue that the NIF is a racialized organization (Ray, 2019), to more fully depict the pervasiveness of racial inequity that marginalizes Black athletes and Black administrators. In this paper we highlight for NIF leaders, specifically ADIOs and senior-level administration, that their novel DEI measures can easily be argued as symbolic given the history of racial exclusion in Division I athletics. Consequently, arguments presented in this paper will illuminate to NIF leaders that race is not an issue in athletic departments because racial marginalization is of or how the NIF operates. We hope this shift in perspective will lead to DEI efforts that address institutional and organizational dynamics that marginalize Black athlete’s and administrator’s agentic capabilities.