Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.


Educational Leadership, Evaluation and Organizational Development

Degree Program

Educational Leadership and Organizational Development, PhD

Committee Chair

Hancock, Meg

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Hums, Mary

Committee Member

Hums, Mary

Committee Member

Frederick, Evan

Committee Member

Alagaraja, Meera

Author's Keywords

athlete activism; social movement theory; social movement organization; LGBTQ; athlete ally


The following study answered the call for more social movement related studies in sport (Davis-Delano & Crosset, 2008) and lessened the paucity of literature on athlete activism. The purpose of this study was to examine a sport specific social movement organization, Athlete Ally, using Social Movement Theory. Social Movement Theory is guided by three tenets: Resource Mobilization Theory (Edwards & McCarthy, 2004), Political Process Theory (Kriesi, 2004), and Cultural Theory/Frame Analysis (Williams, 2004). Each of these tenets was used to examine the resources exchanged between Athlete Ally and their athlete constituents, determine the strategies for engaging with various sport (i.e. NCAA and NBA) and non-sport governing bodies (i.e. U.S. Government), and understand the tactics for ensuring frame resonance by Athlete Ally. The following qualitative case study was conducted through seven employee or board member interviews with Athlete Ally and an examination of salient organizational documents. Findings indicate that a SMO can provide resources to minimize the impact of negative consequences for engaging in activism. For instance, providing a safe space and access to other athlete activists can allow an athlete to engage in activism knowing a SMO is supporting the athlete. On the other side, athletes also provide SMOs with resources, most notably a vast social-network of other constituents. From recruitment of other athlete ambassadors, like teammates, or raising awareness for the organization, athletes can be proficient resources that few other celebrities can match. Those resources can then be utilized to engage with various governing bodies. Typically, when Athlete Ally engages with a protagonist entity, they employ strategies of collaboration. Conversely, Athlete Ally utilizes combative strategies when faced with an antagonistic entity. Despite these strategies, Athlete Ally has to ensure their frames resonate with the intended audience to actually enact change. Athlete Ally accomplishes this by utilizing athletes’ stories, objective statistics, and a diverse staff to increase the salience of their messages. Further findings and results are discussed. Overall, the study’s findings speak to the mutually beneficial relationships sport specific SMOs and athletes can develop to further the goals of a social movement organization.