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Political Protesting, Race, and College Athletics: Why Diversity Among Coaches Matters (WP-17-11)

James Druckman, Adam Howat, and Jacob Rothschild

Objective. Athletes have long used their platform to stage political protests on issues ranging from racial oppression to athlete compensation. For college student-athletes, protesting is complicated by their amateur status and dependence on their schools. As a result, college coaches hold particular power over student-athletes’ decisions in this realm. The researchers seek to better understand the determinants of coaches’ attitudes toward student-athlete protests.

Methods. The researchers use a novel survey to study what college coaches think when student-athletes participate in various forms of political protests.

Results. They find that African-American coaches exhibit greater support for protests and are more likely to believe protests reflect concern about the issues, rather than attention-seeking behavior.

Conclusion. The results isolate a major driver of opinions about athletic protests and reveal why the relatively low number of minority college coaches matters: greater diversity in the coaching ranks would lead to more varied opinions about the politicization of student-athletes.

James Druckman, Payson S. Wild Professor of Political Science and IPR Fellow, Northwestern University

Adam Howat, IPR Graduate Research Assistant, Northwestern University

Jacob Rothschild, IPR Graduate Research Assistant, Northwestern University

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