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Student-athlete activism study shows high levels of engagement

Survey also examines racial justice involvement, voting

Three-quarters of student-athletes surveyed in the NCAA Student-Athlete Activism and Racial Justice Engagement Study indicated that it was important to them to be an engaged citizen, and over half said college athletes have a responsibility to volunteer in their local community.

Nearly 90% of the student-athletes indicated that within the six months preceding the survey, they had conversations focused on race or racial justice with family or friends. About 80% indicated they had tried to learn more about race and racial justice on their own.

The Association-wide survey, which took place Oct. 6-Nov. 2, had responses from nearly 25,000 student-athletes. It was designed by NCAA research in collaboration with the NCAA Sport Science Institute and the NCAA Division I, II and III Student-Athlete Advisory Committees.

Female student-athletes made up 16,100 of the respondents, with 76% identifying as white, 16% other and 8% Black. Nearly 8,800 of the respondents were male, with 70% white, 16% other and 14% Black. 

Racial justice issues

The spring and summer of 2020 saw nationwide civic protests, particularly surrounding the relationships between the Black community and law enforcement.

Black student-athletes surveyed were the most likely to indicate a willingness to take a public stance on a social issue (60%), as compared with Latinx student-athletes (49%), other student-athletes of color (49%) and white student-athletes (41%).

Over three-quarters of student-athlete participants of color had posted or shared content on social media platforms about race or racial justice within the previous six months, as compared with 51% of white participants.

Nearly half of Black student-athlete participants indicated having attended a protest or rally about racial justice within the previous six months, which was significantly higher than the figures for Latinx athletes (29%), other athletes of color (36%) and white athletes (23%).

Survey results showed student-athletes are most comfortable discussing issues of race on campus within their own teams — with their teammates (67%) and with their coaches (58%). Comfort levels were similar for men and women, and Black student-athletes were more comfortable having these conversations than those of other races.

Most of the respondents say their coach (67%), athletics department (64%), college (63%), conference office (58%) and the NCAA (60%) are taking the student-athlete voice into account when making efforts to advance racial equity.

Participants were asked what more they would like to see their coaches and athletics department staff do to address racial justice. Answers included listening, demonstrating support and taking action through hosting education sessions and honest conversations. Other responses suggested recruiting and hiring more athletes and athletics staff who are Black, indigenous or other people of color, and taking a public stance through statements, departmentwide actions, or social media content that promotes civic engagement and racial justice.

Some participants commented that athletics departments should not play a role in addressing racial justice.

Voting

A question in the survey that received an overwhelming response centered on the 2020 elections that took place in November. Over 80% of survey respondents indicated their intent to vote in the elections.

Black female student-athletes were most likely to intend to vote (86%). Black student-athletes indicated the highest levels of intent to volunteer for the 2020 election (canvassing, registering voters or working at the polls), with 1 in 5 reporting such engagement. This was highest among Black male athletes (21%).

While over 80% of student-athletes reported discussing politics (highest among white participants) and performing volunteer work (similar rates across racial categories) in the past year, Black student-athlete participants were significantly more likely to have communicated about a cause (77%) or demonstrated for a cause (53%) than their peers across other racial groups.

Supporting athlete activism and racial justice initiatives

Over the past year, the NCAA national office has been actively engaged in supporting athlete activism. In August, NCAA leadership development created a four-part virtual series, Athletes Using Their Power (A4), to prepare student-athletes to be effective change leaders on campus and within their communities. The A4 session recordings and a range of athlete resources can be found on the A4 website.

The office of inclusion is also building a website with historical information and contemporary resources on athlete activism designed for athletics administrators and student-athletes. It is set to launch later this winter. The NCAA Convention also included an Association-wide education session on this topic, and the webinar can be viewed here. Continued conversations are anticipated at the 2021 NCAA Inclusion Forum.

To address and advance racial justice, the NCAA office of inclusion has added a Strategies for Addressing Racial Injustice document on the homepage of the inclusion website. Additionally, in June, the office created a two-part Creating Communities of Belonging series that addressed student-athlete perspectives on racial injustice (Part 1) and best practices to be anti-racist (Part 2).

In October, the three national Student-Athlete Advisory Committees designed and launched a Unity Pledge and logo. Finally, to promote racial diversity in athletics administration, the NCAA launched the Leadership Collective platform in late 2020. The NCAA plans to continue to develop tools and content to further these efforts.