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Carcerality and College Athletics: State Methods of Enclosure Within and Through College Sport


This dissertation qualitatively examined former (18) and current (2) college players’ experiences within their athletic department ecology—experiences with teammates, coaches and administrators, team doctors and health professionals, and experiences with various mechanisms of discipline, punishment, and surveillance. Using antiblackness and carcerality as an analytic, this study demonstrated how higher education’s administering of college athletics mirrors other antiblack state projects and structural conditions of antiblackness more broadly. Across Division I FBS, FCS, and Division I (no football) institutions and participants who competed in track and field, cross country, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s soccer, football, softball, and/or volleyball, every participant was subjected to carceral conditions and lived in relation to athletic department and coach despotism. However, antiblackness is constitutive of carcerality and as such the concentration and magnitude of harm was oriented around an antiblack logic that mediated participant experiences—with the most harm being concentrated on Black women. Nonblack, and especially white, participants were afforded more leeway to self-police or maintain the illusion thereof, whereas Black participants experienced heightened, more severe, and/or unique forms of containment, surveillance, and bodily and psychological harm. Findings from this study demonstrate how college sport is used to complement other state projects of enclosure. Sport, when operationalized this way, takes on the state’s carceral logic, necessarily making the organization of these leagues follow an antiblack algorithm of containment, control, surveillance, bodily harm, and punishment. Thus, higher education institutions can be understood as engaging in a carceral partnership with the state in their creation and normalization of the nonprofit “collegiate model of athletics.”

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