Teacher Education, Educational Leadership & Policy ETDs

Publication Date



This research explored the lives of former Division I college football student-athletes who were able to overcome disadvantaged backgrounds to succeed in life answering the question How can intercollegiate athletic programs impact the social mobility of Black male Division I college student-athletes?' The project, using three theoretical frameworks, in particular Ogbu's theory of oppositional cultures, Bourdieu's theory of social reproduction, and Critical Race Theory, reviewed the experiences of Black Division I male football student-athletes investigating the inner workings of college athletics programs to evaluate whether they truly deliver. The impact of athletic participation on student-athlete success has long been closely tied to the student-athlete development. Through the use of a phenomenological research approach, the experiences of college student-athletes were explored to review the true essences of their respective journeys from poverty to success in life. Previous findings document a significant impact of participation in sports on factors such as encouragement, success in academics, character development, the acquisition of social capital and mentoring on student-athlete success in college life, and social mobility. The study finds that the experiences as Black student-athletes from low socio-economic backgrounds were different from those of traditional college student-athletes and college students in general in that they both faced challenges and had advantages associated with where they were from and their participation in athletics. Critical to these students success was the fact that they possessed an unyielding drive to succeed and a resiliency evident in overcoming the challenges associated with the population with their determination going beyond their collegiate experience and being firmly grounded in them throughout their experiences prior to athletics and college. The study also found that race still mattered and that it had an impact on the experiences of these students as it pertained to both education and athletics. The implications of the study offer several recommendations for higher education leadership and practitioners that would improve the experiences and retention and graduation rates of Black college students from disadvantaged backgrounds.'


College Athletics, Social Mobility, Black Student-Athletes

Document Type




Degree Name

Educational Leadership

Level of Degree


Department Name

Teacher Education, Educational Leadership & Policy

First Advisor

Woodrum, Arlie

First Committee Member (Chair)

Bova, Breda

Second Committee Member

Seidler, Todd

Third Committee Member

Marsh, Tyson