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Reconsidering the Use of the Term Student-Athlete in Academic Research

in Journal of Sport Management
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  • 1 Ithaca College
  • | 2 University of New Haven
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Although the term student-athlete does not appear in any standard English dictionary, it is routinely used in the United States in reference to athletes who participate in secondary and post-secondary school sport programs. Popular usage of the term student-athlete suggests widespread agreement in the culture and among academics that it is a term with either a favorable meaning or, at the very least, a benign or neutral one. In recent years, however, scholars who have explored the evolution and etymology of the term report that its introduction into the language of sport in the United States was an NCAA tactic in the 1950s to counter negative publicity and political pressure created by its newly instituted athletic scholarship policy. The focus of this research perspective is on the history of the term student-athlete, the propaganda mechanism used to encourage and perpetuate acceptance of the term in the United States, and the reasons why scholars might wish to avoid its use when writing about college and high school sport.

Staurowsky is with the Department of Sport Management and Media, Ithaca College, Hill Center, Ithaca, NY, 14850. Sack is with the School of Business, University of New Haven, 300 Boston Post Road, West Haven, CT, 06516.

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