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Getting an Internship in the Sport Industry: The Institutionalization of Privilege

Nefertiti A. Walker, Kwame J.A. Agyemang, Marvin Washington, Lauren C. Hindman, and Jeffrey MacCharles

Unpaid internships are embedded in sport hegemony. These unpaid sport internships often offer fewer learning opportunities and foster an environment wherein interns feel like “second-class citizens” in their organization. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to investigate the world of unpaid internships in the sport industry by exploring students’ perspectives of them as an institutionalized practice, as well as how privilege impacts their internship experiences. Grounded in institutional theory, data from semistructured interviews with 17 sports management students were analyzed using the Gioia methodology. Three themes emerged from the findings: the idiosyncratic nature of sport internships, the legitimization of unpaid internships in the sport industry, and the institutionalization of privilege spurred by such positions. Practical implications from the study include increasing sport organizations’ awareness of how unpaid internships disadvantage students from less privileged backgrounds and may, therefore, result in a less socioeconomically diverse workforce in the sport industry.