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Privileging Difference: Negotiating Gender Essentialism in U.S. Women’s Professional Soccer

Rachel Allison

Although women athletes in professional sport are uniquely positioned to expose the limits of gender essentialist ideology and challenge its relationship with inequality, little empirical research has considered how professional women athletes understand and negotiate gender ideologies. Drawing on 19 in-depth interviews and one e-mail exchange with U.S. women’s professional soccer players, this article finds that sportswomen strategically endorse constructions of gender difference while simultaneously universalizing White, middle-class women’s experiences. “Privileging difference” is a narrative whereby players recognize belief in women’s physical inferiority to men and argue for women’s moral superiority to men as a source of value and reward for women’s sport. Sportswomen’s moral authority is defined from a position of racialized class privilege, as players construct an idealized woman player who sacrifices material reward for emotional satisfaction and who emphasizes future change over present conditions.

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Learning to Lead? Race and Perceived Effects of College on Life Skill Development Among Sportswomen

Rachel Allison

Integrating the Student-Athlete Climate Study conceptual framework with critical race and intersectionality theories, I examine racial differences in the perceived effects of college on life skill development among college sportswomen. I use nationally representative data from the NCAA’s 2006 Growth, Opportunity, Aspirations, and Learning of Students in College (GOALS) survey to examine whether team and/or campus climate mediate racial differences. I find small, but statistically significant differences whereby sportswomen of color report less positive effects of college on leadership, teamwork, time management, and work ethic compared to white sportswomen, but more positive effects of college on their understanding of people of other races. Campus climate, but not team climate, partially mediates racial differences in the perceived effects of college on leadership, teamwork, time management, and work ethic.

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“Something Seriously Wrong With U.S. Soccer”: A Critical Discourse Analysis of Consumers’ Twitter Responses to U.S. Soccer’s Girls’ Apparel Promotion

Katherine Sveinson and Rachel Allison

In September 2020, U.S. Soccer Federation posted a promotional tweet for girls’ fan clothing which included feminized aesthetics. Within 48 hr, the tweet was deleted. Previous work has shown that sport fan clothing are important organizational artifacts that contain symbolic meanings. This study extends this insight by exploring consumer responses to material items. Three hundred and seven tweets responding to the original post were collected. Through critical discourse analysis, findings illustrate that responses were embedded in gender discourses, with overwhelming dislike for hyperfeminized items marketed to women and girls. The stereotypical gender norms in marketing resulted in consumers’ suggesting organizational culture issues within U.S. Soccer Federation. Furthermore, this strategy was perceived as a transgression by creating material items that do not align with consumers’ values. This study illustrates that the meanings associated with fan clothing go beyond consumer preferences in that apparel can represent a material manifestation of organizational culture.

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Gender, Sexual, and Sports Fan Identities

Rachel Allison and Chris Knoester

Using data from the National Sports and Society Survey (N = 3,988), this study analyzes associations between gender, sexual, and sports fan identities. The authors find that only 11% of U.S. adults do not identify as sports fans at all; also, nearly half of U.S. adults identify as quite passionate sports fans. Women and nonbinary adults are less likely to identify as strong sports fans compared with men. Compared with identifying as heterosexual, identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or another sexual identity is negatively associated with self-identified sports fandom. Yet, gender and sexuality interact such that identifying as gay (or lesbian) is negatively associated with men’s self-identified sports fandom but not women’s fandom. These findings persist even after consideration of adults’ retrospective accounts of their sports-related identities while growing up and their recognition of sports-related mistreatment.

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Becoming Fans: Socialization and Motivations of Fans of the England and U.S. Women’s National Football Teams

Rachel Allison and Stacey Pope

The professionalization, commercialization, and mediatization of women’s football have opened new opportunities for fan attachments, engagements, and identities. Yet limited empirical research has addressed how or why fandom develops for women’s football, particularly in comparative perspective. We rely on in-depth interview data collected with adults in England (n = 49) and the United States (n = 53) who attended live matches of the 2019 Women’s World Cup to address pathways into and motivations for fandom. We find that awareness of and attachment to women’s football developed through exposure to women’s football mega events or online women’s football communities, through having played football, or after being recruited by existing fans. For English fans only, fandom included when men’s teams added women’s sides or through attending local women’s matches. Motivations for fandom included connections to players, family, and friends, appreciation of athletic talent, a commitment to gender equality, entertainment, and the inclusivity of fan cultures.

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Should Athletes Be Allowed to Protest During the National Anthem? An Analysis of Public Opinions Among U.S. Adults

Chris Knoester, B. David Ridpath, and Rachel Allison

Using descriptive and multiple regression analyses of data from the National Sports and Society Survey (N = 3,993), this study examines public opinions about athletes’ right to protest during the national anthem. Results suggest that public opinion is now more supportive of athletes being allowed to protest during the anthem, although considerable opposition persists. Black individuals and those who recognize racial/ethnic discrimination in society are especially likely to support athletes’ right to protest. Heterosexual, Christian, sports fan, and military identities seem to encourage opposition to the right to protest. Indicators of traditionalism and sports nationalism attitudes are also negatively associated with support for athlete protests.

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Gender Equality in the “Next Stage” of the “New Age?” Content and Fan Perceptions of English Media Coverage of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup

Stacey Pope, Rachel Allison, and Kate Petty

This article offers an original contribution by examining both the quantity and quality of English print media coverage of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup and how fans perceive and respond to this coverage. It is the first longitudinal analysis of media coverage of women’s football in the United Kingdom and compares print media coverage between the 2015 and 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cups. We draw on a content analysis of five English national newspapers and 49 semistructured interviews with fans. We develop new theoretical insights through the development of our framework of the “next stage” of the “new age.” Our findings show media coverage of women’s football has substantially increased, with respectful coverage sustained. The new theme of gender equality made visible several types of inequality, but the media industry failed to acknowledge its own role in reinforcing gender inequalities. Interviewees were critical of the time-limited “revolution” whereby coverage was limited to the duration of the World Cup. To advance gender equality, future media coverage must be sustained, meaningful, and prominent.

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Reconstructing, Challenging, and Negotiating Sex/Gender in Sport: U.S. Public Opinion About Transgender Athletes’ Rights, Rights for Athletes With Varied Sex Characteristics, Sex Testing, and Gender Segregation

Chris Knoester, Rachel Allison, and Victoria T. Fields

Using data from the National Sports and Society Survey (N = 3,993), this study considers U.S. public opinion about transgender athletes’ rights, rights for athletes with varied sex characteristics, sex testing, and gender segregation in sports. Social structural location, social group, and ideological characteristics are examined as predictors of these opinions. Results indicated that most U.S. adults seem to support transgender athletes’ rights and rights for athletes with varied sex characteristics and oppose sex testing and gender segregation in youth sports. Men, heterosexuals, older generations, those without a college education, Republicans, Christians, and rural residents, as well as those who exhibit more traditionalism and traditionally gendered beliefs in their ideologies, were more opposed to athletes’ rights and inclusivity on these issues.

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Associations of Sedentary Behavior and Abdominal Muscle Density: The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis

Chantal A. Vella, Erin D. Michos, Dorothy D. Sears, Mary Cushman, Rachel B. Van Hollebeke, Michelle M. Wiest, and Matthew A. Allison

Background: Sedentary behaviors (SB) may exacerbate loss of muscle mass and function, independent of physical activity levels. This study examined the associations of SB with abdominal muscle area and density, a marker of muscle quality, in adults. Methods: A total of 1895 participants from the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis completed detailed health history, physical activity and SB questionnaires, computed tomography to quantify body composition, and measurements of inflammatory markers. Analyses included linear and nonlinear regression. Results: The mean age and body mass index were 64.6 years and 28 kg·m−2, respectively, and 50% were women. On average, participants engaged in 28 metabolic equivalent hours·week−1 of SB. With adjustment for age, sex, race/ethnicity, physical activity, cardiovascular disease risk factors, and inflammation, multivariable regression modeling revealed a nonlinear (quadratic) relationship between SB and locomotor, stability, and total abdominal muscle density (P < .01) but not muscle area. The SB inflection point at which locomotor, stability, and total abdominal muscle density began to decrease was 38.2, 39.6, and 39.2 metabolic equivalent hours·week−1 of SB, respectively. Conclusions: SB is associated with reduced muscle density when practiced as little as 5.5 metabolic equivalent hours·day−1. These findings may have important implications for SB guidelines for targeting skeletal muscle health in older adults.

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Neighborhood Environment and Physical Activity Among Older Women: Findings From the San Diego Cohort of the Women’s Health Initiative

Jacqueline Kerr, Greg Norman, Rachel Millstein, Marc A. Adams, Cindy Morgan, Robert D. Langer, and Matthew Allison


Few studies of older adults have compared environmental correlates of walking and physical activity in women who may be more influenced by the environment. Environmental measures at different spatial levels have seldom been compared. Findings from previous studies are generally inconsistent.


This study investigated the relationship between the built environment and physical activity in older women from the Women’s Health Initiative cohort in San Diego County (N = 5401). Built environment measures were created for 3 buffers around participants’ residential address. Linear regression analyses investigated the relationship between the built environment features and self-reported physical activity and walking.


Total walking was significantly positively associated with the walkability index (β = .050: half-mile buffer), recreation facility density (β = .036: 1-mile buffer), and distance to the coast (β = –.064; P-values < .05). Total physical activity was significantly negatively associated with distance to the coast and positively with recreation facility density (β = .036: 1-mile buffer; P < .05).


Although effect sizes were small, we did find important relationships between walkability and walking in older adults, which supports recommendations for community design features to include age friendly elements. More intense physical activity may occur in recreational settings than neighborhood streets.