Disrupting the Disruptor: Perceptions as Institutional Maintenance Work at the 1968 Olympic Games

in Journal of Sport Management
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  • 1 Louisiana State University
  • 2 The University of Memphis

How people reflect on and discuss protests at sporting events is a relevant question of interest to sport management scholars. This article uses qualitative data to understand how institutional members reflect on and discuss a disruptive act that violates institutional rules and norms. The authors study the historical case of Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ silent protest at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. Relying on interview data from Smith and Carlos’ teammates (59) on the 1968 U.S. Olympic Team, the study highlights the connections between institutional maintenance work, institutional logics, and institutions. Specifically, the authors argue that when institutional logics align with actors’ institutional maintenance work, acts seen as disruptive to the institution will not change the institution. Identifying multiple institutional logics within the Olympic Games, the authors also find that institutional logics do not always have to be competing as suggested by much of the literature. Instead, tension may be temporarily allayed when rival logics are threatened by an action (i.e., protests) that would disrupt the institution. The authors refer to this as an institutional cease-fire and discuss their findings in relation to the preservation of institutions.

How do institutions remain intact? Moreover, what role (if any) do individuals as part of a collective play in preserving the institutional status quo? This research agenda has been at the center of sociology and organizational literature for quite some time (see Lawrence, 2008; Lawrence & Suddaby, 2006). Collectively, theorizing among scholars in this area implies institutions rely on enforcement, compliance, social controls, surveillance, and shaming, all of which contribute to the institution being persevered (Lawrence, 2008). As an example, consider the institution of the Olympic Games. Highly institutionalized across the globe, the Olympic Games rely on institutional rules and norms that preserve the status quo. For instance, International Olympic Committee (IOC) Rule 50 states the following: “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas” (International Olympic Committee, 2017, p. 91, Charter Rule 50). Noncompliance of this rule defies the status quo and results in removal from the Games (e.g., enforcement). Institutional actors play an integral role in this process. Their participation not only assists in the preservation of the institution but also helps create the rules and belief systems that govern the institution.

For this reason institutional scholars argue that such rules and norms do not merely exist on their own but require substantial forms of institutional work (Lawrence, 2008; Lawrence & Suddaby, 2006). Defined, institutional work is described as “the practices of individuals and collective actors aimed at creating, maintaining, and disrupting institutions” (Lawrence, Suddaby, & Leca, 2011, p. 52). Bringing agency back into institutional theory, this body of literature highlights individuals’ interactions with institutional rules and norms and the effect this has on the institution (see Barley, 1986; Lawrence & Suddaby, 2006). As such, questions centering on the use of maintenance work to preserve institutions are important. Accordingly, we employ a qualitative case study approach to examine how institutional actors reflect on and discuss a disruptive act that defies institutional rules and norms. In doing so, we extend institutional theory by demonstrating potential roadblocks for institutional disruptors.

The institution at the center of our study is the Olympic Games. We argue that the Olympic Games have become institutionalized (i.e., taken for granted, clearly has cognitive and normative legitimacy), given its global investment and significance (Andranovich, Burbank, & Heying, 2010). We examine responses to U.S. sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ silent protest (i.e., institutional disruption) during the men’s 200-m medal ceremony at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. The following question guided our research: How do institutional actors reflect on and discuss acts that defy institutional rules and norms? We believe research in this area can provide answers to relevant institutional theory questions, such as How institutions are sustained? and Under what conditions disruptive actions will affect an institution?

To answer our research question, we rely on interview data from 59 members of the 1968 U.S. Olympic Team in Mexico City at the time of Smith and Carlos’ silent protest. Based on our analysis, we find a great majority of the athletes disapproved of Smith and Carlos’ actions. Their perceptions on the matter effectively serve as a form of institutional maintenance work. Therefore, we contend that the Olympic Games’ preservation as an institution is not solely due to rules, such as IOC Charter Rule 50. Instead, one form of preservation is the result of perceptions that act as institutional maintenance work (i.e., actors’ disapproval). Through the participants’ responses, we identify four logics within the Olympic Games (i.e., Olympic Games as competition, politics, entertainment, and nationalism). The findings suggest that when institutional logics align with actors’ institutional maintenance work, acts seen as disruptive to the institutional norm will not change the institution. To that end, another key finding is that tensions among rival logics may be diffused when a certain act (e.g., protest) threatens the ideals associated with each of the logics. In short, we find that while contending logics exist, in this instance, they were not competing or merely coexisting, as much of the literature emphasizes (e.g., Dunn & Jones, 2010; Lounsbury, 2007; Reay & Hinings, 2009). Instead, tension among contradicting ideals may be temporarily put at ease when rival logics are threatened by an action (i.e., protests) that would disrupt the institution. We refer to this as an institutional cease-fire. We discuss our findings with regard to the preservation of institutions.

Our study makes several contributions to the literature. The study highlights the political nature of institutions (Lawrence, 2008) and the conditions under which disruption is unlikely to have an effect on an institution. That is, similar to how public opinion is of significance to politicians and elected officials (Fagerholm, 2016); it is also important to the acceptance and reproduction of rules and norms. Thus, given the negative sentiments toward the protest, we can begin to understand why the protest did not really pose a threat to the institution or why there has been no reconsideration of Rule 50. Moreover, we contribute to institutional theory in many ways. First, by giving a voice to those present at the time of the protest, we attend to calls to show how individuals sustain and reinforce institutions (Lawrence et al., 2011; Powell & Colyvas, 2008). Second, we show that maintenance work does not always have to be purposeful. Next, we shed light on the relationship between institutional work, institutional logics, and a given institution. Finally, we illustrate how prevailing logics interact when under threat. In the following section, we discuss the historical context of the study and the necessity for historical analyses in sport management research. In subsequent sections, we discuss the historical context of the case study, followed by a review of institutional theory concepts relevant to our study. We then explain our case methods and provide our empirical evidence. This is followed by a discussion of our findings. We conclude by stating the limitations of our research and advancing avenues for future research.

Historical Context of Case

It has been approximately 50 years since the world stood aghast at the sight of U.S. sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ silent protest during the men’s 200-m medal ceremony at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. Having won gold and bronze, respectively, Smith and Carlos audaciously wore black socks without shoes, each extending one black-gloved fist above their lowered heads in protest of state-sanctioned policies that discriminated against Black Americans (Smith & Steele, 2007). Many heralded Smith and Carlos for putting collective goals ahead of individual interests. Although Smith and Carlos were dismissed from Mexico City for their noncompliance; decades later, the picture of the two athletes with their fists raised has become an iconic symbol of the civil rights struggle.

To that end, the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City are a suitable case for this study, as the Games were considered to be among the most sociopolitically significant in the modern history of the Olympic Movement (Witherspoon, 2008). Not only did Smith and Carlos’ protest influence the civil rights movement in the United States, but also with Australian Peter Norman joining the protest, the iconic image from the Games affected civil rights movements beyond the United States. With the Cold War and Vietnam conflicts taking place, the context of the Mexico City Games held further distinction with such significant geopolitical issues in the background. The Games also marked the first time the Olympics were hosted in Latin America, were the site of violent crackdowns of student protests prior to the events, and were the first to test for performance-enhancing drugs among the competing athletes.

Although the previously mentioned sociopolitical issues have also received ample attention from scholars, the significance of Smith and Carlos’ actions has resulted in extensive study of the protest. For instance, Hartmann (1996) detailed how the protest not only became iconic in popular culture but also further forced public dialog on racial injustice in the United States. Agyemang, Singer, and DeLorme (2010) demonstrated how young Black athletes in the United States remain aware of Smith and Carlos’ seminal example of athlete activism. Witherspoon (2003) not only examined the varied reaction to the protest and personal consequences to Smith and Carlos but also explained how after the salute it was impractical to believe that sports and politics were independent of each other. Henderson (2010) argued that over time popular culture has oversimplified Smith and Carlos’ demonstration, which may risk the nuanced significance of the protest being lost as modern discussions on civil rights and social justice take place. Yet, as noted previously, each of these studies concentrates on broad, societal-level institutional contexts.

Theoretical Background

Since the 1970s, institutional theory has been one of the most prominent and popular lenses within organizational scholarship (Wooten & Hoffman, 2008) and more recently, sport management (Washington & Patterson, 2011). Although early work confined institutions to organizational forms with concrete structures, more recent neo-institutional literature conceives institutions as processes, practices, and ideas (Washington & Patterson, 2011). Adding to the previously mentioned definition, an institution can also be described as “More-or-less taken-for-granted repetitive social behaviour that is underpinned by normative systems and cognitive understandings that give meaning to social exchange and thus enable self-reproducing social order” (Greenwood, Oliver, Sahlin, & Suddaby, 2008, pp. 4–5). Below, we discuss two institutional theory concepts central to our study.

Institutional Maintenance Work

Although institutional theory has traditionally attended to macrolevel phenomena, focusing largely on organizations’ similarity, structure, and how they relate to each other, more recent research has placed more emphasis on the agency of individuals and collective actors (Lawrence & Suddaby, 2006; Lawrence, Suddaby, & Leca, 2009). Regarded as institutional work, it has permitted scholars to better understand the connections between individuals and institutions. Lawrence et al. (2011, p. 53) offered a useful summary of this area of scholarship:

The study of institutional work takes as its point of departure an interest in work—the efforts of individuals and collective actors to cope with, keep up with, shore up, tear down, tinker with, transform, or create anew the institutional structures within which they live, work, and play, and which give them their roles, relationships, resources, and routines.

Although institution creation and change have garnered much attention from scholars, studies examining how institutions are maintained have received little attention. Defined as “the active, strategic process of institutions to maintain their status and power in the field” (Trank & Washington, 2009, p. 239), maintenance work often commences in response to a threat to institutional status quo (Micelotta & Washington, 2013; Nite, 2017).

A growing body of literature has revealed the various actions institutional actors perform to maintain an institution. For instance, incumbents, who are advantaged by the existing institutional arrangements, will resist any type of change that goes against institutional status quo (Hardy & Maguire, 2008; Jepperson, 1991). Different examples of maintenance work include: enabling, policing, deterring, valorizing and demonizing, mythologizing, and embedding and routinizing. Lawrence and Suddaby (2006) described enabling work as producing rules that assist, supplement, and back institutions. Policing comprises work that guarantees obedience by way of enforcement, auditing, and observing. Meanwhile, deterring refers to the enactment of coercive barriers that halt any type of institutional change.

Together, the previously mentioned three forms of maintenance work are noted for their high degree of directness because the actors are very much aware of the actions and its effect on the institution. This is in contrast to the latter three forms of maintenance work that are distinguished from the former three in that the actors are unaware of the impact of the actions. For instance, valorizing and demonizing includes the public demonstration of desirable and undesirable acts that exemplify the status quo of the institution. Mythologizing work consists of emphasizing the past so as to sustain the status quo of the institution. Finally, embedding and routinizing takes place when the normative grounds of an institution are instilled into daily and organizational practices. Surely, cases involving these types of maintenance work can be found in sport; however, sport management researchers’ engagement with this body of literature has been limited. Two recent examples of scholars who have examined institutional maintenance work include Nite’s (2017) study and Edwards and Washington’s (2015) study. Although the former gave insight into how message framing can be viewed as institutional maintenance work, the latter investigated strategies used to maintain relevance. As other organizational scholars have demonstrated researching institutions such as democracy (Jepperson, 1991) and a fishermen rule system (Holm, 1995), among others, institutional work plays an essential role in preserving institutions and withstanding threats.

Institutional Logics

A central belief of this study is that actors’ institutional work is contingent on the institutional logics within the institution they operate (Thornton & Ocasio, 1999). This is because these institutional logics ultimately determine whether an action is able to transform an institution, as these logics manifest themselves in individuals’ actions and interpretation of reality (Powell & Colyvas, 2008). In short, these logics are a set of belief systems and guidelines that prescribe how people and organizations understand and function within a given context. They also establish guidelines for appropriate behavior and provide prescriptions for how to succeed (Friedland & Alford, 1991; Thornton, 2004). The term institutional logics dates back to the work of Alford and Friedland (1985), which described the conflicting practices and beliefs ingrained in institutions of western societies.

One of the larger concerns within this body of literature is when organizations “confront incompatible prescriptions from multiple institutional logics” (Greenwood, Raynard, Kodeih, Micelotta, & Lounsbury, 2011, p. 318). Because different logics operate from opposing central assumptions, approaches to action and sense of meaning may differ. The degree of incompatibility between the logics ultimately breeds conflict, resistance, and struggle among the organizational actors exposed to the logics (Bourdieu, 1977; Greenwood et al., 2011). Scholars refer to this as institutional complexity (Greenwood et al., 2011). For example, Washington and Ventresca (2008) underscored the prevailing logics in professional sports as sports as entertainment, sports as athletic competition, and sports as a business. Each of these logics has varying central assumptions concerning how to function and make decisions on key issues. Thus, decision-makers may come to different conclusions when crafting solutions to a problem. The sport industry, in particular, brings together different stakeholders—athletes, executives, coaches, sponsors, media, and consumers, among others—each of which have a different worldview and interests. These varying interests contribute to the conflict.

Compared with studies involving institutional work, sport management scholars have conducted considerably more work to demonstrate logics operating in sport. Within the professional sport realm, O’Brien and Slack’s (2004) study built on their previous work (O’Brien & Slack, 2003) detailing the professionalization of the English rugby union. Describing the transformation to a professional logic, the authors highlighted initial high uncertainty and intense competition, followed later by increased interorganizational linkages and coalition building, among others. Skirstad and Chelladurai (2011) also showed the emergence of a professional logic within a sports club. However, their findings suggested the logics of amateurism, professionalism, and commercialism can coincide. More recently, Allison (2016) highlighted the competing logics of business (i.e., making profit) and cause (i.e., empowerment and opportunity) in selling women’s soccer. The author found men and women often understood the logics differently. For instance, men were more inclined to think profit, and empowerment could work in tandem with each other.

Scholars have also interrogated existing logics within the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Studying NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament broadcasts, Southall, Nagel, Amis, and Southall (2008) found that the prevailing education logic is at odds with that of the commercialization logic. Likewise, Southall and Nagel (2008) studied the NCAA women’s basketball Division I tournament and had related findings. Nite, Singer, and Cunningham (2013) also examined logics within the NCAA. In this case, the authors studied competing logics within NCAA Division II religious-based institutions. Specifically, they found that academic culture was at odds with athletic expectations (e.g., wins vs. losses) and marketing.

In relation to the current study, conventional wisdom would lead us to believe that institutional logics play an integral role in how institutional actors make sense of and respond to a disruptive act that defies institutional rules and norms. We argue that these responses act as a form of maintenance work to preserve the institutional status quo. In this study, we allow participant responses to guide our understanding of this phenomenon at work within the Olympic Games.

Method

To historically examine this iconic demonstration and begin mapping how Carlos and Smith’s teammates viewed the protest, interviews were conducted with members of the 1968 U.S. Olympic Team. Using the 1968 U.S. Olympic Team, this case study approach represents an effective way to understand the complexities of given phenomena and can result in empirically valid and novel findings (Eisenhardt, 1989). As Berg, Warner, and Das (2015) explained, through the collection of idiosyncratic evidence from just a single case, researchers, policymakers, and practitioners can obtain further understanding regarding participants’ experiences, specific effects, and unanticipated outcomes of an institutionalized practice. With detailed descriptions provided, an in-depth analysis of prevailing institutional logics was possible along with additional findings that emerged from the data.

Historical analyses are crucial to advancing sport management research and practice (Amis & Silk, 2005). Historical study allows for practical implications and theoretical advancement to be realized with a more complete deliberation of history and context while not disregarding contemporary issues that are prevalent in the current sport management dialog. Sport stakeholders function within multifaceted sociopolitical realities that are historically engrained, and this must be recognized if the status quo is to be altered (Frisby, 2005). Using a historical lens to understand phenomena helps restrain sport researchers and managers from maintaining traditional or shallow viewpoints and recognize that present conditions are not merely the product of informal or market forces but the decisions made in the past as De Wilde, Seifried, and Adelman (2010) observed. By recognizing context, which often heavily directs many sport issues, the relationship between past actions and modern circumstances can be revealed to help generate new insight for research and practice (Seifried, 2010).

Research Procedures

An oral history research team, consisting of university faculty and selected graduate students, conducted 59 interviews with members of the 1968 U.S. Olympic Team from 2010 to 2015. The second author conducted 10 of the 59 interviews the research team collected. Contextual information on the importance of the 1968 Summer Olympics and a structured series of questions were provided to members of the research team following training in leading oral history interviews. Oral histories are a constructive methodological tool to develop historical understanding and compel researchers to reassess existing constructions (Cahn, 1994; De Wilde et al., 2010; Seifried, 2010). A key informant, who was a member of the 1968 U.S. Olympic Team, introduced the researchers to other members of the team. Snowball sampling was then utilized to guarantee the various experiences, and interpretations of numerous Olympians were attained. Although some interviews were conducted face-to-face in Austin, TX, the vast majority took place via telephone due to how geographically dispersed the Olympic athletes are in the present day. Prior to the interviews, the participants were sent a list of questions or topics to be covered to aid their recall of events or experiences. All of the Olympic athletes participated on a voluntary basis. After signing an informed consent form to participate in the study, the participants had the right to end the interview or to decline specific questions they did not wish to answer. Due to the delicate nature of reactions to Smith and Carlos’ protest, the Olympians’ identities are protected for this study. As an oral history study, this research was exempted from standard institutional review requirements by an institutional review board.

With the 1968 Olympians offering generous blocks of their time to this study, the research team probed each participant’s lifecourse to fully understand their athletic and social experiences leading up the Mexico City Games. Interview questions explored the athletes’ early sport experiences and how their athletic careers proceeded up to 1968. The interviews then proceeded to ask about the athletes’ experiences at the Mexico City Games, including their viewpoints of possible protests at the Games and their perspectives on Carlos and Smith’s salute. This approach enabled the experiences and insights of the Olympians to be analyzed in greater detail and for attention to be given to matters affecting the demonstration that would be otherwise overlooked (Weiss, 1994). The semistructured approach and the utilization of the interview guide allowed for consistency between interviews while enabling the interviewer to respond to participant answers and pose additional questions for further detail or clarification (Munhall, 2007). The duration of interviews ranged from 32 to 144 minutes based on the amount of detail provided by members of the 1968 U.S. Olympic Team.

Participants

The oral history interviews of 59 members of the 1968 U.S. Olympic Team served as the primary data for this study and offered a wide range of experiences and insights to the infamous salute offered by Carlos and Smith. In terms of gender, the sample contained 42 male participants and 17 female participants. With respect to race, 47 Olympians were White, 11 Olympians were Black, and one Olympian was Hispanic. Finally, athletes who competed in 18 Olympic sports were represented in this study. Table 1 provides a summary of the Olympians with respect to their gender, race, and sport. As part of protecting the Olympians’ identities and to show the various reactions across the team, each of the selected quotes used in the results section note the individual participant’s race, gender, and sport. The makeup of the participant sample reflects the limited opportunities for female and non-White male athletes during this era of sport and how the 1968 U.S. Olympic Team would be formed.

Table 1

Descriptive Summary of Olympian Participants

Gender
 Male: 42Female: 17 
Race
 White: 47Black: 11Hispanic: 1
Olympic Sport
 Athletics: 14Swimming: 7Volleyball: 5
 Rowing: 4Shooting: 3Sailing: 3
 Boxing: 3Canoeing: 2Cycling: 2
 Diving: 2Equestrian: 2Gymnastics: 2
 Modern Pentathlon: 2Water Polo: 2Weightlifting: 2
 Wrestling: 2Basketball: 1Fencing: 1

All the athletes were asked to describe in detail their awareness of possible protests being discussed prior to the 1968 Summer Olympics, how they interpreted Carlos and Smith’s actions and the immediate ramifications at the Games, and their reflections on the demonstration long after the event occurred. With such an assorted collection of athletes (e.g., race, gender, sport), the interviews offered a variety of experiences to analyze.

Data Triangulation

Consistent with qualitative methodological practice (Gioia, Corley, & Hamilton, 2013; Yin, 2013), secondary sources were used to triangulate the primary data, which bolsters the credibility of the study (Patton, 2002). Secondary sources consisted of print media coverage of Smith and Carlos’ protest from leading domestic and international newspapers of the time including: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, Times Herald, The Times (of London), and The Guardian (United Kingdom). In accordance with prior sport management research (e.g., Dowling & Washington, 2017), these secondary sources were not thematically analyzed. Instead, they were used to further engage the research team in the 1968 Olympic Games context. Moreover, these sources were also used to substantiate the oral histories of the Olympian participants (Patton, 2002).

Data Analysis

Following the professional transcription of the data, the interviews were analyzed with QSR International’s NVIVO 11 software (2015). Initially, the authors independently coded each line of the data to produce as many ideas and codes as possible. With the first and third authors not conducting any of the interviews, the analysis benefited from these researchers having a more detached perspective that could challenge interpretations and connect the data with the research literature (Gioia et al., 2013). During analysis, which was both inductively and deductively driven, the research team was mindful of the existing literature on institutional logics (e.g., Greenwood et al., 2011) and institutional change (e.g., Battilana, Leca, & Boxenbaum, 2009). However, the authors were also open to findings emerging from the data that can be the most revealing findings in some studies (Murchison, 2010). The first stage of coding process produced 29 first-level codes among the three authors, which were primarily based on the statements of the participants (Gioia et al., 2013). A peer review process such as this improves validity by asking each member of the research team to look at initial results and suggest ideas that may have been overlooked. The practice also decreases researcher subjectivity and bias (Goulding, 2002). The authors proceeded to reduce the first-level codes into 10 second-level categories that began to explain the observed phenomena and the relationship among the first-level codes. The research team then clustered the codes to begin determining significant themes, or aggregate dimensions, and establishing if data saturation had been achieved (Gioia et al., 2013). The procedures used to classify the significant themes in the data allowed the authors to advance a conceptual scheme that is empirically grounded and richly descriptive (Royse, Thyer, Padgett, & Logan, 2006). By coding the interviews individually, the interviews were constantly compared and allowed for the production of an overarching narrative based on the crosscutting, principle themes in the results (Patten, 2014). Four principle themes emerged after intercoder agreement among the research team was realized: the Olympic Games as (a) competition, (b) politics, (c) entertainment, and (d) nationalism. Figure 1 details the relationship between the codes, categories, and themes.

Figure 1
Figure 1

—Codes, categories, and themes.

Citation: Journal of Sport Management 32, 6; 10.1123/jsm.2017-0268

Results

Findings from the interviews are organized around the institutional logics of the Olympic Games. Themes included the institutional logics of the Olympics Games as competition, politics, entertainment, and nationalism. The logics as presented in the results emanated from the participants and not necessarily the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) or the IOC. Table 2 provides representative quotes from each category and theme.

Table 2

Representative Quotes of Categories and Themes

Olympics as competition
 Wrong forum
 • “But these were all rumors. And again, most of us, I don’t think it was that big of an issue with us one way or the other. And sometimes I think it was kind of a two-edged sword as far as you kind of respect them for having the balls to stand up there and do that, and at the same time thought, ‘Well that’s not really appropriate.’ But that was a big stand.” (White, male, water polo)
 • “I had a number of thoughts. Number one, even though that wasn’t the place to do what they did, to make the protest, I understood why they did it. I think it took a lot of courage to do what they did. And I think that they knew they were going to pay a big price for it. But I think that they were motivated by something a little different than what the norm was at the time. Not very many athletes would have done what they did. They had an opportunity to make a statement and they made a statement. Like it or not, they did it.” (Black, male, wrestling)
 Impact of protest on Olympics
 • They signed those papers. You sign them or you don’t participate. They knew they were breaking the rules of the Olympic charter, the code, the Olympic code and everything else. They were made . . . . They were made as the bad guy. They were sent home because of that, because they broke the rule. They just didn’t get a slap on the hand and say, “OK you were wrong. Don’t do it again.” Their careers and their reputations were tarnished because of that. It followed them.” (White, female, swimming)
 • “I look back at the, 68 Olympics with a heavy heart. It destroyed so many . . . . But it also opened a lot of doors. It opened the eyes of the world about athletics, athletes. And it opened the eyes of the black athletes.” (Black, male, wrestling)
 Purpose to protest, not compete
 • “At the time, I was there to paddle. I didn’t want to get involved in the politics. I didn’t understand all that.” (White, female, canoeing)
 • “I’d heard a bit going into Mexico. I knew that there was probably going to be some sort of protests by African American athletes there. I was in the stadium when Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their arms when they got the gold and the bronze in the 200 meters.” (White, male, cycling)
Olympics as politics
 Role of politics
 • “I was in favor of the black movement by Lee Evans, John Carlos, and Tommie Smith and empathized with them. But I believe that the Olympics should be politically free. I just think it was . . . . I go along with their ideas and what they stood for and things they wanted to get across. But I kinda have the feeling myself that it was the wrong venue to demonstrate with the black fist salute. I’m not against that salute, but I think it was the wrong venue to do it. I think the Olympics should be politically free from political movement.” (White, male, athlete)
 • And I said well, what a forum. You know, think about it. And so it depends on who you talk to. But it was just a chapter in the life, the games prevailed and they’ll continue to go on. I think we got a better handle today in Olympic activity. I mean you know its political. You know you see what judges do in ice skating. (White, male, sailing)
Olympics as entertainment
 Spectacle of the Olympic Games
 • “And that goes right back to why do you want the Olympics in the first place? It’s the fellowship, and the camaraderie, and the dove with the olive leaf in his mouth, the whole idea of peace, and we don’t fight, we play. That’s just completely got bowled over and forgotten about.” (White, male, cycling)
 • “It’s a festival. It’s a celebration. And if you read the Olympic oath, you know it’s Citius, Fortius, Altius. You know faster, higher, whatever. And then you read the oath when they read it to you. You know this is a special thing.” (White, male, sailing)
 Media-generated issue
 • “. . . it got to the news and they thought they we got a story here, let’s go with this. So they turned this whole thing into a negative horrible situation, embarrassing the United States and all of that stuff. Well, that was not the situation at all.” (Black, female, athlete)
 • “. . . the writers felt it was really degrading. I didn’t think that it was that much . . . that it had that much effect what they did. But in hindsight, after I started reading about it, they kept putting it in the press. If they hadn’t kept putting it in the press, it wouldn’t have made a big impact. Because they kept writing about it, I think they made it more of a big impact than anything.” (Black, female, athlete)
Olympics as nationalism
 Respectfulness and nationalism
 • “The black athletes, you know, when they were on the medal stand always held their fist up and I wasn’t too impressed with that since I was military and here I fought; and then right after that I went to Vietnam. You know, that was another thing that stuck in my craw. I didn’t particularly like that, though you have to respect their athleticism.” (White, male, modern pentathlon)
 • “I think we all know it was the right thing to do. And it was done in a respectful manner.” (Black, female, athlete)
 Proper response when winning
 • “If I could have won a medal and put my hand up in the air that I’m proud to be an American and on the team, that’s what I would have did. There’d be no protesting.” (White, male, weightlifting)
 • “We all felt here are those people who were down there and representing this country, and they were down there at their country’s expense and so on, and they should have had more respect for what they were down there for. On the other hand, George Foreman, when he won his gold medal, he went around the ring waving the American flag.” (White, male, shooting)

Olympics as Competition

Overall, 27 Olympians spoke of the competitive nature of the Olympic Games when asked to reflect on Smith and Carlos’ protest. The institutional logic of the Olympic Games as competition took on three forms as the Olympians believed the spirit of competition embodied by the Games superseded all else, particularly politics. Essentially, participants mythologized the games (see Angus, 1993), referring to its history as a means to preserve the institution. The first form was the belief that the Olympic Games were the wrong forum for Smith and Carlos to stage their protest. In support of this assertion, the Olympians referenced the years of dedication and sacrifice it took to become a member of the Olympic team. Accordingly, to have fellow Olympians, namely Smith and Carlos, use the Games for political purposes was viewed as unconscionable. For example, one White male Olympian (weightlifting) remarked that Smith and Carlos’ protest was disrespectful to the other athletes, as they had trained all the years to make a team, only to be upstaged by a political protest. For this reason, he believed the protest was “inappropriate . . . especially at the Olympic Games.” This Olympian was not alone in this sentiment as others lamented that after having achieved what only few ever accomplish (i.e., winning an Olympic medal), Smith and Carlos would use the medaling ceremony to stage their protest:

Just that we’re all trying so hard just to get there, and then trying to . . . obviously when you are at the Games, the big thing would be to medal. You get somebody who actually wins a gold and a bronze and then to use that pinnacle to completely. . . . I mean it worked. (White, male, water polo)

The second form of the Olympics as competition referenced was the potential impact of Smith and Carlos’ protest on the reputation and future of the Games. Some Olympians were concerned the Games were irrecoverably tarnished by actions of Smith and Carlos. Speaking on the matter, one Olympian (White, male, modern pentathlon) recalled being worried that the protests would “mar the reputation of the Games.” Likewise, another (Black, male, boxing) stated that the 1968 Games would be remembered as the “Olympics that almost destroyed all the Olympics.” Similarly, a weight lifter (White, male) recalled the reaction of fellow Olympians to the protest, presumably due to the potential long-term ramifications of Smith and Carlos’ demonstration:

I looked out the window and I could tell you the wrestlers, they were throwing buckets of water down on them. It wasn’t a racist thing these wrestlers were doing it for, they just didn’t like that they were doing it.

As institutional actors, the actions of these Olympians demonized the protest of Smith and Carlos, thereby serving to maintain the institution of the Olympic Games (Lawrence & Suddaby, 2006).

Third, the Olympians spoke about their singular focus on their respective sports at the Games, which is indicative of the institutional logic of the Olympics as competition. Although some had heard rumors of boycotts and protests within the Olympic village, they were too focused on their imminent competitions to involve themselves in these political matters. Remarks such as “we were in our own little world . . . they did their thing, we did our thing” (White, female, equestrian); “. . . there could have been nuclear explosions in five countries and we would have been focused on what we were doing at that point” (White, female, gymnastics); and “. . . I was living in a vacuum . . . and sort of self-absorbed in my training” (White, male, canoeing) were representative of the focus that members of the Olympic team possessed. As institutional actors, the singular focus of these Olympians is reflective of the institutional work of embedding and routinizing. Their engulfment in the competition logic served to maintain the institution of the Olympic Games (Lawrence & Suddaby, 2006).

Other Olympians, particularly Black Olympians, were recruited to participate in the protests. However, they declined such invitations as they were at the Olympics to compete:

I wasn’t not going to compete because of different reasons that other athletes might have thought were reasons not to compete. I had worked hard and got the opportunity to compete in the Olympics in ‘68 for my country and I was going to compete. (Black, male, basketball)

We was approached on that. George (Foreman) was approached on it. But we just didn’t have any initiative to go that route. I think we had did enough to get there. Didn’t have to do something like that to get kicked out of there . . . . I definitely didn’t want that to happen. We had came too far. (Black, male, boxing)

To be certain, although the Olympians’ approached the Games with a single mindedness, they did express sympathy for the cause that Smith and Carlos were fighting for:

I didn’t have much contact with the Black teammates but I was certainly in sympathy with them because being from Virginia . . . . I was aware of the Black water fountains and White water fountains. I had never been comfortable with that. I just felt sort of powerless. What can I do? I’m here to do my job. I’m here to compete and do the best I can in my sport. (White, male, modern pentathlon)

Finally, 18 Olympians referenced the political climate that preceded the 1968 Olympics and how its existence resulted in some to believe that Smith and Carlos’ primary purpose at the Olympics was to protest, rather than to compete. As context, a Black male Olympian (athletics) recalled how in 1967 members of the Harvard rowing team and the Olympic Project for Human Rights “proposed boycotts of the ‘68 Olympic Games.” Yet another Black male Olympian (wrestling) expressed that “the politics were so thick . . . . I could never sleep. I was always on the telephone with people calling about the boycott.” Although most Black Olympians did attend the Games, other Olympians believed they were not there for competitive purposes. For example, one Olympian (White, male, shooting) remarked that it was “obvious that some members of the team” were there “more for the opportunity to protest than they were for the opportunity to compete.” This Olympian went on to elaborate that although he had not quite developed an ideology that politics and protests do not belong in sports, he, as well as other Olympians, was disturbed by the demonstration. Others reiterated this notion by commenting that “protests led into the Games . . . these people had some Black coaches that wanted to make a statement, and they wanted their athletes to make a statement . . . there was some information prior to the Games that they were going to do this and they followed through” (White, male, fencing). In this manner, some Olympians believed that discussion of boycotts and protests prior to the Olympics, most notably advocated for by the Olympic Project for Human Rights, was evidence that members of the team were not in Mexico City to compete, but instead were there to protest.

Olympics Games as Politics

Twenty-three Olympians spoke directly or indirectly to whether the inclusion of politics belonged in the Olympic Games. Of these 23 Olympians, most recalled holding a view that the Olympic Games should be apolitical while participating in the 1968 Games. Although some noted that holding such a position was “idealistic” and “naïve,” others still maintained the view:

I didn’t think it was an appropriate venue for people’s political beliefs and I still don’t. Unfortunately, a lot of politics do bleed into athletics around the world, both professional and amateur. And I, frankly, thought it was inappropriate, personal, selfish, and self-indulgent. (White, male, water polo)

I’m not against that salute, but I think it was the wrong venue to do it. I think the Olympics should be politically free from political movement (White, male, athletics).

One Olympian (Black, male, boxing) went as far as to associate Smith and Carlos’ political demonstration in the 1968 Olympic Games with the Munich massacre during the 1972 Olympic Games in which 11 members of the Israeli Olympic Team were murdered:

The whole world saw that two people can show displeasure, and it led to 1972 when they killed all those athletes in the Olympic village in Germany. If the other had never happened, no one would have ever thought that the Olympics could have been a place to vent your frustration and all of that.

The comments by this Olympian provide another example of how the demonizing of Smith and Carlos’ actions was used to maintain the institution of the Olympic Games (Lawrence & Suddaby, 2006).

In particular, several Olympians recalled the USOC and the IOC’s use of sanctions and deterrence (Lawrence & Suddaby, 2006) to promote an apolitical Olympic Games. For example, some Olympians recalled finding out that the USOC threatened to impede the professional careers of members of the Harvard rowing team if they involved politics in the Olympic Games. Similarly, a member of the Harvard rowing team recounted that the USOC convened a special meeting after Smith and Carlos’ demonstration to “extract a promise” from the rowers that there would be no demonstration should they medal in their competition. These deterrent efforts by the USOC served to prevent further actions by Olympians that could potentially result in institutional change (Lawrence & Suddaby, 2006).

By contrast, other Olympians held the belief that that the Olympic Games are inherently political:

There’s probably nothing more political in all of the world than the Olympic Games, however. You can’t bring that many cultures and peoples together without people having political agendas. It is what it is and it’s always going to be more political than more people would like. (White, male, swimming)

These Olympians shared a similar outlook with one Olympian who stated, “because humans are humans and passions, and abuses, and discrimination (exist) . . . you really can’t shut it out” (White, female, athletics). Moreover, it was expressed that because Smith and Carlos (and others) had worked so hard to participate in the Olympic Games, “it was their venue to express their disappointment in the United States and their treatment . . . .” Furthermore, one Olympian highlighted what he believed to be a hypocrisy in how the American public viewed the intersection of politics and the Olympic Games. According to him, the American public was supportive of political protests against a rival foreign nation, yet dismissive of political protests against its own nation:

. . . at the time of the Mexico City Olympics, Russian tanks were in Prague, in Czechoslovakia . . . . And there was a Czezh gymnast . . . . She protested on the victory stand. And she made it known why she was protesting . . . the America (public) I’ll just say, thought that that was a great thing because it’s against Russia. But John and Tommie, who were saying, “Hey, I’d like to be treated better . . . .” (Black, male, athletics)

Olympic Games as Entertainment

Fifteen Olympians referenced how Smith and Carlos’ demonstration impacted the entertainment inherent in the Olympic Games. This institutional logic, the Olympic Games as entertainment, occurred in two ways. The first way, cited by three Olympians, was how the protest complicated the spectacle of the Olympic Games. The Olympians used mythologizing (Lawrence & Suddaby, 2006) language when discussing the Olympic Games, thereby expressing support for the maintenance of the status quo. For example, the Olympic Games were described as a “special place,” “a festival,” and a “celebration.” Accordingly, the Games were seen as a “no foul, no war venue,” and that people were offended that Smith and Carlos’ use of this sacred spectacle as a forum for politics. In support of this assertion, one Olympian made the following comment:

. . . it was a disruption of the celebration itself. I didn’t think that it was an appropriate thing to do and that was my reaction at the time. “Why, why, why, why do we have to do this?” (White, male, cycling)

Next, 13 Olympians discussed the role of the media in relation to Smith and Carlos’ protest. The collective statements of the Olympians painted a picture that the political turmoil of the 1968 Olympic Games was not an issue until the mass media made it so. Even before Smith and Carlos donned the black gloves, it was stated that the media was preoccupied with the Black U.S. athletics members: “the track athletes always had media within arms distance of them at all times . . . the media would immediately go to them and didn’t spend much time with the other athletes” (White, male, volleyball). Once the protest occurred, some remembered the “press took it and ran with it,” with the media being “all over it . . . like a feeding frenzy” (Black, male, wrestling). When reflecting on the role of the media, one Olympian explained:

So they would have these press conferences with the medal winners and all (the media) would want to talk about was, “What do you think about what (Smith and Carlos) did?” You wanted to talk about what it feels like to win the gold medal . . . . They didn’t want to talk about that. (White, male, athletics)

Other Olympians agreed with the assessment about the media, with one going as far as to say that the media “put words in people’s mouths instead of talking to people” (Black, female, athletics). For example, one Olympian recalled a reporter’s interaction with another Olympian who participated in the decathlon. According to this Olympian, the quote attributed to the decathlete in the newspaper with respect to Smith and Carlos’ demonstration was not accurate. This instance, as well as others, resulted in these Olympians believing that “if the (media) hadn’t kept putting (the protest) in the press, it wouldn’t have made a big impact” (Black, female, athletics). Accordingly, they viewed much of the hostility directed at Smith and Carlos as “media generated and media fueled” (White, female, athletics). When contextualized within institutional work, the media can also be viewed as an institutional actor that sought to maintain the institution of the Olympic Games as it (i.e., the media) demonized (Lawrence & Suddaby, 2006) the protest of Smith and Carlos.

Olympic Games as Nationalism

Next, 12 Olympians referenced the intersection of nationalism and the Olympic Games when reflecting on the protest by Smith and Carlos. For the majority of these Olympians, nationalism superseded politics. It didn’t matter if an Olympian was “Black, green, brown, Jewish, Protestant, Catholic” (White, male, weight lifting). What mattered, as one Olympian explained, was that as members of the Olympic team, they were “proud to be an American” and “able to represent the United States.” For example, a rower recalled being approached by members of the Harvard rowing team about his potential participation in protests:

My personal feeling was, I said, “Look it, guys. I really cannot be involved. I am here for one reason. I am here to represent the United States and I’m here to win a medal. I think that’s what my purpose here is to be.” (White, male, rowing)

Likewise, another recalled wanting to put a Masonic patch on his uniform. Instead, he was told the only patch that should be on his uniform should be one representing the United States of America. Thus, Smith and Carlos’ protest was viewed by some as a “terrible way to represent the United States” (White, female, volleyball). For example, one Olympian stated the following:

My wife is from Japan and she and her family watched from Japan. And they had the same feeling about this Carlos and Smith and their Black Power salute. Being from a former country, they couldn’t understand that. They felt they should love their country. (White, male, shooting)

Valorizing is a form of institutional work that includes positive examples that exemplify the status quo of an institution (Lawrence & Suddaby, 2006). Seven Olympians spoke to the proper response of an American athlete when winning at the Olympic Games. Rather than using the podium to protest, one Olympian stated, “if I could have won a medal and put my hand up in the air that I’m proud to be an American and on the team, that’s what I would have did” (White, male, weightlifting). In particular, four Olympians especially valorized the actions of one boxer, George Foreman, when he won the gold medal during the same Olympic Games as the model response. These Olympians recalled that after Foreman “beat up the Russian really badly,” “he took the American flag and waved it . . . no power salute from him.” For them, Foreman’s embrace of the American flag was the appropriate response to winning an Olympic medal and his celebration “showed what he was made of.” One of Foreman’s teammates stated the following:

Foreman . . . won the Olympic title, and instead of raising a Black salute he took the flag and ran around the ring with it. That was a great, great thing that Foreman did that changed what those two guys did in the track thing. (Hispanic, male, boxing)

The gold-medalist boxer credited his disposition to the members of his boxing team who were or who had served in the United States military. He stated that he “listened to them pretty clearly and took on whatever attitude they had.” Thus, the logic of nationalism influenced this boxer as he celebrated his gold medal victory.

Discussion

For decades, sport management research has centered the role of institutional theory and related concepts to better understand questions at the forefront of the discipline. Despite researchers’ utilization and contributions to institutional theory, much still remains unexplored. Inspired by this, the key focal point of this project was to explore how institutions remain intact, particularly when under threat. Specifically, we were interested in the role individuals play in supporting the maintenance of a given institution. For this case, we focused on how Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ teammates reflected on their protest at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. We believe the insights offered are useful for better understanding the links between institutional work, institutional logics, and institutions. Below, we further elaborate on our findings.

Perceptions as Institutional Maintenance Work

For disruption to be successful, actors are required to displace prevailing rules and norms, initiate new ones, and then ensure new practices become institutionalized (Battilana et al., 2009). As our findings indicate, this did not happen in our case. One of the key challenges for those who defy an institution is that embedded members lack the motivation to champion new causes because they benefit from the existing institutional arrangements (Garud, Hardy, & Magurie, 2007; Hardy & Maguire, 2008). That is, affirming protests as an accepted practice would distract from the Olympic Games. In this case, the majority of respondents interviewed maintained this opinion. For example, one Olympian commented that the 1968 Olympics Games almost destroyed all future Olympic Games. So, in short, our empirical evidence suggests that perceptions can act as form of institutional maintenance work. The respondents’ negative view of the disruption (i.e., Smith and Carlos silent protest) served as a “propping up” of the institution because their opinions support the status quo. The status quo was not engaging in any type of political protest at the Olympic Games, which would contest IOC Rule 50. As prior work has noted that institutions, such as democracy, do not exist without significant forms of maintenance work (Lawrence & Suddaby, 2006), the same holds true here. Mechanisms are put in place that institutional actors must abide by for the institution to be preserved. One of those mechanisms is IOC Rule 50. This, too, does not exist on its own accord, but necessitates compliance and institutional actors to be in lockstep with the reasoning behind the rule.

Interestingly, even some participants who Smith and Carlos were protesting for, namely Black Olympians, refused to violate the institutional rule. Perhaps this was due to fear of being removed from the Games. In essence, these actors illustrate “cultural-dope” tendencies (see Giddens, 1979) in that their perceptions are impacted by predominant structures of the institution. This was intriguing because it is typically embedded privileged members who see no reason to disrupt the institution (Hardy & Maguire, 2008). However, the Black Olympians, who can be regarded as less privileged institutional members in this case, also perceived the disruption as negative. One explanation of this can be understood by looking to other forms of maintenance work, namely policing and deterrence. Although protests are widely regarded as a powerful mechanism for activists to highlight social inequalities (Andrews, Beyerlein, & Farnum, 2016), with regard to the Olympic Games, we know that such protests are not permissible and that engaging in such acts results in removal from the Games. It is plausible that these athletes did not want to ruin their chances of competing in the Games.

In summary, this finding contributes to the literature by attending to the microlevel gaps in institutional theory (Lawrence et al., 2011) and adds further credence to the notion that maintenance work is not always purposeful and can be “silent”, that is, “the replication of cognitively institutionalized routines and practices” (Micelotta & Washington, 2013, p. 1139). Much of the institutional theory literature in sport, and in general, takes on a macro view but often fails to take into account the role of individuals. We find this interesting because individuals reinforce and sustain institutions, including its rules and norms, utilizing the various forms of institutional work. Thus, by gaining an understanding of how individuals reflect on and discuss their experience within a given context, we can begin to better understand macrolevel events (Powell & Colyvas, 2008) such as the preservation of an institution.

We can also understand this finding through social movement literature. For some time, social movement scholars have alluded to the importance of an audience when trying to understand conflict (Andrews et al., 2016). By “watching the crowd” (Schattschneider, 1975), researchers can gather the pulse of institutional actors regarding how they make sense of a given phenomenon. We argue the same applies here. A great majority of Smith and Carlos’ teammates expressed discontent with the protest. To that end, we conclude that institutional maintenance work extends past just “doing” and includes how actors discuss and perceive.

Institutional Cease-Fire

Our study revealed several logics in operation within the Olympic Games. As noted earlier, these logics guide social action on how to behave and advise membership on how to deal with and solve problems. For instance, matters concerning selecting a host city, dealing with performance-enhancing drugs, and the “false start” disqualification rule would most likely be resolved differently depending from which logic leadership functions. To reiterate, extant literature describes this as institutional complexity. That is, when there exist contrary prescriptions derived from the plurality of logics (Greenwood et al., 2011). Yet, although we know that institutions confront multiple and often competing logics, researchers have argued that we know little about how actors respond to such complexity and conflict (Goodrick & Reay, 2011; Pache & Santos, 2010). Our results provided some interesting findings in this regard.

What we found fascinating about this study was that regardless of the institutional logic the respondents appeared to be operating from, protests were still viewed as a threat. For instance, protests were seen as taking away from the spectacle of the Olympic Games. Likewise, some Olympians believed the protest denigrated the years of sacrifice and dedication required to even reach the Games, much less win a medal. Moreover, Smith and Carlos’ protest was viewed by some as a repudiation of the United States and its flag. Each of these views emanates from a different institutional logic. So, another key finding in our study was that institutional logics do not always have to be competing or merely coexisting as suggested by much of the literature (Greenwood et al., 2011). Instead, tension among contradicting ideals may be temporarily put at ease when an action poses a threat to the institution as a whole. Regardless of the logic from which actors prescribed to, the maintenance work was the same. We refer to this as an institutional cease-fire, which occurs when material interests are put aside in the interest of the preservation of the institution. As noted, for the most part, the respondents found common disdain in a particular action, which, if allowed, would disrupt the Olympic Games. Their perceptions, acting as institutional work, dispute the action so that it is not viewed as legitimate. Existing literature acknowledges the competing nature of logics, the coexistence of logics (Dunn & Jones, 2010), and even the combination of logics when creating hybrid organizational forms (Tracey, Phillips, & Jarvis, 2011). Although logics may have different prescriptions, actors operating from a particular logic still want the institution to succeed. It just so happens that they believe their logic supersedes that of the others. So, we can begin to understand how institutional maintenance work can act as a buffer to unite logics in the interest of the preservation of the institution as a whole.

Theoretically, this finding contributes to the literature in two ways. First, studies concerning institutional logics as a focal point rarely show how more than two logics are experienced in a given institution (Greenwood et al., 2011). Second, this study answers the call to demonstrate responses to institutional complexity and contributes to our understanding of how institutional maintenance work can unite a plurality of competing logics.

A Critical Perspective on Institutional Work

Although the current project was not grounded in critical theory, the study, at minimum, implies various concerns of interests to critical sport management scholars. Particularly when accounting for current events, we argue that race matters (particularly in the United States; see West, 1993) when engaging in institutional work. We can garner further understanding of this by looking to literature on social position. Although we know individuals can shape institutional arrangements, existing literature informs us that an actor’s social position plays a critical role in doing so (Lawrence, 2008). An actor’s social position, which is based on various social groups they belong to (e.g., profession, gender, race, culture, relationships), gives them permission to perform certain actions and enter certain spaces (Lawrence, 1999). Dissatisfied with the status quo, those who defy institutional rules and norms are typically deemed as peripheral actors because, compared with dominant actors, they are less privileged by institutional arrangements and less embedded in them (Hardy & Maguire, 2008). Compounded with being a member of a social group that has historically been disenfranchised within society (e.g., Black Americans), let alone a sport institution, the likelihood of effective institutional work becomes greater.

For instance, consider the current debate centering around athlete protests during the U.S. national anthem. Support for the athlete protests are divided along racial lines, with Black Americans mostly in favor, whereas White Americans mostly not in favor (ESPN.com, 2017). Because institutional arrangements often benefit one group over others, those from the privileged group will have a lack of understanding of the plight of the disenfranchised actors, and thus, unlikely to desire any type of change to current arrangements. Under this premise, we can begin to understand this racial divide. Moreover, there have been calls for White athletes to join in the protests so that the protests can be perceived as more legitimate (Bonesteel, 2017). At first glance, this seems like a reasonable request, but what does it say about one’s race when they need a White counterpart for the movement to have legitimacy? We have seen this play out in history, as well as more recently. Take for instance when Pee Wee Reese put his arm around Jackie Robinson to calm White crowd members that momentous day in 1947 (Bonesteel, 2017). More recently, Michele Roberts, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association recounted a time when a White male, inquiring about a job, told her that “if you want to be taken seriously in the New York sports market, you’re going to need to hire somebody like me. I’m white. And I’m male. And I’m a Jew. And I will give you credibility. And I will guide you through this whole process” (Spears, 2016; audio interview). So, according to this individually, Roberts’ social position does not afford her the same opportunities as him, and as a result, she needs to have a White male to enable her.

We can see many of the same parallels in our case, especially when considering the racial (i.e., civil rights movement) and political climate (i.e., Cold War, Vietnam War) in the United States during the time of the 1968 Olympics. As Black Americans, Smith and Carlos occupied a peripheral social group within society and the Olympic Games. Battilana (2006, p. 656) commented, “Depending on their social position in the field, agents have both a different ‘point of view’ about the field and a different access to resources in the field. As a result, they may be more or less likely to produce effects in the field under consideration.” For instance, Smith and Carlos, being Black Americans, maintained a view on race and racism in the United States that most likely differed from many White Americans at the time. Because of the state-sanctioned laws that discriminated against Black Americans, Smith and Carlos were more likely than their White counterparts to protest. Although some Olympians expressed sympathy for the plight of Black Americans at the time, our data indicated that many of their views on protests differed from Smith and Carlos. However, as one of the Olympic athletes indicated, it was interesting that the Czech gymnast who protested during the medal ceremony was not viewed in the same manner as Smith and Carlos; instead, she was celebrated in the United States, according to the athlete. Thus, we conclude that race does, indeed, matter when engaging in institutional maintenance work.

Conclusions

Although we deem our study makes several contributions to the literature, it also has limitations that present the opportunity for future research. One limitation is the ability of the participants to recall the event, given that it took place 50 years ago. Regardless, future research should look to buttress what we have presented through our case study. Our research centered around athlete protests, particularly institutional actors’ perceptions of institutional disruption. Sport management researchers could further investigate the various forms of institutional work in sport. Scholars may even be able to locate new forms of work germane to sport. Moreover, answering calls for more research on microfoundations of institutional theory (Powell & Colyvas, 2008), sport management researchers could examine how individuals experience institutionalized practices within the sport industry. This may necessitate case studies similar to this that focus on a single sport, as each sport can have distinct ethos and characteristics (e.g., demographic makeup of athletes and consumers, degree of conservativeness, history of protests, level of media coverage), which could significantly influence the institutionalized practices or logics of that sport. For this study, it was infeasible to examine each of the sports represented on the 1968 U.S. Olympic Team. Furthermore, similar case studies that obtain data from athletes and coaches in additional past and present contexts are needed. Such additions would map and allow for a more thorough understanding of how institutional disruption, or perhaps maintenance, has evolved among athletes and coaches.

Moreover, the current study highlighted institutional complexity. Although sport management scholars have researched institutional logics, most research does not examine more than two logics. We suggest future research examine how the existence of multiple logics influences an institution and its members. Sport has numerous stakeholders and license-holders (Washington & Patterson, 2011), and as a result, is subjected to various pressures from “key suppliers, resource and product consumers, competitors and regulatory agencies” (O’Brien & Slack, 2003, p. 419). So, this research would need to account for several logics that sport organizations and its actors confront.

There are also questions of interest to scholars attentive to social movements. Researchers should also account for the rise in athlete activist feats that are occurring in sport. Most recently, athlete protests at sporting events have taken center stage, as various prominent athletes (e.g., Megan Rapinoe and Colin Kaepernick) are refusing to “just stick to sport” and instead using their platforms to highlight social inequalities existing in the United States (Wagner, 2016). There are several questions that sport management researchers could ask. Future empirical inquiries that examine how sport organizations (e.g., teams, governing bodies, sponsors) are reacting to and talking about a given protest activity and how those reactions influence organizational actions and policy would likely be a significant contribution to the research literature. If athletes are the primary stakeholder of a sport organization and their development and focus on their sport are important, it would likely be prudent for those organizations to understand the sociopolitical needs and concerns of the athletes that may prevent maximum athletic performance (Agyemang et al., 2010). Such in-depth data from these types of sport organizations was a limitation of this study. Researchers could also rely on social movement and political sociology literatures to better inform their studies. From a more critical management perspective, researchers may also want to research the exchange process between sport organization hierarchy (e.g., coaches, executives) and those being led/managed (e.g., players). These scholars have discussed how organizational/institutional processes are recursive in nature (Alvesson, 2012), which our study illustrated.

Finally, despite their role in institutional change, we know very little about those who defy institutional rules and norms in attempt to highlight a given cause. It would be insightful to study what distinct characteristics, merits, and/or skills separate them from others. Moreover, given the paradox that exist between peripheral and embedded members, sport management researchers could investigate strategies on how peripheral actors get embedded members within the institution to adopt and institutionalize their practices. These studies could also account for how social groups based on race, class, or gender, among others, may impact institutional change efforts.

Though social actors can play a significant role in influencing institutions, they “face institutions’ strong power of intertia” (Battilana et al., 2009, p. 66). Institutional actors in sport, just like other actors in other organizations, markets, and industries, confront these same realties. As this study illustrated, actors’ perceptions concerning disruptive acts can play a critical role in whether the institution is maintained. We hope this case study can serve as a catalyst for future studies that centers the relationship between institutions and the individuals who operate within them.

Acknowledgments

We are grateful for the friendly reviews and comments provided by Kathryn Heinze and Marvin Washington of early versions of this manuscript. We are also appreciative of the reviewers for their thoughtful, reasonable and constructive feedback. Lastly, we thank the members of the 1968 U.S. Olympic Team who participated in this study and the research team led by Thomas Hunt at the H. J. Lutcher Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports.

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  • Dowling, M., & Washington, M. (2017). Epistemic communities and knowledge-based professional networks in sport policy and governance: A case study of the Canadian sport for life leadership team. Journal of Sport Management, 31(2), 133147. doi:10.1123/jsm.2016-0071

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If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

Agyemang is with Sport Management Program, School of Kinesiology, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA. Berg and Fuller are with Sport and Leisure Management Program, Kemmons Wilson School of Hospitality and Resort Management, The University of Memphis, Memphis, TN.

Address author correspondence to Kwame J.A. Agyemang at kagyemang@lsu.edu.
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  • Dowling, M., & Washington, M. (2017). Epistemic communities and knowledge-based professional networks in sport policy and governance: A case study of the Canadian sport for life leadership team. Journal of Sport Management, 31(2), 133147. doi:10.1123/jsm.2016-0071

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  • Dunn, M.B., & Jones, C. (2010). Institutional logics and institutional pluralism: The contestation of care and science logics in medical education, 1967–2005. Administrative Science Quarterly, 55, 114149. doi:10.2189/asqu.2010.55.1.114

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    • Export Citation
  • Edwards, J.R., & Washington, M. (2015). Establishing a “safety net”: Exploring the emergence and maintenance of College Hokey Inc. and NCAA Division I hockey. Journal of Sport Management, 29(3), 291304. doi:10.1123/jsm.2012-0122

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  • Frisby, W. (2005). The good, the bad, and the ugly: Critical sport management research. Journal of Sport Management, 19, 112. doi:10.1123/jsm.19.1.1

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  • Garud, R., Hardy, C., & Maguire, S. (2007). Institutional entrepreneurship as embedded agency: An introduction to the special issue. Organization Studies, 28(7), 957969. doi:10.1177/0170840607078958

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    • Export Citation
  • Giddens, A. (1979). Central problems in social theory. London, UK: Macmillan.

  • Gioia, D.A., Corley, K.G., & Hamilton, A.L. (2013). Seeking qualitative rigor in inductive research: Notes on the Gioia methodology. Organizational Research Methods, 16(1), 1531. doi:10.1177/1094428112452151

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  • Goodrick, E., & Reay, T. (2011). Constellations of institutional logics: Changes in the professional work of pharmacists. Work and Occupations, 38(3), 372416. doi:10.1177/0730888411406824

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    • Export Citation
  • Goulding, C. (2002). Grounded theory: A practical guide for management, business, and market researchers. London, UK: Sage.

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  • Greenwood, R., Raynard, M., Kodeih, F., Micelotta, E.R., & Lounsbury, M. (2011). Institutional complexity and organizational responses. Academy of Management Annals, 5(1), 317371. doi:10.5465/19416520.2011.590299

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hardy, C., & Maguire, S. (2008). Institutional entrepreneurship. In R. Greenwood, C. Oliver, R. Suddaby, & K. Sahlin-Andersson (Eds.), Handbook of organizational institutionalism (pp. 198217). London, UK: Sage.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hartmann, D. (1996). The politics of race and sport: Resistance and domination in the 1968 African American Olympic protest movement. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 19, 548566. doi:10.1080/01419870.1996.9993924

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Henderson, S. (2010). ‘Nasty demonstrations by negroes’: The place of the Smith–Carlos podium salute in the civil rights movement. Bulletin of Latin American Research, 29, 7892. doi:10.1111/j.1470-9856.2009.00339.x

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Holm, P. (1995). The dynamics of institutionalization: Transformation processes in Norwegian fisheries. Administrative Science Quarterly, 40, 398422. doi:10.2307/2393791

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • International Olympic Committee. (2017). Olympic charter. Lausanne, Switzerland: Author.

  • Jepperson, R.L. (1991). Institutions, institutional effects, and institutionalism. In W.W. Powell & P.J. DiMaggio (Eds.), The new institutionalism in organizational analysis (pp. 143163). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lawrence, T., Suddaby, R., & Leca, B. (2011). Institutional work: Refocusing institutional studies of organization. Journal of Management Inquiry, 20(1), 5258. doi:10.1177/1056492610387222

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lawrence, T.B. (1999). Institutional strategy. Journal of Management, 25(2), 161187.

  • Lawrence, T.B. (2008). Power, institutions and organizations. In R. Greenwood, C. Oliver, R. Suddaby, & K. Sahlin-Andersson (Eds.), Handbook of organizational institutionalism (pp. 170197). London, UK: Sage.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lawrence, T.B., & Suddaby, R. (2006). Institutions and institutional work. In S.R. Clegg, C. Hardy, T.B. Lawrence, & W.R. Nord (Eds.), Handbook of organization studies (pp. 215254). London, UK: Sage.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lawrence, T.B., Suddaby, R., & Leca, B. (2009). Introduction: Theorizing and studying institutional work. In T.B. Lawrence, R. Suddaby, & B. Leca (Eds.) Institutional work: Actors and agency in institutional studies of organizations (pp. 127). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lounsbury, M. (2007). A tale of two cities: Competing logics and practice variation in the professionalizing of mutual funds. Academy of Management Journal, 50, 289307. doi:10.5465/amj.2007.24634436

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Micelotta, E.R., & Washington, M. (2013). Institutions and maintenance: The repair work of Italian professions. Organization Studies, 34(8), 11371170. doi:10.1177/0170840613492075

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Munhall, P.L. (2007). Nursing research: A qualitative perspective (4th ed.). Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett.

  • Murchison, J.M. (2010). Ethnography essentials: Designing, conducting, and presenting your research. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

  • Nite, C. (2017). Message framing as institutional maintenance: The National Collegiate Athletic Association’s institutional work of addressing legitimate threats. Sport Management Review, 20(4), 338351. doi:10.1016/j.smr.2016.10.005

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Nite, C., Singer, J.N., & Cunningham, G.B. (2013). Addressing competing logics between the mission of a religious university and the demands of intercollegiate athletics. Sport Management Review, 16(4), 465476. doi:10.1016/j.smr.2013.03.002

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • NVIVO’s website. (2015). NVivo qualitative data analysis Software; QSR International Pty Ltd. Version 11, 2015. Retrieved from http://www.qsrinternational.com/nvivo/support-overview/faqs/how-do-i-cite-nvivo-for-mac,-

  • O’Brien, D., & Slack, T. (2003). An analysis of change in an organizational field: The professionalization of English Rugby Union. Journal of Sport Management, 17, 417448. doi:10.1123/jsm.17.4.417

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • O’Brien, D., & Slack, T. (2004). The emergence of a professional logic in English Rugby Union: The role of isomorphic and diffusion processes. Journal of Sport Management, 18, 1339. doi:10.1123/jsm.18.1.13

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Pache, A., & Santos, F. (2010). When worlds collide: The internal dynamics of organizational responses to conflicting institutional demands. Academy of Management Review, 35(3), 455476.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Patten, M.L. (2014). Understanding research methods: An overview of the essentials (9th ed.). Glendale, CA: Pyrczak.

  • Patton, M.Q. (2002). Qualitative research and evaluation methods (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

  • Powell, W.W., & Colyvas, J.A. (2008). Microfoundations of institutional theory. In R. Greenwood, C. Oliver, R. Suddaby, & K. Sahlin-Andersson (Eds.), Handbook of organizational institutionalism (pp. 276298). London, UK: Sage.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Reay, T., & Hinings, C.R. (2009). Managing the rivalry of competing institutional logics. Organization Studies, 30, 629652. doi:10.1177/0170840609104803

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