Disability sport and activist identities: a qualitative study of narratives of activism among elite athletes’ with impairment

Brett Smith, Andrea Bundon, Melanie Best

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Citations (Scopus)
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Sport and exercise psychology has recently expanded into how it can be utilized to enable social missions like activism. No research, however, has examined activist identities among disabled, elite athletes. This article is the first to engage with this new and complex issue by examining narratives of activism amongst elite athletes with impairment and their adoption/rejection of various activist identities.


Thirty-six people were recruited using maximum variation and criterion-based purposive sampling strategies. Data was collected using interviews and fieldwork observations (e.g., observation and social media material). The large data set was rigorously analyzed using a narrative thematic analysis.


All participants adopted an athletic identity and an athletic activist identity. A small group also adopted a political activist identity that was concerned with challenging disablism. The athletes’ reasons for adopting or eschewing activist identities are identified and connections made to organizational stressors, interpellation, feeling, emotional regulation, narrative, habitus, health and wellbeing. Also revealed is the impact that sporting retirement had on activist identity construction.


The article makes a novel research contribution by revealing two different activist identities within the context of disability sport and what social functions each identity might serve. It also significantly develops knowledge by revealing various organizational stressors experienced by disabled athletes, the importance of embodied feelings and emotional regulation in activist identity construction, the damage that social oppression can have on wellbeing following sporting retirement, and the positive possibilities retiring may have for developing different identities. Practical suggestions are as well offered.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)139-148
JournalPsychology of Sport and Exercise
Early online date6 Jul 2016
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sept 2016


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