Reading the Defense: Conceptualizations of Literacy By College Football Student-Athletes

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This study investigated how college football student-athletes conceptualize the academic and athletic literacies they experience inside and outside the classroom. Participants included sophomore, junior, and senior football student-athletes who all attended a large public university in the Mid-Atlantic area. Three distinct research tools (questionnaire, focus group, individual interviews) were used in this study. The data was systematically coded and analyzed using qualitative content analysis procedures. This study demonstrated that the football student-athletes were able to demonstrate their understanding of literacy through use of the discourse of football. Moreover, the participants used their football discourse to express their thoughts, support their views, and analyze texts, all literacy skills valued in the college classrooms. Also, the football student-athletes perceived a connection between academic literacy and football literacy. The participants recognized literacy in football in reading the plays, communication between players and coaches and the media, and executing plays on the field. Several implications of this study are: the value of athletic literacy and football discourse in various settings, an improved connection between education and athletics, and the creation of future literacy programs to support the football student-athletes. This study is the first step in exploring the connection between athletic and academic literacy in order to improve the development of college football student-athletes. The results of this study compel us to rethink the stigma attached to football student-athletes in connection to their literacy, the locations of literacy events and the importance of literacy in football and school at the college level.