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Gender and the Organization of Women's Professional Soccer

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posted on 05.11.2016, 00:00 by Rachel Allison
Women’s participation in sport at all levels has risen dramatically in the past four decades. This is particularly true for soccer, which has become the top participation sport for girls in the U.S. In the 1990’s the U.S. Women’s National Team began to attract significant media and public attention beginning with the 1996 Olympic Games and extending to the Women’s World Cups from 1999 on. Still, sport remains the site of persistent gender disparities in training resources, pay, leadership, and media airtime, among other measures. Nowhere is continuing inequality more apparent than at the level of professional team sport, where women’s leagues in basketball, softball, football, volleyball, and soccer have failed. The larger question I address with this dissertation concerns the possibilities and challenges that the current environment presents for professional women’s sport and how this environment is understood and engaged with by those working for women’s sport. I conducted a 14-month ethnographic study with a women’s professional soccer team I call the “Momentum.” My study included participant observation as an unpaid staff member, in-depth interviews with 55 stakeholders, and the collection of media data. The biggest finding to emerge from my research is the existence of “business” and “cause” institutional logics that spell out different models for the goals and practices of women’s soccer. Both logics were part of the complex institutional environment that women’s professional soccer felt itself to be in and presented the league with different routes toward cultural visibility and financial viability. The major contribution of my research is to demonstrate the salience of gender to how these logics were understood and worked out in practice at the Momentum from 2011-2012. I document a shift from logic balance to the dominance of the business approach that is strongly tied to both a gender divide in logic adoption and the gendered hierarchy of staff.



Risman, Barbara



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University of Illinois at Chicago

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Bielby, William Messner, Michael McInerney, Paul-Brian Popielarz, Pamela

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