This dissertation analyzes the athlete activism in the WNBA, the use of social media for activism, and the social media discourse during the 2020 basketball season. I applied Critical Discourse Analysis to a defined set of texts including social media posts from Instagram and Twitter, user comments on social media, news articles from sports and non-sports publications, and a documentary, all related to the activism of the WNBA athletes. I chose the 2020 season because it is an exceptional case study of athlete activism and the use of social media for activism because the season was played in a single site location due to the global pandemic. Other cultural and political factors made the season unique such as the increasingly apparent systemic racism in the United States and the impending elections in 2020. Throughout the season, the WNBA athletes devoted their activism to Breonna Taylor, the #SayHerName campaign, Black women victims of police violence, Jacob Blake, Black Lives Matter, and the Georgia Senate race between Atlanta Dream co-owner Kelly Loeffler and Rev. Raphael Warnock. The athletes used their platform and social media to immerse themselves in the political, social, and cultural events happening at the time, fought for social justice issues, and became a "voice for the voiceless" during the 2020 season. Through the social media discourse, I found there was a backlash towards the activism throughout the season, including consistent themes of racism, white supremacy, misogyny, and patriotism. Even though the athletes' activism contributed to Warnock winning the Senate race and becoming the first Black Senator in Georgia, there have been significant impacts of their activism seen in the changes to social media platforms that may make it more difficult for athletes' voices to be heard and for social media to be a place for activism.
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Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
College of Arts and Humanities
Texts and Technology
Length of Campus-only Access
Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)
Gilbertson, Kendra, ""It is in our DNA": Athlete Activism and Social Media Discourse During the 2020 WNBA Season" (2023). Electronic Theses and Dissertations, 2020-. 1823.