Off-campus UMass Amherst users: To download campus access dissertations, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your UMass Amherst user name and password.

Non-UMass Amherst users: Please talk to your librarian about requesting this dissertation through interlibrary loan.

Dissertations that have an embargo placed on them will not be available to anyone until the embargo expires.

Author ORCID Identifier


Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

E. Nicole Melton

Subject Categories

Sports Management


Women’s sport has recently seen historic growth across the United States as new leagues launched and existing leagues reached new heights. Despite notable wins, sport remains a male-dominated institution and women’s sport does not always receive the respect it deserves. Indeed, evidence suggests women’s sport is devalued, enduring a unique stigma. Thus, the purpose of this dissertation is to explore the impact of stigma on fans of and employees working in women’s sport. I do this through three studies. In Study 1, I use reflexive autobiography to begin to develop a theoretical understanding of women’s sport fans’ experiences with stigma and empowerment. I document vignettes from a decade of fandom, focusing on my experiences with the Phoenix Mercury. In doing so, I identify how I observed structural stigma and experienced enacted, felt, and internalized stigma, as well as how my fandom facilitated a sense of optimal distinctiveness. Study 2 builds on the understanding of stigma in women’s sport to explore employees’ experiences working in an occupation that may be considered ‘socially dirty.’ Using a case study methodology, I conducted semi-structured interviews with 15 employees in women’s sport. I find that women’s sport employees observe structural stigma and personally experience enacted, felt, and internalized stigma. I subsequently identify strategies women’s sport employees use to navigate this work-based stigma, finding they utilize a necessity shield, as well as engage in and with meaningfulness, job crafting, and social weighting. Study 3 builds on the earlier studies to examine the labor of being a women’s sport fan. This labor is in part a function of women’s sport operating outside the broader cultural consciousness—a form of stigma to which these fans are well attuned. Thus, I conducted a multi-wave field study of sport fans to understand the influence of structural stigma on fan emotions and behaviors. I find that fans of women’s sport engage in loyal boosterism, a process mediated by perceptions of structural stigma and subsequent experiences with stigma-related stress. Collectively, these studies help further develop an understanding of the unique theoretical context of women’s sport, given the stigma with which it contends.


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 4.0 License.

Available for download on Sunday, May 26, 2024