Athletic Identity and Moral Development: An Examination of Collegiate Athletes and Their Moral Foundations

Danielle N. Graham1,2 and Gary N. Burns3,4

1 School of Education, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati USA.
2 Department of Leadership Studies in Education and Organizations, Dayton, USA.
3 School of Psychology, Florida Institute of Technology, Melbourne, USA.
4 Department of Psychology, Linnaeus University, Växjö, Sweden.

Moral Foundation Theory provides a framework of understanding the underlying foundations of moral reasoning. More specifically, it is made up of five foundations that are ‘intuitive ethics’ representing values and norms that vary from person to person and influenced by developmental experiences. The purpose of this study was to investigate whether a relationship existed between athletic identity and the moral value preferences of collegiate athletes to shed light on the social impacts of athletic participation on college students. Two hundred and thirty-eight NCAA Division I intercollegiate, club sport, and intramural sport student-athletes completed measures of athletic identity and moral reasoning. Athletic identity was measured using the Athletic Identity Measurement Scale (AIMS) and the Moral Foundations Questionnaire (MFQ) served to evaluate participants’ moral foundations. Although the primary hypothesis of a negative relationship between athletic identity and harm/care and fairness/reciprocity was not supported, analyses indicated that athletic identity was positively and significantly associated with ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity values. Additional analyses indicated that gender and years of collegiate sporting experience moderated some of these relationships.

KEYWORDS: Athletic Identity; Elite-athlete; Moral reasoning; Moral foundations; Sport culture; Student-athlete