Academic journal article Journal of Contemporary Athletics

Intercollegiate Athletics and the Military Veteran: An Examination of Policy and Athletic Department Support

Academic journal article Journal of Contemporary Athletics

Intercollegiate Athletics and the Military Veteran: An Examination of Policy and Athletic Department Support

Article excerpt

Over the past decade, the number of wars and conflict around the world has grown rapidly. The United States has been involved in several of these, some lasting multiple years. Since 9/11, the United States has deployed over two million men and women to war zones (Keown, 2011). This involvement has brought about an increasing number of war veterans and injured soldiers. Their injuries are diverse and can include physical, mental and emotional wounds. Returning from war brings special circumstances, some of which include a number of barriers to returning to civilian life, including the return to a college sports career.

In attempts to service these veterans, increased attention has been given to returning injured soldiers through the creation and expansion of a number of programs and organizations in the past few years, such as the United Services Organization (USO), Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) and Welcome Back Veterans. Additionally, many higher education institutions have created veteran service departments to facilitate a return or transition to college life. These programs and organizations offer a wide range of activities for injury rehabilitation and reintegration into an active and healthy lifestyle.

Many veterans were college athletes before leaving for a tour of duty, and many are expecting to take part in or return to college sports. However, they are met with a number of challenges ranging from personal barriers, such as decline of sports skills, to institutional barriers, such as NCAA eligibility issues, coaching and current athlete perceptions of veterans, and university personnel and student held cultural notions (University of Washington, 2011). Yet, research shows sports and physical activity play a significant role for veterans as reintegration and rehabilitation tools (Chocklingham, Thomas, & Duval, 2012).

Universities have begun to recognize the barriers for veterans and are attempting to address the issues (University of Washington, 2011). As they begin to inform personnel and create "veteran-friendly" campuses, it is expected that social change will occur and veterans will feel welcome. In the context of a university athletic department, change seems to be much slower as established norms and practices hamper the veterans' return to the sports team (Keown, 2011; Lancaster, 2012). Yet, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act sets out the school's responsibility to provide athletic opportunities for students with disabilities, and the recent "Dear Colleague Letter" statement issued on January 24, 2013 from the United States government gives specific clarification to a school's obligation to provide sports and to proactively include students with disabilities in sports (Arnhold, Young, & Lakowski, 2013). This of course includes college and university sports programs and military veterans with disabilities. The NCAA has recognized the importance of bringing social change to college athletics in regard to military veterans. The NCAA Champion Magazine notes that "veterans and campuses both have something to offer each other" and that veterans will bring "maturity and worldliness" to the college campus. Further, the NCAA notes veterans are "among the fittest adults in American society, ready for athletic competition" (Wissing, 2014).

However, while there has been a significant amount of research in the separate domains of sports and military, no centralized focus merging the two has emerged in the sport management literature. This raises an important question: while some colleges and universities have become more veteran-friendly, has a similar adjustment taken shape within the athletic departments and are there specific policies in place regarding veterans participating on varsity sports teams? Thus, the purpose of this study was to examine support for veterans at higher education institutions and within their athletic departments.

Review of the Literature

Military veterans are considered a growing university student population. …

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