Leadership Studies Ed.D. Dissertations


Life of Purpose: Exploring the Role an Athletic Code of Conduct Plays in Shaping the Moral Courage of Student Athletes

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)


Leadership Studies

First Advisor

Patrick Pauken

Second Advisor

Khani Begum (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Christopher Frey (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Sharon Showman (Committee Member)


This qualitative study explores how an athletic code of conduct shaped the moral courage of student athletes in a Midwestern University. This study examined how eight student athletes, in a Division III institution, were motivated to engage in positive behaviors. It sought to understand how this selective group of student athletes perceived the three key concepts spelled out in the athletic code of conduct – sportsmanship, respect for others, and integrity – and how they were empowered to engage in acts of moral courage when on the field. Case study research design was used in general while giving special focus to portraiture. The concept of voice in portraiture was emphasized by preserving and listening to the student athletes’ responses while simultaneously listening for stories. The present study also focused on highlighting the positive aspects of a social system, i.e., athletics, and extracting the element of goodness unlike current research in the field. The conceptual framework of the two constructs – understanding the importance of the athletic code of conduct and how this code shapes the student athletes’ moral courage – is examined here by analyzing verbal and non-verbal interview responses of the participants and observations while being on-site. Participants’ reflective journals were used implicitly to understand the lives of these student athletes. Data revealed emergent themes which responded to the five research questions. Findings indicated that one of the most important factors that enabled and empowered them to act with moral courage was their personal values. When personal values aligned with those of an athletic code of conduct, it was only natural to stand up and do the right thing. Student athletes in this present study unanimously believed that the values of such athletic codes of conduct should be integrated into their lives through intentional education, application and reflection throughout their careers as student athletes. Senior student athletes had a more sophisticated sense of moral reasoning when compared to younger student athletes. This finding supports Kohlberg’s (1969) Theory of Moral Development where the level of moral reasoning becomes more complex and complicated with age and lived experiences. Coaches were credited for being both disseminators and advocates of the values of the athletic code of conduct. However, results also revealed that it was difficult to establish if the athletic code of conduct as a document had a direct influence on the moral courage of the participants. Themes generated from these data resulted in a number of recommendations for policy and practice in the realm of college athletics, as well as suggestions for future research. One such policy change was to investigate alternative models, both curricular and co-curricular, so that incoming freshmen are intentionally taught the values of the athletic code of conduct. Future research is needed to understand the influences of such codes of conduct on the moral courage of student athletes from different demographics such as first-generation college students, full scholarship athletes or those from varying socio-economic statuses.