Sunday, December 30, 2007

Top Seven LGBT Sports Stories of 2007

I decided it would be fun to look back over the year and identify some stories and people who have had an impact on LGBT issues in sport for good or ill. My criteria are pretty loose. Some of the stories were widely covered, others not so much, but all of them have had an impact on making sport a safer and more respectful place (or not) for LGBT people because they draw attention to homophobia in sport and the on-going work needed to make sure that everyone such be treated with respect in sport. Why seven instead of ten? Why not? Enjoy!

1. Penn State women’s basketball coach Rene Portland Resigns: I swear I heard a coast to coast cheer of relief and joy when Rene Portland finally resigned last spring. This woman conducted an unrelenting lesbian witch hunt for over 20 years at Penn State but Jennifer Harris, the athlete who finally stood up to her bigotry with the help of the National Center for Lesbian Rights Sports Project, made it impossible for Portland to stay. Penn State women’s basketball had become a symbol of intolerance, hostility and arrogant defiance. I ranked this the number 1 LGBT sports story of 2007 because I think Portland’s resignation was a huge victory for fairness and respect in collegiate sport. The Penn State team has been competing under an ugly cloud for years. The team, under new coach, Coquese Washington, deserves a fresh start and I wish them well in 2008.

2. Ex-NBA player John Amaechi comes out: Because so few former male professional team sport athletes have come out (no active player has ever come out), this story got a lot of play in the media. Even though John was not a household name, his coming out brought important attention to homophobia in sport and he turned out to be a terrific, intelligent and willing spokesperson for social justice in sport. John is a terrific role model and inspiration to young athletes, gay and straight. His coming out also provoked Tim Hardaway’s public display of homophobia. In case anyone was under the impression that homophobia in sport is not a problem, Hardaway’s ignorant comments highlighted the need for education at all levels of sport.

3. LSU women’s basketball coach Pokey Chatman resigns after allegations that she had an “inappropriate” relationship with a player. Though Pokey never addressed the allegations publicly, her departure from LSU right before the NCAA tournament was widely covered by the press. Whether true or not, the allegations stir up all the old stereotypes of lesbian coaches as sexual threats to their players and make it more difficult for lesbian coaches to live openly and honestly with fear of negative recruiting or recrimination. As I said in my blog last spring, a sexual relationship between a coach and an athlete is not a lesbian issue, it is an ethical breach regardless of the sexual orientation of the people involved. The allegations against Chatman and her resignation feed the fears of parents and their daughters and make the work of challenging lesbian stereotypes in sport more difficult. This was a top LGBT story of 2007 we could have done without.


4. An out of court settlement is reached in the discrimination lawsuit brought by Jennifer Harris against Rene Portland and Penn State. Though most people I know were disappointed that Portland was not fired as part of the settlement, it turns out that her tenure at Penn State would only last a few weeks longer anyway. The confidential settlement cost Penn State more than money. The school’s reputation was damaged by months of negative publicity in response to their chicken-hearted wrist slap to Portland after their own internal investigation of the allegations found that she had indeed violated their discrimination policy. Nonetheless, the world can never be the same for other school administrators who choose to ignore or condone a coach’s personal prejudice. The lawsuit and settlement were a huge cautionary tale for other schools and let athletes who might encounter another coach like Portland know that you don’t have to take that kind of treatment anymore. Thanks to the NCLR Sports Project for taking on this ground-breaking case and seeing it through to the end.

5. Don Imus’ racist, sexist and homophobic comments about the Rutgers women’s basketball team: Perhaps no other story on my list got more media attention than this one. Though the focus of outrage against Imus was on the racism and sexism embedded in his comments, they were also homophobic. I wish this had received more attention in the reactions to Imus’ comments, but silence on this point makes it clear that we must do a better job helping folks make the connections between sexism and homophobia. Even though Imus has returned to the airwaves, I hope that the controversy surrounding his comments has reset the boundaries for what passes as humor in the media when it is based on racist, sexist and homophobic attacks on women, women athletes or anyone targeted by so-called shock jocks. Hats off to Vivian Stringer and the Rutgers team for responding to the comments and media frenzy surrounding them with class and sophistication.

6. Jury awards former Fresno State women’s volleyball coach $5.8 million settlement in sex discrimination case: This case was a huge victory for Lindy Vivas, a successful coach who dared to challenge athletic department officials’ failure to enforce Title IX at Fresno. Vivas claimed that her treatment was retaliation for complaining about sex discrimination in the athletic department. For her audacity, Vivas was harassed and discriminated against based on “perceived sexual orientation” and then fired. Her case was the first of three sex discrimination cases successfully brought against Fresno State by women in the athletic department over the last six months. Vivas’ case was a landmark victory because the ruling protects coaches of women’s teams who point out sex discrimination in athletics from retaliation by spiteful administrators. It also highlighted the unethical use of the lesbian label to intimidate women coaches and administrators who challenge sex discrimination in athletics.

7. USTA names National Tennis Center after Billie Jean King: What a well deserved honor for the grand dame of tennis and women’s sport. A champion athlete and tireless advocate for human rights, Billie Jean King is a national icon who has transcended her athletic accomplishments to touch the hearts and minds of many people. She has also traveled a long journey from being yanked out of the closet kicking and denying by an ex-lover in 1981 to the self-affirming lesbian she is today. She is a courageous leader, a fierce advocate for social justice and a great role model for us all.


I’m sure I’ve forgotten something, but these are the top LGBT sports stories of 2007 that I could remember. What do you think? Other ideas? Happy New Year! And remember…It takes a team, your team, to make sport safe for all (Lindsey, I had to say that just to give you a chuckle, but hokey as it is, I mean it).

Monday, December 17, 2007

What Do Glaciers and Women Coaches Have in Common?

They are both disappearing, according to the amazing Go To authorities on all things Title IX, Vivian Acosta and Linda Carpenter. In 1972 when Title IX was passed, 90% of the coaches for women’s teams were women. In 2007, women comprise about 40% of coaches for women’s collegiate teams. In the WNBA something like nine of the 14 teams are coached by men. That means that while women’s and girls’ participation in sports has been increasing steadily, the number of women coaching these teams has declined at a dramatic rate.

At the same time, the number of women coaching boys and men has always been miniscule and remains so. It’s apparent that, in terms of coaching opportunities, Title IX has had unanticipated negative results for women coaches. Men now coach about 99% of men’s teams and 60% of women’s teams.

So, the obvious question is why is this happening? I don’t think there is any one answer to the question. Many factors contribute to this situation. Part of the answer is that most decision-makers in athletics are men. When an athletic director needs to hire a coach, he often turns to the people he knows: Other men.

Because so many men now coach young women at the high school and community level, these young athletes tend to prefer men coaches. That’s what they know. They are often concerned that a woman coach will not be as knowledgeable or as tough or as successful. And so the gender imbalance becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as young women themselves complicate the problem.

Other factors also are in play. Coaching requires a huge time commitment, in and out of season. Despite progress in equalizing the roles that women and men play in relationships, heterosexual women in relationships with men still carry the majority of the burden for home and family responsibilities. Men coaches have wives for this. The traditional story is that wives support their husbands and take care of home and family so he can focus on coaching. Men are rewarded for being driven and single-minded in their professional pursuits. We admire their leadership and aggressiveness. Women who display similar drive and ambition are still viewed with suspicion by a lot of folks. Bucking this perception takes a lot of energy.

Women coaches strap the baby on their backs and head off to practice, trying to remember to pick up some milk on the way home after practice and throw the laundry into the dryer before they go to bed. They worry about being seen as bad mothers and spouses even as they are rewarded for success as a coach. This is a lot of pressure that most men coaches do not need to deal with and accounts for why many heterosexual women leave coaching.

Of course, there are perks for being a heterosexual married woman coach too (or pretending to be). You get a lot of media attention paid to your heterosexuality and your motherhood. You get to have pictures of your family in the team media guide. This is a significant aspect of heterosexual privilege denied to lesbian coaches with families. Where heterosexual men and women coaches often highlight their marital status and children, the personal lives of lesbian coaches are a blank slate in media guides, which focus on their professional accomplishments (as it should be for all coaches, in my opinion).

Which leads me to another factor in understanding the disappearing woman coach – homophobia. Though I believe things are changing for the better, many parents and high school recruits still fear lesbian coaches or perceive them to be unacceptable leaders and mentors. This lingering stereotype prompts heterosexual women coaches to trumpet their heterosexual credentials in team media guides and use it as a recruiting tool to fend off worries about lesbian coaches. If you are an unethical recruiter, you can insinuate that the “family-friendly” environment on your team contrasts with the unsavory “lifestyle” issues rampant on the team of your biggest rival. Though this is no longer a guaranteed slam dunk with parents and high school athletes, negative recruiting like this still works far too often.

Too many heterosexual male athletic directors still believe that lesbian coaches (or women who look like what they think lesbians look like) or any woman who is not married to or engaged to a man poses an image problem for the program. What’s the best way to avoid dealing with the lesbian “problem?” Hire a man. Look at LSU. After the resignation of Pokey Chatman last year over allegations that she had an “inappropriate” relationship with a player, LSU hired Van Chancellor, who talks a lot about his family, even though he is about as far from being a lesbian coach as you can get. If you believe that lesbian coaches are a problem, what better way to reassure recruits and their parents that basketball players at LSU are safe again.

Athletic directors seem far less concerned with male coaches becoming sexually involved with their female athletes, even though these “inappropriate” relationships are rampant in women’s sports. The number of male coaches who start a relationship with an athlete and then marry her after she graduates is a real problem that has received far too little attention from athletic directors who are quick to dismiss any woman coach even on the suspicion that she has crossed the boundaries of acceptable coach-athlete relationships.

Put it all together and voila! - The disappearing woman coach. It will take some concerted efforts on the part of athletic leaders and women’s advocacy groups to address the sexism and homophobia that support the insidious and persistent myth that men are better and safer coaches than women. It would also be great if more lesbian (and gay) coaches felt they could be open about their lives and families. As long as homophobia in sport keeps them tightly locked in their closets, homophobia and sexism can be used against all women coaches. The only people who benefit from this deadening combination are heterosexual men who want to coach women.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Hurricane Brewing in Florida…And It Ain’t About the Weather

We might be calling Florida Gulf Coast University “Fresno East” soon. Over the last several months, Fresno State has lost two lawsuits to women coaches claiming sex discrimination and harassment. Juries in these cases awarded volleyball coach Lindy Vivas $4.8 million and Basketball coach Stacy Johnson-Klein $19.1 million (this is not a typo). Fresno also settled with former senior women’s athletic administrator Diane Milutinovich for $3.5 million in a similar discrimination case. In Vivas’ case, the lawsuit also included charges of discrimination based on her perceived sexual orientation. All three women had complained about sex discrimination in the athletic program.

It kind of makes me glad I am not a tax payer in California or an alum of Fresno. What a mess. What a disgrace.

FGCU was targeted with a Title IX complaint late last spring in which the only two women head coaches (out of 14 sports), a woman assistant coach and a former women’s athletic director claimed sex discrimination in the athletic program. What followed sure looks like an appalling case of massive retaliation against these women and the university’s female former general counsel. The athletic director and university officials claim otherwise, of course.

First, university general counsel, Wendy Morris, was dismissed after she claimed she was being intimidated by the interim university president over a disagreement about the Title IX complaint. An internal investigation found no Title IX violations.

Next, Holly Vaughn, women’s golf coach and Jaye Flood, women’s volleyball coach received poor job performance evaluations from the athletic department.

In early October, Vaughn resigned mid-season, saying cryptically, that she stayed as long as she could for the players, but she had done as much as she could at FGCU. A day later, Jaye Flood (the winningest coach in school history) was suspended for unspecified “student welfare issues.” Flood was very outspoken about her complaints of gender inequality in the FGCU athletic program. It was later revealed that the suspension was probably prompted because Flood allegedly grabbed a player’s shirt during practice. Flood claims she was never interviewed about the shirt grabbing claim. In November Flood was named the Atlantic Sun Conference Coach of the Year, but the university did not acknowledge it and the athletic director refused to comment on this omission.

Later in October, assistant softball coach, Gina Ramacci, was dismissed after being accused of having an “inappropriate relationship” with a student-athlete and “promoting” drug use on the team. Ramacci, who is gay, denied both charges and was later cleared on the promoting drug use charge. The university investigation concluded that the nature of the relationship with the student-athlete could not be defined, but that it was inappropriate (Huh?). Ramacci has filed a lawsuit claiming both Title IX and Title VII violations in her dismissal.

Can it be merely coincidence that, in the space of about two weeks, the only two women head coaches at FGCU and an assistant coach who all supported a Title IX complaint against the university are now gone amid unsubstantiated charges of unethical conduct and poor performance? I guess, but it stretches the imagination.

Situations like the ones at Fresno State and FGCU remind us all that sport, despite all the progress women have made as athletes and coaches, is still Guy World on many campuses and women who challenge sex discrimination in athletics must prepare for serious and vicious retaliation from male administrators who act with all the maturity (and sense of entitlement) of little boys trying to pull up the rope ladder to their private little tree fort to keep the girls out.

I sense a humongous legal and media headache coming on for FGCU. They better stock up on Excedrin and put Fresno State administrators on speed dial.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Irish Lesbian Athletes

I’m writing my weekly blog entry early this week because I am off to Dublin, Ireland tomorrow for a few days to serve on a doctoral committee. The doctoral student, Linda Greene, interviewed Irish lesbian athletes about their experiences in sports. Her research is the first to explore this topic in Ireland and makes an important contribution to the research literature on lesbians in sport.

Sad to say, homophobia and heterosexism are alive and well in Irish women’s sport. I’m looking forward to the conversation with Linda and the rest of her committee. I want to ask Linda to talk about how she compares the experiences of lesbian athletes in the US with how it is for Irish lesbian athletes. Linda has spent a lot of time here in the states as a college and professional soccer player so she is in a unique position to talk about this.

I was reminded, as I read Linda’s dissertation, how difficult it is sometimes to tell the difference between internalized homophobia (the fears we have taken in from the culture around us that now inhibit us, keep us closeted, even as the culture becomes more welcoming) and the real threat of discrimination, harassment and estrangement that we are smart to protect ourselves from. I’ve known so many lesbian athletes and coaches silenced by their own fears. I’ve known just as many who were smart and strategic to hide their lesbian identity from people who mean them harm. Linda’s dissertation reminded me that it is important to challenge both internalized homophobia and the discrimination and harassment.

Talk to you next week when I’m back from across the pond.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Football Fans, Fags and Free Speech

OK, I so I got carried away with the F alliteration in the title of this post. However, these are the major elements under discussion at the University of Virginia this fall. It is a tradition that, following a touchdown by the home team, the band plays a tune written in 1895 and fans sing along.

The lyrics include a declaration that all is “bright and gay.” The song was written in a time when “gay” was universally understood to mean “happy.” Now, of course, the word “gay” also means “homosexual.” So, when the fans get to this part of the song, some fans echo a loud “not gay!” to affirm their (probably drunken at this point) heterosexuality.

A group of students at UVA have initiated a campaign to encourage UVA fans to forego this tradition out of concern that the “not gay” ritual marginalizes the gay community at UVA and creates a hostile climate. A similar campaign several years ago apparently did have some success as fewer fans participated in the “not gay” shout, but over time, the ritual has crept back into the stadium.

A spirited debate has ensued in the school newspaper and on campus over the “anti-not gay” campaign. Some students call the campaign evidence of political correctness and liberal groupthink, infringements of free speech, and affirmations of the sin of homosexuality. Others maintain that acceptance of thoughtless anti-gay sentiments do have a negative effect on school climate and that the words we use are important. They applaud the effort to stop the “not gay” shouting.

I am tempted to speculate whether or not shouting “not black” or “not a Jew” would be tolerated by nearby fans or school officials as a way to point out that none of these expressions is acceptable. The problem with this comparison is that anti-black, anti-Jew and other prejudices are still acceptable on campuses too.

Fans at football and men’s basketball games at some schools routinely taunt opposing players with racial, homophobic and sexist shouts from the stands. Opposing players taunt each other with homophobic and racist slurs and refs rarely catch them. When I speak to collegiate athletes, the men, in particular, readily acknowledge that calling someone, a teammate or an opponent, a “fag” is an accepted and widespread occurrence.

Everyone who spends time with young people knows that saying, “That’s so gay,” to describe feelings about something is an accepted catch-all substitute for calling a person, a movie, a class, a pizza, or anything else “stupid,” “ugly,” or “uncool.” It’s so pervasive that most coaches, teachers and students who do object just let it go rather than being accused of being “too sensitive,” “gay themselves,” or PC or because they feel helpless to stop this pervasive part of school culture.

So, I applaud the efforts by the students at UVA to apply a little peer pressure to stop the “not gay” chant. It would be easy to just let it go when so many other people do. Each one of us has a sphere of influence – our family, our classroom, our co-workers, our team. I encourage everyone reading this to think about the places and people with whom you have influence.

If you’re a coach or a teacher or a team captain, the next time someone says, “That’s so gay,” or shouts, “not gay,” or calls someone a “fag or “lezzy,” don’t just turn away, roll your eyes or ignore it. Speak up. Let others know that you don’t like slurs or jokes of any kind, whether sexual, racial, religious, whatever. Use your influence. It can make a difference and, even if it doesn’t change the world, it can change your classroom or your team. That’s an important change.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Brokeback Basketball

Last week following a poorly played game by the Lakers, Coach Phil Jackson described the game to the press thusly, “We call this a ‘Brokeback Mountain’ game because there’s so much penetration and kickouts.” The NBA reprimanded Jackson calling his comment “in poor taste.” In response, Jackson started to apologize but then took a 180 and turned it into the standard non-apology apology by trying to make a joke of the whole thing, “It's poor humor. I deserve to be reprimanded by the NBA. If I've offended any horses, Texans, cowboys or gays, I apologize."

I’ve always liked Phil Jackson. He seems to be a class act among professional men’s sport coaches. So, I was a little surprised by his gratuitous joke and cynical apology. I don’t think it was funny or appropriate. I think it was a cheap and thoughtless attempt at humor that demeans Jackson. The joke only works if you think it’s funny to equate poor play by a men’s basketball team with being raped. This might seem a little heavy-handed, but, really. Nothing about the comment feels “consensual.” It doesn’t feel like a harmless sex joke to me, however inappropriate even that is. Plus, it plays on the stereotype that, in men’s sports, being dominated by the other team (having your defense penetrated) makes you gay, weak, soft (add your own “gay” adjective here). Isn’t this just a little more sophisticated way to equate poor play with being a “fag?” We all know too many coaches motivate male athletes by telling them they are “playing like a fag (or a girl)” as a way to get them to “man up.”

I also hate it that references to Brokeback Mountain have become sort of an all-purpose gay joke punch line. A couple of years ago, opposing fans were chanting “Brokeback Reddick” at Duke basketball star JJ Reddick and holding up movie posters with Reddick’s face on them. Brokeback Mountain is a sensitive and poignant movie about love between men and the destructive effects of homophobia, internalized and societal. How did it morph into this all-purpose adolescent gay joke used by adults who should know better?

OK, back to the Jackson comment – I know some people will see my response as PC, others will say I have no sense of humor (the guys at Outsports.com even think Jackson’s comment was funny). I think Jackson’s comment was mostly stupid, and compared with the hate-filled comments of a Tim Hardaway or a Jeremy Shockey, fairly innocuous. However, let’s not forget that professional men’s sports are still so homophobic that there are no out active players. Let’s not forget that young men in school and on the streets are still beaten up even on the suspicion that they are gay. Some schools would rather ban all extra-curricular clubs than allow students to organize a gay-straight alliance. Same-sex couples still can’t get married in 49 of 50 states, only 19 states out of 50 have laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and there is no federal employment non-discrimination law at all.

I may have to own up to being a little PC, but I do have a great sense of humor. Sorry, Phil, this just ain’t funny.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Fearless Campus Tour – Photo Exhibit of LGBT Athletes

Jeff Sheng is a lecturer at UC Santa Barbara who teaches photography. He has a photo project under way focused on LGBT high school and college athletes. He is currently speaking at schools around the US and showing his photo exhibit. He calls this traveling exhibit The Fearless Campus Tour. He eventually hopes to make the photo exhibit into a book. You can check out his web page for more information about his LGBT athlete photo exhibit and the campus tour – www.fearlesscampustour.org

I really like Jeff’s project because it is such a great way to call attention to the presence of LGBT athletes in high school and college sports. Looking at his photos helps viewers to understand that LGBT young people are playing all sports from football to field hockey, from wrestling to tennis, from volleyball to water polo. The young athletes featured in his exhibit represent the future of high school and collegiate sport – a place where all young people can openly and confidently identify themselves as LGBT to their coaches and teammates without fear of harassment or discrimination. They also represent a bridge to that future. The young people featured in this photo exhibit show other more fearful and closeted LGBT athletes that change is happening in schools across the USA.

Over my years of teaching about heterosexism and homophobia in schools and in athletics, it’s always been apparent to me that seeing LGBT people and listening to them talk about their experiences is a powerful catalyst for changes in how heterosexual people feel about sharing a classroom, workplace, team or neighborhood with LGBT people. My time on an LGBT speakers’ bureau from 1982-1995 was one of the more powerful education experiences I’ve had. People’s stereotypes are challenged, their fears are addressed and their misinformation corrected with face to face interactions. Not only that, it felt great to be a part of that change.

Jeff’s photo exhibit can be a similarly effective way to call attention to homophobia in sport and serve as a vehicle for young LGBT athletes to make their presence known in a way that helps to change the world of athletics for the better. Check it out.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Wake Up, Coach! Parents of Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans Athletes Are Speaking Out.

Over the last several months I’ve noticed an increase in the number of emails and phone calls I get from parents whose LGBT sons or daughters play on high school or college athletic teams. These parents want advice and resources to ensure that their children are treated fairly by coaches. It’s exciting because these young people are out to their parents and their parents are actively supporting their LGBT children. It has not always been so (And is still not so for too many young LGBT athletes).

I think this up tick in parental inquiries indicates trends that are really hopeful – Young athletes are coming out more often and their parents expect that school athletic programs will be able to protect their children’s right to participate in a respectful and safe athletic climate. If they encounter coaches, teammates or other parents who are uncomfortable with an LGBT athlete on the team or who flat out discriminate against or harass an LGBT team member, parents and their children are ready to challenge this treatment.

Based on my experiences in workshops with collegiate athletes and their coaches, I’ve noticed for awhile that the athletes are more comfortable than their coaches are with having lesbian or gay teammates. Generational changes on attitudes toward LGBT people in general are also reflected in national polls. Young heterosexual people are more comfortable in schools, on teams and in the workplace with LGBT people than their elders are. Parents who have LGBT children are the exception. They have a deep personal investment in change. As with any parent, they want their children to be treated fairly and are willing to speak out to make it happen.

This is a wake up call for high school and college coaches to do the work they need to do to make their teams respectful for everyone. Not only is it the right thing to do, it can avoid some nasty encounters (and possibly lawsuits) with angry parents and their LGBT children who believe that athletics should be safe and respectful for all. As the super-caffeinated soft drink TV commercial says, “Wake Up, People!”

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

I'm Back and I'm bloggin'

I’m BAAACK!

First, apologies to anyone looking for recent blog posts from me. I’ve had a rough fall with aging and sick parents on both sides of our family. The blog slipped though the cracks. I am committed to following through with at least weekly posts from now on.

First, I have say – How about those Red Sox?! My boys came through again - winning their second World Series title in four years. I am only now getting my sleep patterns back to something approaching normal because I had to enjoy every single out of the four game sweep in Colorado plus the post-game four celebration.

Speaking of the Rockies, I ran across a few articles recently talking about the intentionally Christian orientation of the team. The owners apparently believe the Rockies are God’s team and are quite open about their desire to field a team of Christian players because of their supposed superior moral fiber. This kind of talk always makes me feel uncomfortable. Since when do Christians have a monopoly on moral fiber?

This is professional baseball, not a church league. It seems to me that professional sports, school sports (unless it is a private religious school), Olympic sports, community sports leagues all should be religion-neutral. Players should be evaluated on their talents and individual character, not their religious fervor. Of course, individual players have the right to express their faith as they choose, but when individual athletes, team management, or team coaches start imposing their faith on everyone affiliated with the team that is crossing a line.

I know that Christian-oriented sport organizations like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Athletes in Action see sport as a medium for bringing people to Christ. Proselytizing or “spreading the good news” to others seems to be an integral part of being an Evangelical Christian, at least that is what I get from reading their literature and their web sites.

What if an athlete’s religious perspective is not Evangelical Christianity? What if an athlete is a Jew, Buddhist, Catholic, Mormon, an atheist? It doesn’t seem right to me for these athletes to have to participate in team Christian prayers in the locker room before games or to have to read Biblical inspirational messages from the coach posted on locker room walls or to feel pressure to attend team prayer meetings. It most certainly doesn’t feel right to me for non-Evangelical Christian team members to be badgered by their Evangelical teammates to accept Jesus, however well-intentioned these “invitations” are.

I associate Evangelical Christians with intolerance of lesbian and gay people. Maybe this is my own prejudice, my own “Christian-phobia,” but it always seems like anti-gay crusades are led by conservative Christian political organizations and the majority of anti-gay protesters I see at gay-affirmative events are always from religious groups. I know that there are many Christians, even some Evangelical Christians, who do not share these anti-gay views and that there are also many gay and lesbian Christians. It’s just that anti-gay Evangelicals seem to take up so much space and visibility, especially in sport.

FCA and AIA literature typically describe homosexuality as an “addiction” or a form of “co-dependency” that can be “overcome” through prayer, discipline and surrounding oneself with good Christian heterosexuals. Their web sites reference Exodus, an “ex-gay” ministry whose mission is hostile (under the guise of help and acceptance, of course) to gay and lesbian people and equal civil rights for gay and lesbian people. It troubles me that FCA and AIA, who I am beginning to have some dialogue with, associate themselves with Exodus. Call me an optimist, but I am still hoping to find common ground with Christian Athletic organizations like FCA and AIA. To me, this is a place where people of all faiths and straight, lesbian, gay, bi and trans people in sport can all compete together respectfully, but if the Colorado Rockies are the model for how Christianity works in sport, it doesn’t look good.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Justice Served in Fresno State Case

While I was out of the country, in the end of June and July, the Fresno State Title IX discrimination case went to trial and the jury issued their verdict. Though this is old news now, I’ve not had a chance to comment on this important case since I’ve been away. So, I’m going to do it now.

For those who are unfamiliar with the case – in a nut shell – the Fresno State former women’s volleyball coach, Lindy Vivas, sued the university charging that she was dismissed from her position in retaliation for her efforts to achieve gender equity in the Fresno athletic program. She charged that she was discriminated against because she is a woman and because she was perceived as a lesbian. The jury agreed with Vivas to the tune of a 5.8 million dollar award. The university had offered a $15,000 settlement. The jury’s verdict and monetary award was a decisive victory for Vivas, Title IX and those of us who abhor discrimination against lesbians and gay men (or those perceived to be) in athletics.

Opponents of Title IX often try to intimidate women coaches and administrators into silence and discourage them from challenging gender inequities in athletics by playing the “evil lesbian” card. In the past this strategy has worked and still does in some cases. Let’s hope that the outcome of the Fresno State case puts other homophobic and gender equity challenged university and athletic administrators on notice that this kind of bigotry will no longer be tolerated.

In the Fresno State case the administers looked (and apparently acted) like members of a preadolescent boys-only club in somebody’s backyard about 20 years ago. The descriptions of their arrogance and unprofessional behavior made it easy for the jury to decide in Vivas’s favor. According to multiple testimonies they even celebrated an “Ugly Women Athlete” Day complete with posters. I remember something like this happening in the third grade, I think. What were these guys thinking? Apparently, they weren’t.

In the past several months we’ve seen at least three discrimination cases successfully settled or won:
• Former basketball player, Jen Harris, won a large monetary settlement in her anti-lesbian discrimination case against Penn State (and coach Rene Portland resigned a few weeks later).
• Former Birmingham, Alabama high school girls basketball coach, Roderick Jackson won his case against the school system charging that they retaliated against him by firing him after he complained about the unfair treatment the girls team received
• Now the Fresno State case

These cases demonstrate the importance of coaches and athletes standing up to discrimination to send a message to other schools that gender and sexual orientation discrimination will not be tolerated and that schools who are caught participating in or condoning this kind of discrimination pay a big price, not only monetarily, but also in reputation. Imagine trying to recruit athletes to Fresno State right now.

Plus, the troubles for Fresno are not over yet. The former women’s basketball coach and the former senior women’s athletic administrator there also have lawsuits pending charging the school with more sex discrimination. Despite this, Fresno State has vowed to appeal the Vivas judgment and fight the additional charges. Earth to Fresno State: Settle the other cases now while you can and then clean up your act. It wasn’t the women athletes at Fresno who were ugly, the jury decided it was the sexism and homophobia of several men in leadership positions there that was ugly.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Time Away

I’m going to be away from my computer and out of the country until mid-July and will not be writing any new posts on my blog until then. Check back later in the summer when I’ll be back, recharged and full of more opinions and observations about homophobia in athletics and the state of sport for LGBT people and their families and allies.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Coaches Behaving Badly

Does it seem to anyone else that there have been a lot of college coaches in trouble or resigning this spring because of allegations of sexual misconduct or sexual harassment of women athletes?

In March, Louisiana State University women’s basketball coach Pokey Chatman resigned amid allegations that she had a sexual relationship with a player while the player was on her team. In April, charges of sexual harassment first leveled against University of North Carolina legendary women’s soccer coach, Anson Dorrance in 1998, resurfaced when federal judges ruled that the allegations seem to be supported. In May, Boston College women’s ice hockey coach, Tom Mutch, resigned amid allegations that he was in a sexual relationships with a player on his team. Also in May, University of Georgia women’s golf coach, Todd McCorkle, resigned after a university investigation into charges that he repeatedly made sexual comments to team members and apparently showed them a Paris Hilton sex tape. You can’t make this stuff up.

Mutch and McCorkle are both married to former athletes on teams they coached. It is unclear when these relationships began but it does raise the suspicion that these coaches have a history of unclear professional boundaries in terms of their relationships with athletes on their teams. Media reports of court records of the allegations against Anson Dorrance claim that he repeatedly inquired about team members’ sex lives, asked who on the team was lesbian, speculated about the size of a boyfriend’s genitalia and used the F-word liberally in these comments. Dorrance apologized, called his comments “sexual banter of a jesting or teasing nature.” Yeah, right. Just light-hearted sexual harassment between a coach and his athletes. Call me a prude, but this is not funny or light-hearted stuff.

I worry that these are only the stories that make it into the public discourse. My fear is that there are many incidents of coaches abusing their positions of authority by engaging in sex with or sexually harassing women athletes that we never hear about either because athletes are afraid to speak up or because athletic departments have covered the situation up. In the cases of Chatman, Mutch, and McCorkle, the athletic directors and the coaches in question tried to skate by at first with claims that the coaches were merely leaving to pursue other career interests. Right, like we believed that. Each team was in the midst of or had just concluded a successful season. When that explanation didn’t fly, The ADs had to reveal the real reasons for the coaches’ resignations. This kind of dishonesty only makes everything worse.

Add these allegations to the stories of simulated sex, sexual humiliation and homophobia that are staple parts of athletic team hazing practices for men’s and women’s teams. Then mix in the stories of college athletic programs using attractive female “hostesses” and visits to strip clubs to entice male high school athletes during campus visits as part of the recruiting process. What do you have? Some pretty serious problems that athletic departments need to address.

Every college and high school athletic department should have written policies about sexual conduct, sexual harassment, team hazing and athlete recruitment that make it clear that these kinds of egregious violations of coaching ethics will not be tolerated. Coaches and all other athletic staff should know their responsibilities and the consequences for not living up to them. This should be part of new coach orientations. Every parent sending a daughter (or son) to a college athletic program should ask about these policies.

You’d think that coaches would just know that having sex with their athletes and making sexual comments to their athletes is never ok and, in the long run, undermines their ability to coach. I guess we’d be wrong to assume that.

Friday, May 11, 2007

I Get By With Very Little Help From My Friends

I was just reading an article about a talk John Amaechi gave to the Log Cabin Republican group, a gay republican political organization. I won’t even get into how twisted I think it must feel to be a gay republican. We can leave that for another time. What I wanted to talk about is something John said in his talk that really struck me. Here is what John said:

“Probably 30 of my former (NBA) teammates have my e-mail and my telephone contacts and probably 16 or so of those I was in regular touch with and there are probably 10 people who I have (on instant messenger). And zero—nobody—who’s active in the NBA has been in touch with me since the day I came out, despite the fact that most of them knew I was gay in the first place.”

Wow. I’m trying to think about what this means. Is it an indication of the extent of homophobia in the NBA? Was Tim Hardaway speaking for the majority of the league, after all? I mean, these guys were his teammates and, presumably, some were his friends, and not one of them called, texted or emailed?

Former players like Charles Barkley, Doc Rivers and Isiah Thomas did make supportive comments in the press about John’s coming out. So did Shaq and a few other current players. I could even understand players not wanting to talk to the press about this, but it is mind boggling that not one of the players who he has regular contact with got in touch with him.

Maybe since many of them knew about John already, it wasn’t a big deal to them. Maybe they don’t understand that coming out publicly is always a big deal to the person doing it. I’d like to think this was the reason for their silence. I hope their non-response is not an indication of their discomfort, their hostility or their fear. Maybe having John call them out on this will get some of them to contact him now. Better late than never, I guess.

It is always amazing to me that heterosexual male athletes, especially team sport athletes, cultivate this big tough guy image, yet for some of them, the thought of one gay guy in the locker room poses a big threat. Or is it the idea that a gay guy can be as tough and strong as they like to think they are that poses the threat? After all, if a gay guy can be tough and strong or if a woman athlete can be tough and strong, maybe it makes their exclusive right to toughness and strength a little shaky. Maybe that's the biggest threat to heterosexual masculinity, revealing how fragile it is, after all?

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Coach-Athlete Sexual Relationships: What’s Good for the Goose Should be Good for the Gander

On April 24, Boston College women’s ice hockey coach, Tom Mutch, resigned amid allegations of a sexual relationship with one of his star players. Mutch is married and he and his wife just had a baby this fall. The situation apparently came to light when the player in question failed to erase some sexually explicit text messages on her cell phone before giving her phone to a teammate.

The similarities between this situation and the one at LSU involving women’s basketball coach Pokey Chatman are striking. Both Chatman and Mutch had incredibly successful careers, taking their teams to the Final Four and the Frozen Four. Both coaches resigned in the wake of allegations of sexual relationships with team members. In Chatman’s case, the allegations are that she was involved with a player who is no longer on the team, but the relationship began when Chatman was an assistant coach and the player was still on the team. The allegations against Mutch are that he is in a sexual relationship with a current star freshman on his team. Both coaches are in their 30’s.

It appears that both schools wanted to try to deal with the situations by having the coaches resign without revealing the actual reasons for the resignations. Both coaches maintained that they were resigning to “pursue other career interests.” In Mutch’s case, BC Athletic Director, Gene DeFilippo, thanked Mutch for his contributions to the women’s ice hockey program and then wished him the best in his “future endeavors.” In both cases, as the allegations against each coach surfaced, neither was available for comment and the ADs at both schools found themselves responding to a whole new set of awkward media questions and, in DeFilippo’s case, backpedaling on his support and praise for Mutch.

The BC incident, so closely following the allegations and resignation at LSU, give us an opportunity to examine the “double standard” in play when the coach is a heterosexual man coaching women and when the coach is a woman coaching women. Though Pokey has never affirmed her sexual orientation publicly, the charges are that a lesbian relationship occurred.

So far, the Boston College situation has been most broadly covered by media in the New England region and in the women’s ice hockey “community.” The Pokey Chatman story was a national story with far broader coverage. Some of this discrepancy could be due to the timing of the resignations (Pokey resigned on the eve of the NCAA tournament while the ice hockey season is over) and the higher visibility of women’s basketball vs. women’s ice hockey.

However, it is my sense that the problem of male coaches becoming romantically involved with female athletes on their teams, though a widespread occurrence, is not treated as seriously as when a lesbian relationship occurs between a coach and an athlete. There are boatloads of male coaches who are married to former female members of their teams. In fact, Mutch’s wife was a former player on one of his teams.
Whether most of these relationships began when the athletes were actively competing is unclear. My sense is that, in most cases, as long as a male coach involved with a female player is not caught in the act (so to speak), and they marry after she graduates, everything is hunky-dory and we get to read cute Valentine’s Day articles about them coaching teams together.

I don’t think we will be reading stories like this about Pokey Chatman and the player she was allegedly involved with or may still be involved with. What we get instead are stories about fears that allegations of lesbian relationships endanger women’s sports and stigmatize all women coaches who cannot produce a husband or boyfriend. Aren’t male coaches who become sexually involved with female athletes also a danger to women’s sports? Why aren’t male coaches of women’s sports worried about being stigmatized?

Maybe the BC situation following the LSU situation so closely will help us think about this: Coaching ethics standards should apply to all coaches, men and women; gay and straight; black and white. What’s good for the goose should be good for the gander.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Reflecting on Rutgers Women’s Basketball and Don Imus

I am happy to say that I was wrong about the fallout from Don Imus’ comments about the Rutgers women’s basketball team. I didn’t believe that there would be any serious consequences for Imus other than his two week suspension. Boy, was I wrong and happily so. He finally crossed a line that even the American public, numbed by years of hostile and demeaning radio talk, wouldn’t tolerate. We spoke up and Imus’ commercial sponsors and finally CBS and MSNBC heard us.

Though much of the outcry was about the racism embedded in his comments, Imus’s rant was also sexist. I wonder if there would have been such an outcry if he had called the women from Rutgers some sexist name that wasn’t as racialized as the one he used (I won’t repeat it. We’ve all heard it enough).

Little media attention was paid to the homophobia also embedded in Imus’ comments. Calling the team “tough” and comparing them to professional men’s basketball teams is only thinly veiled homophobia. Calling women “tough” and “masculine” or “like men” is a time honored attempt to intimidate strong women. He didn’t call them “dykes” but the implication was there. Describing the Tennessee team as “cute” in contrast also revealed the expectation that women athletes must be sexy and appealing to men in order to receive their approval as athletes.

I wonder if the public outcry would have been as loud if Imus had only called the Rutgers team “tough” or “mannish” without the racialized slurs. I don’t know. I’m skeptical. Yet, Tim Hardaway paid a similar price for his anti-gay rant. Maybe our tolerance for all kinds of public mean-spirited putdowns whether racist, sexist or homophobic has run out. What do you think?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Sad Tale of Don Imus: Racism and Sexism as Entertainment

We all knew Don Imus is an idiot. This not the first time he has made offensive racial, sexual or homophobic comments on the air. Since his sponsors and MSNBC have not had a problem with his “jokes” and listeners apparently have not been offended by his “humor” why would he think it was a problem to call the Rutgers women’s basketball team “nappy-headed hos” and “rough girls with tattoos?”

His comments are reprehensible and, in my opinion, he should be fired. He expressed no remorse at all until it became clear that this would not just blow over. Then suddenly he is all sorry and telling us, “I’m not a racist.” Well, what would you call it, Don? On what planet is calling a largely black women’s team coached by a black woman coach “nappy-headed hos” not racist AND sexist.

I am so sick of people spouting racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-semitic crap and then making non-apologies (“I’m sorry if I offended anyone.”) and/or going off to rehab for a few days and thinking it is all ok. This is so much bigger and deeper than most of us have the courage to admit.

It’s our fault, you know. We tolerate this bigotry out of apathy, helplessness, or whatever else keeps us silent and so it goes on. Imus will be suspended for two weeks and then be back no doubt to treat us to more of his ignorant rants. His corporate sponsors will revel in the added attention to his show (they have no social conscience unless it makes more money for them). MSNBC will disavow his comments. Yada, Yada Yada.

Every one of us who care about social justice in or out of women’s sports should be in their face about this incident and every other time it happens. If we aren’t, we are complicit in tolerating racism, sexism and homophobia and should not be eternally surprised when it happens again and again.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Reaching Across the Divide: Religion and Sexuality in Sport

I’m writing to you from Cleveland today. I’m a little foggy this morning because I was up late at the semi-final games last night and then, of course, there were the post-game discussions that went far too late for me. I love women’s college basketball and, even though my Maryland Terps didn’t make it this far this year, there is still plenty to get excited about and look forward to for the final game between Tennessee and Rutgers.

There is a work aspect to my stay in Cleveland too. What a job! Being It Takes A Team! Director means I get to come to Cleveland for the Women’s Final Four. How cool is that? It is the work aspect that I really wanted to blog about this morning. The Women’s Sports Foundation had a booth in the exhibit area for the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association convention that meets each year in conjunction with the Final Four. It Takes a Team! has our materials and information at the WSF booth. So, I spend some time in the exhibit hall. At some point, I always cruise by all the other booths looking for free stuff for my partner. She’s a high school physical education teacher and uses this free swag as prizes and motivational tools in her classes.

In years past I’ve always stopped by the booths for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) and Athletes In Action (AIA) to pick up some of their brochures. In doing so, I usually feel like some kind of undercover agent looking for the enemy’s anti-gay propaganda. I’ve visited their web sites and read the stories they post there about young female athletes which usually go something like this: “I got really close to a teammate and then found myself in a sexual relationship with her. It was wonderful and intriguing, but something was missing and then it became abusive and addictive so I turned to God, made new Christian friends, left that sinful lesbian “lifestyle” and lived happily ever after with my husband in a truly fulfilling relationship that was meant to be.”

I know that FCA and AIA take the perspective that homosexuality is a sin and that homosexual relationships are inherently dissatisfying and not part of God’s plan. I, on the other hand, am an out lesbian who loves my life, feels quite fulfilled in it and am an outspoken advocate for equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in and out of sport. It has always been difficult for me to see how the divide between someone like me and organizations like FCA and AIA could be bridged. At past conventions, I’ve never stopped to talk to the people at the FCA and AIA booths. I just grab and go.

This year I tried something different. I stopped and talked to one of the women at the AIA booth. I told her about It Takes A Team! and our mission to make sports safe and respectful for LGBT people. I asked if she would be interested in talking with me. I told her I knew we had different perspectives on homosexuality and I was curious to see if we could find any common ground. She was interested in having this conversation and also invited a woman from FCA to join us. We went out to the concessions area, found three chairs in a quiet place and started talking.

In summary, it was an amazing conversation. It was respectful. It was honest. We do disagree on a lot, but the hopeful part for me was that we also found many areas of common ground. We named the fundamental differences in our perspectives, but did not let them become barriers in our talk. We did not try to persuade each other to our differing points of view. We just acknowledged our differences and moved on. I was pleased to find that we have many potential areas of agreement too: All three of us believe in the importance of creating a climate in athletics where everyone is treated with respect regardless of religion or sexuality. We agreed that sexual or religious harassment, imposing sexual or religious beliefs on others or pressuring others to adopt sexual or religious beliefs are wrong. We learned that all three of us, them as Christians and me as a lesbian, feel targeted or silenced in athletics. We agreed that unwanted “recruitment” by Christians and lesbians or gay men is not acceptable.

We agreed that many situations that get framed as “lesbian issues” or “Christian issues” are really coaching ethics issues and that it is more productive if we look at them through this broader lens. For example, coaches abusing their power by becoming sexually involved with their athletes or coaches who impose their religious beliefs on their teams should be viewed as coaching ethics situations, not lesbian issues or Christian issues.

We discussed the challenges of lesbians and gay or Christian coaches who do abuse their power and how we do not want their behavior generalized to all Christians or all lesbians and gay men.

At the end of our conversation, we all felt excited by the bridge we were building and the possibilities for collaboration in a new and even revolutionary way. One of them suggested that we should jointly plan a session for next year’s coaches’ convention where we would replicate our goal of finding common ground and searching for ways to reach across that gap that encourages us to focus on our differences rather than our agreements.

I left the conversations hopeful that we might be able to find ways for coaches and athletes to participate together with respect and dignity, agreeing to disagree where we cannot find common ground, but seeking out the common humanity we share and the common passion for sports that brought us together in the first place. What do you think about this?

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Women’s Basketball Coaches Need to Step Up Against Homophobia

I’ve been reading the latest news stories about Pokey Chatman’s resignation and noticing that the theme of many of these articles is now – How much will women’s basketball be hurt by Chatman’s apparent breach of coaching ethics? A few coaches are speaking on the record, some are speaking anonymously about this and the consensus seems to be that the story is a set back, but not a major one in the long run. We would not be having this conversation if the coach in question was a man. The concerns expressed by the coaches are focused on how Chatman’s resignation perpetuates the stereotype that women basketball coaches and players are lesbians, not on the apparent coaching ethics breach. I’d like to see more coaches focusing on this as a coaching ethics problem, not a lesbian problem. How does it damage women’s basketball when any coach abuses her or his position of leadership?

Contrast this with coaches’ response to the Penn State discrimination case. I don’t remember any similar questions being asked when we first learned about Jen Harris’ discrimination case against former Penn State coach Rene Portland. There was not a single story on how a homophobic coach might damage the reputation of women’s basketball. My bet is that most coaches, like most of the world, knew about Portland’s “no lesbian” policy for her teams. With the exception of the Big 10 coaches, the conference in which Penn State plays, women’s coaches refused to comment on the situation. Early on, the Big 10 coaches issued a statement of support for Portland! Even Virginia coach, Debbie Ryan, whom Harris claimed was targeted by Portland’s negative recruiting efforts, expressed disbelief and support for Portland.

The silence is deafening from the women’s basketball coaching community about the problems caused by coaches who discriminate against lesbian players or who negatively recruit against lesbian coaches. Though it was prudent for coaches not to comment on the specifics of the Penn State case, a broad statement against discrimination against lesbians would have been appropriate and was conspicuously absent.

What this contrast in response confirms for me is that we still have a long way to go within the women’s coaching community in overcoming the fears they have about the lesbian bogeywoman whose image still casts a long shadow over women’s sports. How does it set back women’s sports when coaches are not willing to speak out against discrimination against lesbians, but are willing to speak out about the damage they fear lesbian stereotypes do to women’s basketball? It seems to be that it keeps us all going around in circles going nowhere.

Reflections on Different Generations of Gay Athletes

On Friday morning I flew to Atlanta because It Takes A Team was co-sponsoring (with the Human Rights Campaign) a media panel of gay athletes to coincide with the Men’s Final Four. The panelists were Dave Kopay, ex-NFL player (and the godfather of all gay ex-professional athletes); Esera Tuoalo, ex-NFL player; Billy Bean, ex-MLB player; John Amaechi, ex-NBA player; Joey Fisher, goalie for the University of Georgia men’s ice hockey team; Terri O’Connell transgender NASCAR racer; and me.

We had hoped to have lesbian professional athletes on the panel, but all of the high profile women we asked were busy on Olivia cruises, skiing in Europe, doing other speaking engagements and playing golf so it was up to me to represent a lesbian point of view. We hope to co-sponsor another panel in conjunction with a women’s sports event where the panelists will be lesbian professional athletes and coaches since this one was so skewed toward the men’s experiences and perspectives. LZ Granderson, out gay ESPN reporter, moderated the panel.

I had met Billy Bean and Dave Kopay before and it was great to see them. It was also great meeting Esera, John, Terri, Joey and LZ for the first time. I was struck by the sense of mission and purpose everyone on the panel had about making the sports world a better place for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender athletes of the future. Some columnists have criticized these guys for cashing in on their celebrity by writing books and hitting the speakers’ circuit. What a cynical view. One of the poignant moments on the panel for me was when Esera told Dave that reading his book in 1976 saved Esera’s life. I believe that Dave, Esera, Billie and John, all of whom have written books about their experiences as gay professional athletes, are saving lives and offering hope and support for young people who are struggling to love themselves when they do not have the love and support of families and friends. They are also providing an opportunity for young heterosexual athletes to read, learn and challenge their own prejudices about gay teammates.

Then there is Joey Fisher. Joey represents a new generation of gay athletes. He is currently playing on the University of Georgia ice hockey team and he is out. His teammates support him, his family supports him and he is enjoying his collegiate athletic career. Isn’t this simple story the way it should be for all young people? You get to be yourself, enjoy the love of friends and family and play the sports you have a passion for. Joey’s experience reinforces my belief that we do not need a high profile professional male team sports star to come out to change the world. The younger generation of athletes is already doing that. It will be an evolutionary, not a revolutionary change. As they become coaches themselves or move from high school to collegiate to the professional ranks, they will take their attitudes and experiences with them.

We older folks have a lot to learn from them. At the same time, young gay and lesbian athletes also owe a big thank you to pioneers Dave Kopay, Esera Tuoalo, Billy Bean, John Amaechi, Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova, Sheryl Swoopes, Rosie Jones and all the other professional athletes who have led the way. It was an inspiring day.

Religion and Sport: Not a Great Mix

This weekend, Tony Dungy, the coach of the Super Bowl Champion Indianapolis Colts, accepted an award from the Indiana Family Institute (IFI) as a “Friend of the Family. Dungy is very public about his Christian beliefs, speaking often with the media about them. The IFI is a conservative Christian political group affiliated with James Dobson’s national group, Focus on Family. FOF is the leading national Christian-based political group opposing legal protections for lesbian and gay people. Both FOF and, its state affiliate, IFI, are committed to passing federal and state bans on same-sex marriage and gay parent adoptions, as well as opposing laws that provide protection from discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation. In accepting his award from the IFI, Dungy made it clear that he supports the anti-gay agenda of IFI and FOF. He described it as “the Lord’s way.”

I believe that everyone, Super Bowl winning coach or not, has the right to whatever religious beliefs they choose and to back whatever political causes they choose. This includes making public statements about those beliefs. It would be hypocritical to believe otherwise. If Dungy had instead said he supported marriage equality for all and appeared at a Human Rights Campaign banquet to accept a similar award, I’d be the first to congratulate his courage and willingness to speak out publicly.

The right of public figures in or out of sport to take public stands on controversial political issues is not at issue here. I don’t like his position on marriage equality, but he has a right to it. The problem is that there is no separation between Tony Dungy the man expressing his personal beliefs and Tony Dungy, the coach of an NFL team speaking as a representative of the Colts and the NFL.

In his speech, Dungy made a point of accepting his award “on behalf of his family and the Colts organization.” Publicity pictures for the banquet included pictures of Dungy in his Colts cap, jacket and shirt. I’m certain he is a good family man, but IFI chose Tony Dungy because he is a Super Bowl winning coach who espouses his Christianity in a very public way every chance he has and his appearance at their banquet could raise lots of money for them.

The NFL and the Colts organization have distanced themselves from Dungy’s views, but supported his right to his personal views. Why then is it ok for the IFI use publicity photos of Dungy wearing the Colts logo? Why is it ok for Dungy to accept his award “ on behalf of the Colts? Sports organizations have no trouble prohibiting athletes and coaches from wearing non-approved uniforms or accessories. If Tony Dungy is not speaking for the Colts and the NFL, why don’t they prohibit him from being pictured with Colts logos in IFI publicity photos and accepting his award “on behalf of the Colts?”

The mixing of sport and religion, specifically conservative Christianity, is a pervasive problem in high school and collegiate athletics as well as the pros. The blurring of the line between a coach’s right to his or her religious beliefs in an environment that is (or should be), a religion neutral space creates all kinds of pressures to conform or tolerate the imposition of a particular religion perspective. Professional team, college teams and high school teams, unless they are directly affiliated with a religious institution should be religion-neutral. It is encumbent on league leaders and sport governing organizations to enforce this neutrality with more than wishy-washy media statements about respecting the coach’s rights. What about the rights of others who do not share the coach’s views? What about Jewish team members? What about lesbian or gay team members? What about other Christians who do not share a coach’s anti-gay views? Who is protecting their rights?

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Eliminating Homophobia in Women’s Sport: A Step Forward and A Step Back

Two prominent women’s basketball coaches resign. One has a long history of allegations that she would not allow lesbians on her teams. One has, apparently, had a sexual relationship with a player who was on her team at the time. It was the right thing for both coaches to resign. Neither actions should be tolerated, but the potential effects of the two resignations on women’s basketball and women’s sport couldn’t be more different.

Portland was a coach who abused her power and flaunted university policy by institutionalizing anti-lesbian prejudice on her teams. Her departure from women’s basketball signals a new day when, I hope, this kind of bigotry will have consequences for the coaches who practice it and the schools who tolerate or support them. This is a victory in the battle against homophobia in women’s sport.

In the absence of information to the contrary, if the allegations are true, Chatman abused her power. In a world without homophobia, Chatman’s resignation, however, should not be about lesbians. No coach, gay and straight, men and women, should become sexually involved with the athletes on their teams. Period. End of story. This is not a lesbian issue.

Unfortunately, Chatman’s resignation will be about lesbians because homophobia is a huge issue in women’s sports. In the absence of openly lesbian coaches, her indiscretion takes on added significance that feeds fear and prejudice. As long as lesbian coaches must hide their personal lives to protect their professional ones, the lesbian label can be used against all women in sport and, especially against closeted lesbians. Chatman’s departure, I fear, is a set-back in the battle against homophobia in women’s sport.

Two coaches resign. One step forward. One step back.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

A New Day for Penn State Women’s Basketball!

I just heard the news that Rene Portland, Penn State Women’s Basketball coach has resigned. I have hoped since the announcement of the settlement of the case former player, Jen Harris, brought against the University and Portland that this might happen. I speculated that this might part of the confidential settlement: That Rene would step down at the conclusion of this season. Penn State renewed Portland’s contract last year, right in the middle of the lawsuit, so this resignation was clearly not in her plans then. Whether her resignation was part of the settlement or not, the outcome is the same: A coach who has had her own anti-lesbian agenda is finally gone after 27 years..

I’d like to think that this is a new day for Penn State women’s basketball. The program has been under the shadow the lawsuit and the team has encountered protests at home and away games for the last two years (not to mention having sub-par records). As I wrote in an earlier post, the shadow of accusation and denial at Penn State would not go away until Portland did

What does this mean for the ongoing effort to eliminate discrimination against and harassment of lesbians (or women thought to be lesbians) in sport? After all, Rene Portland was not the only collegiate coach who does not tolerate lesbians on their teams. She was just the one who received the most attention for her views. I’ve always hoped that the entire Penn State mess would serve as a cautionary tale for other schools and coaches. I still hope it has, but when the settlement was first announced, it looked as though Portland would keep her job and that did not sit well with many people, including me.

Now I can hope that Portland’s resignation a month after the lawsuit was settled sends a message to all athletes who might find themselves in situations similar to Jen Harris: Discrimination and harassment can be successfully challenged through the legal system. Coaches who abuse their power and force their personal anti-gay prejudices on their teams will pay the price.

This news is a huge victory for fair play in women’s athletics. It was a long time coming, but come it did. Thank you, Jen Harris, for standing up and saying no. It took the courage of a young basketball player to lead the way. Thank you, NCLR for playing David to Penn State’s Goliath. It looks like the rock found its mark. Let the new day for women’s sports begin!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Life in the Coaching Closet

Imagine you are a very, very closeted lesbian college basketball coach. You coach at a Division I school and are ranked in the top 25 year after year. You come from a conservative religious family and they do not know you are gay. They would not accept a lesbian daughter.

You played ball for a top Division I school that went to the Final Four twice while you were on the team. As a player, you knew the unwritten rule at your school: Lesbians keep it on the down low or they are gone. Teammates knew who was gay, but no one talked about it. You and the other lesbians on the team were tolerated as long as you kept it to yourselves. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was the unwritten policy. Because you loved basketball and could not imagine your life without it, you did what you needed to do to protect your place on the team.

You watched your closeted lesbian coach carefully separate out her personal life from her coaching life. She never brought her partner to team social events, but you knew where she sat in the stands behind the bench at every game. You watched your coach erase everything about her personal life in the media guide and in interviews with the media. To the world she was single and driven. The message was that basketball was her life: She had no time to find a man or raise a family. She encouraged this reaction. It was all part of her cover.

But, of course, there were always suspicions about her, rumors whispered in the stands and innuendoes among the sports writers. Lesbian fans, citing their “gaydar,” claimed her as one of their own and waited impatiently for her to come out.

You heard rumors that coaches from other schools told high school recruits that your team was coached by a lesbian. In the cut throat world of Division I ball, playing on fears about lesbians was just another way to get the top recruits. Everyone knew about this “negative recruiting”, but nothing happened to the coaches who did it.

Then you graduated and spent a few years as an assistant coach in another Division I program. The head coach made it clear that he would fire any assistants who were lesbians. But you already knew how to hide. You had a good role model in your own coach and knew what you needed to do to negotiate life in the coaching closet. You dated a male friend a few times to throw the head coach off. You dressed carefully and kept your hair long to project a “hetero” image. You focused on basketball and avoided other lesbians who were too out or too careless about who knew about them.

Finally, with a glowing recommendation from your homophobic head coach in hand, you landed a head coaching job at a Division I school. You were treated like a rock star by the local and national media when your team rose quickly through the ranks to the top 10. Everywhere you went everyone knew who you were. You couldn’t eat in a restaurant without young girls and older folks asking for your autograph. Your name and picture were in the local news all the time. You had your own TV show every week to talk about the team. Your team played on national television regularly. You had a generous salary and everyone loved you. Your family was proud of you and your accomplishments.

You were relatively young so no one thought it was strange that you were not married. They understood the demands of Division I coaching. You knew how to lie smoothly or deflect questions about your personal life. You knew how to carefully separate your personal life from your coaching. You avoided social settings or places that might be associated with lesbians. You cut yourself off from old lesbian friends. You spent more and more time with basketball. You spent all your time with the team and your assistant coaches.

You knew that everything you had accomplished, all your success as a coach, the numerous national awards, your respected status in the community, the love of your family, your livelihood and career depended on your ability to keep up the charade of, if not heterosexuality, at least non-lesbianism.

This is just a story I made up. I’m not describing any particular coach, but I am describing the life of many closeted lesbian coaches. As you watch the NCAA tournament during the next two weeks, think about those coaches who have paid a terrible personal price for their coaching career and for the opportunity to succeed in a profession they love. Think about how it might be, how it should be, if more coaches associations, sport governing organizations and individual colleges and universities were commited to eliminating homophobia in sport.

Think about a day when the fear and shame, the prejudice and the stereotypes, and the harassment and discrimination of lesbians in sport are consigned to history where they belong. Think about a day when lesbian coaches do not live in fear of the accusation, exposure, and judgment that could ruin their careers. We are not there now. How long will it take?

Friday, March 9, 2007

Say It Ain't So, Pokey!


Pokey Chatman, the coach of the LSU women’s basketball team, resigned abruptly yesterday amid rumors that the reason for this surprising turn of events is an “inappropriate” relationship with one of the players on her team. Though the reports of this relationship are unconfirmed as yet, it is difficult to imagine many other reasons for a young successful rising star African-American coach with a team ranked in the top 10 to leave suddenly for “other career opportunities.” I mean, she isn’t even going to see them through the tournament. She is gone now – right before the brackets are announced. This does not look good.

If true, this situation is tragic from so many different perspectives, it’s difficult to know where to begin. First, I want to be clear: I believe that coach-athlete romantic/sexual relationships are never appropriate and are never to be condoned. If that is what happened here, then I believe Pokey made the right decision by resigning. I would feel this way regardless of the genders or sexual orientations of the people involved. It just isn’t right.

Part of the tragedy is that a woman coach resigning because of a sexual relationship with one of her woman players provides ammunition to people who believe that lesbians are a threat to other women and the reputation of women’s sports in general: “See, we told you: They (lesbians) are not to be trusted in coaching positions.”

When most lesbian coaches are completely closeted, any news story about lesbian relationships in sport takes on added significance and feeds the unsavory stereotypes about lesbian coaches. Never mind that men coaching women also become sexually involved with female players on their teams and it is just as unethical. When this happens though, the actions of one man are not automatically generalized to the entire population of male coaches.

This is what I fear will happen as a result of the LSU situation. Presumed lesbian coaches everywhere will be suspect and seen as potential threats to their players. Parents and high school recruits who want to avoid lesbian coaches will have their prejudice confirmed. Unethical college coaches who negatively recruit based on sexual orientation will have a more attentive audience. It is a tragedy for everyone when fear and stereotypes of any group guide decisions about where to attend college or play ball.

Of course, there are lesbians coaching Division 1 basketball teams. Even though they are closeted, everyone knows they are there. Most of them are ethical, mature and hard-wired to avoid ever even giving the appearance of “inappropriate” interest in their players. They know the stereotypes all to well and are probably more careful with their relationships with players as a result. When I was coaching, it sent cold chills down my spine to think of any physical contact or relationship with members of my team being misinterpreted or being accused of having a sexual relationship with any of my athletes.

That is one of the many tragedies of homophobia in women’s sports. We do not get to appreciate the many positive contributions of lesbian coaches because they do it all from the closet. One high profile serious lapse in judgment (if the rumors about Pokey Chatman are true) casts a dark shadow over all lesbian coaches and makes it less likely that any of them will consider coming out anytime soon as a result.

This is a tragedy for Pokey, her team, women’s basketball and lesbian coaches everywhere. It is also a tragedy because we are losing one of the few African-American women coaches in Division 1 women’s basketball. This is a sad day all around. Pokey, please say it ain’t so.

Friday, March 2, 2007

The Love that Dares Not Speak It’s Name Is Suddenly Quite A Chatterbox


Wow! What a series of news cycles the last few weeks for folks like me who try to keep up with LGBT sports issues in the news. My google alert box runneth over!

First, the Penn State women’s basketball anti-lesbian discrimination case was settled. Then ex-NBA player, John Amaechi came out as a gay man. Another ex-NBA player, Tim Hardaway, responding to a radio talk show question about John Amaechi, went off on an anti-gay tirade. This triggered another round of reactions in the media. NBA Commissioner, David Stern, dismissed Hardaway from his official duties at the NBA All-Star game and Hardaway lost his job with the CBA.

Somewhere in there Snickers ran a Super Bowl commercial with two straight men kissing over a candy bar and then freaking out about it. Amid all the celebration of two black NFL head coaches in the super bowl, we learned that Tony Dungy is a spokesperson for an anti-marriage equality organization in Indiana.



This week, it came to light that the new owners of the NBA Seattle Sonics and WNBA Seattle Storm also contributed a million dollars to a national right wing organization that opposes marriage equality for same-sex couples.

Is that enough to chew on, or what?

I find good news and bad news as I dig through all this.

The good news:
• The world of sport has too long been silent on the issue of anti-gay and lesbian harassment and discrimination. I firmly believe that all this media attention shining brightly on homophobia in sports is a good thing. For people who believe that this is an old problem no longer worthy of coverage (and there are some folks like this out there, believe it or not), it's hard to dismiss a star ex-professional athlete declaring that he “hates gay people” and that they should not be “in the world or in the United States” and definitely not in the locker room. For the rest of us, these news stories create opportunities to educate. When I work with collegiate student-athletes, current events like these bring immediacy to my message that captures their attention and gets them engaged in thinking and talking about what they and their teammates believe.
• When a professional athlete, even an ex-professional athlete, comes out, this is another great educational opportunity. Especially when the athletes, like Sheryl Swoopes and John Amaechi, are so committed to using their celebrity and coming out as a way to educate. Both Sheryl and John understand their positions as role models for young LGBT and straight people. They challenge destructive stereotypes of lesbians and gay men in sport and, in doing so, make it a little more difficult for college and high school coaches to get away with anti-gay harassment and discrimination.
• Which brings us to the Penn State discrimination case. The settlement was disappointing to many people who wanted Rene Portland to lose her job (I count myself among this group). However, the media attention was broad and squarely on the side of social justice in this case. Penn State and coach Portland came of this sad affair with a huge unsightly bigotry blemish on their reputations. The university paid, what I hope was, a big financial settlement to Jennifer Harris. Thus avoiding what many think would have been the further embarrassment of a parade of ex-Penn State players testifying to 20 years of Portland’s lesbian purges at a public trial. I believe this must be a cautionary tale for other universities about the risks they run when a coach is allowed to act on her personal prejudices in the name of the university.
• It was also good news that men like Commissioner Stern, coaches Doc Rivers and Isiah Thomas, players Shaquille O’Neal, Grant Hill and Charles Barkley all spoke out in support of gay players. These guys are role models too and their willingness to speak out sends a message that counters the hate and fear embodied in Hardaway’s rant. It didn’t hurt that Stern also dismissed Hardaway from his All-Star duties on behalf of the NBA. Like the Penn State case, you may not be able to change someone’s bigoted beliefs, but you can make them pay the price for acting on them.

And now the bad news:

• Though we have made progress, at least the issue of homophobia in women’s and men’s sport is on the table now, but talking about it also stirs up the bigots. It makes me cringe to think of some isolated young African-American teenaged Tim Hardaway fan struggling with his sexuality hearing what his idol had to say.
I have no illusions that Tim Hardaway is the only NBA player or professional athlete who hates gay people, but let’s hope others, seeing what happened to Hardaway, keep it to themselves.

• I don’t understand the difference between saying you hate gay people and putting your money and celebrity behind efforts to deny gay people the right to marry. Both actions reflect an underlying dismissal of gay people as fully human and entitled to respect and equality. Hardaway was roundly criticized and punished for his comments, but apparently it is ok with the NBA to have team owners who support political groups who advocate discrimination against gay people. It makes me uncomfortable when white gay people compare the gay rights movement to the Black civil rights movement, but I can’t help ask myself the question, “What if the Seattle owners were contributing to an organization whose goal was invalidation of inter-racial marriage?” Would the NBA have a different reaction?

If I had to choose which is more damaging, I’d definitely rather endure an individual bigot’s name-calling than have organized political organizations working to deny my rights. I know this is a touchy issue. People have the right to support whatever political groups they want to, just as fans can express their displeasure with team owners’ politics at the ticket office. Boycotts are as American as apple pie and can be an effective way to challenge large corporations’ politics. There’s much more to say about this. I’ll leave that for a later post.

That’s it for now. This blogging thing takes time. I’ve got other work to do. Talk to you, later.

When Professional Athletes Come Out: News or No News?



Over the last few years several ex-professional male athletes have come out publicly: MLB player, Billy Bean, NFL player, Esera Tuaolo and recently, NBA player, John Amaechi, On the women’s side, Sheryl Swoopes, a WNBA MVP and LPGA Hall of Famer, Rosie Jones came out late in their careers, but while they were still actively competing. The venerable Martina Navratilova competed as open lesbian for most of her career. Amelie Mauresmo is still competing in professional tennis and is at the top of her game.

A flurry of media attention and commentary follow each of these coming out announcements. Active players’ reactions range from stupid or bigoted to unfazed and supportive. Fans also weigh in with a similar range of hostility to admiration. As I have followed each of these coming out stories and the responses to them, I’ve noticed some themes that might be fun to explore a little more deeply.

Response 1 (To Sheryl Swoopes Coming Out): “This is not news. Everyone knows they are all lesbians anyway.”

Flat out: It’s ridiculous to say that it is not news when a star African-American athlete, arguably the best female basketball player in the world, comes out following an MVP year. It’s not as if there are huge numbers of openly lesbian professional athletes. This response also reflects a lack of understanding of how hostile the environment in women’s sports can be for lesbians. Look no further than Penn State and the women’s basketball coach Rene Portland for the most current example. For people who believe that women’s sports are a happy haven for lesbians, you only need to scratch the surface to find a persistent discomfort with openly lesbian coaches and athletes.

The word “lesbian” has a long history in women’s sport as a whispered innuendo, an accusation, a threat and a stereotype that is unfortunately alive and well. The smirking undertone of “everyone knows they are all lesbians anyway” is based on this history. In a homophobic sports world, the word “lesbian” is an epithet deployed to keep all women in their place, to warn high school recruits and their parents about the “immoral lifestyle” of rival coaches, to incite fears of sexual predation in the locker room and to dismiss unmarried women coaches with short hair cuts. This still happens. We are not talking about history here. Ask the three parents who wrote to me in the last two months looking for help because their lesbian daughters were being harassed by homophobic coaches.

When an actual lesbian athlete who is still competing does come out, it is definitely news. It is an act of courage and it challenges the scary myths about lesbians in sport. Lesbian athletes like Sheryl Swoopes, Rosie Jones, Martina Navratilova, Amelie Mauresmo and Billie Jean King have always been an integral part of women’s sport. Because fear of discrimination, harassment and public hostility has kept most lesbians locked tightly in the closet, the myths about them have thrived. The more lesbian athletes and coaches who come out, the more difficult it will be to sustain the myth of the lesbian bogeywoman that has haunted women’s sports. As more heterosexual women in sport understand how the lesbian label is used to intimidate them and limit all women’s sport as well as to discriminate against lesbians, the less power the lesbian stereotype will have.

Response 1A (Closely follows Response 1): “It will only be newsworthy when a male professional athlete comes out.”

This is just another version of “women’s sports don’t matter.” It reflects the perspective that important things only occur in men’s sports. Women’s sports are dismissed as unimportant, even when it comes to lesbian athletes coming out. True, anti-gay hostility manifests itself differently in men’s and women’s sports. It’s also true that there are no openly gay male professional athletes. However, it really makes me angry when male sports writers (and even some gay male sports advocates) discount the significance of lesbian athletes coming out because they cannot see beyond their own sexist sports perspectives.

Response 2: (On speculations about why there are no active male professional team sport athletes who are out) “The climate on men’s professional team sports is too hostile for a gay man to come out while he is still actively competing.”

This response has been accepted as common wisdom for way too long. Even gay former pro athletes like Billy Bean and Esera Tuaolo have expressed this view. Some straight athletes like Lebron James, Tim Hardaway, Garrison Hearst and Jeremy Shockey have publicly expressed their hostility to having gay teammates and I am sure there are others who share this perspective. However, I believe that increasing numbers of professional team sport athletes, coaches and league commissioners do not agree with these knuckleheads. Most of the response to ex-NBA player John Amaechi’s coming out is much more positive. NBA Commissioner David Stern, Boston Celtic coach Doc Rivers, New York Knicks coach Isiah Thomas and NBA player Grant Hill and ex-player Charles Barkley applauded Amaechi for coming out and expressed their support and acceptance for gay athletes. These attitudes are the future of professional men’s sports. Hardaway and company are the past. I just don’t believe it is helpful to keep harping on how it would be impossible for a gay man to come out while still competing. Get over it, grow up, move into the 21st century.

Here is some more evidence that the times they are a changin’ - The NFL invited Esera Tuaolo to speak to NFL rookies this year. The San Francisco Giants hired a diversity consultant to work with players after a homophobic team training video came to light. Two years ago members of the Boston Red Sox appeared on “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy”. Cincinnati Reds pitcher Joe Valentine publicly honored his two mothers. Star pro athletes like Johnny Damon, Mike Mussina and Shaquille O’Neal express their support for having gay teammates.

Of course, there will always be a minority of jerks like Hardaway or Shockey, but times are changing, even in the testosterone fueled macho world of men’s professional team sports. The days are past when male pro athletes can glibly call anyone they don’t like or don’t respect a “faggot” or proclaim their hatred of gay people without public censure. Comments like these sound more and more extreme and the guys making them look like the bozos they are. This is a good thing.

Response 3: “It isn’t the hostility in the locker room that keeps gay male athletes in the closet; it is fear of hostile fan reaction.”

Frank DeFord made this point in an NPR editorial recently. He claimed that the prospect of facing boozed up idiots in the stands hurling anti-gay epithets at an openly gay athlete every time he makes an error, drops a pass or misses a bucket is the real reason gay athletes wait until they retire to come out. He may have a point. The first few pro male athletes to come out while still playing probably will have to endure some fan taunting, hostility and even threats. However, a 2005 NBC/USA Network poll indicates that this fan reaction might be less common than DeFord thinks. Seventy-six percent of respondents disagreed with the statement, “I would be less of a fan of a particular athlete if I knew that he or she was gay.” Eighty-six percent of respondents agreed with the statement, “It is ok for male athletes to participate in sports even if they are openly gay.” These poll results indicate that, though a minority of fans are not yet willing to accept a gay male professional athlete, a clear majority are. This is good news.

Response 4: (Following a retired gay male professional team sports athlete coming out): “This isn’t news. Things will only begin to change when an active gay male team sport athlete comes out, especially if that athlete is a star player.”

I was most surprised at ESPN columnist, LZ Granderson’s reaction to John Amaechi’s coming out. Granderson is gay himself, so I expected more. His dismissal of “another ex-athlete” coming out and writing a book about his experience ignores the importance of any male pro athlete coming out, even retired ones. We are still talking courageous pioneers when we can count the number of out gay male professional ex-athletes on one hand. Visible out gay athletes are important role models. They embody possibility, hope and courage, especially to closeted boys and young men who struggle to feel good about themselves in the face of hostility in their schools and families. It isn’t just about a book deal, LZ, it’s also about saving lives.

There is no doubt that having a star NBA, NFL, NHL or MLB player come out would be a gigantic media event and would probably shock many fans and some players (I suspect many athletes already know who is gay and just don’t talk about it). Homophobic sports fans would be presented with a huge contradiction: a guy who has demonstrated his competitive toughness and attained the highest levels of achievement in the macho world of men’s sports – a guy whose jersey and number fans proudly wear - is gay. I can’t wait. Deal with it.

However, I do not agree that having a star male pro athlete come out is what it will take to begin to eliminate homophobia in men’s sports. I believe change is already happening and is coming, not from the top, but from the grass roots. High school and college gay athletes are leading the way out of the closet, not the pros. Athletes like high school football captain, Corey Johnson, Dartmouth All-American lacrosse goalie, Andy Goldstein and many other anonymous players are already competing as out gay men. Their teammates and coaches, for the most part, have absorbed this information and moved on. This support from coaches, teammates, and families is what will eventually drive the remaining Tim Hardaways of men’s pro sports to the bigotry closet where they belong. This trend in men’s sports is more significant and changes athletics more than one star pro athlete coming out ever could, no matter how visible he is. The young men playing in high schools and colleges with and against gay athletes are the future pro athletes, sports fans, fathers and coaches. As they move into these roles, men’s sports will change. Maybe change will not happen as soon as I want it to, but it has already begun. The challenge now is for current professional athletes to keep up.

Monday, February 26, 2007

My First Blog!


This is my first dive into the waters of the blogosphere. It’s a little intimidating. But it’s also exciting to have a regular forum in which to express my opinions about news, events and the general state of the athletic world as it relates to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and women’s issues. I see myself as an educator, a researcher and an activist. I am hoping to integrate all of these aspects of my professional identity with my personal identity as a middle-aged white lesbian former coach and athlete to make some observations in this blog that will be thought-provoking, informative and entertaining.

One of the things I look forward to is unleashing my inner bad girl. As a social justice educator, I am always looking for ways to join my audience and invite them to see things from different perspectives, to consider ways to create more opportunities for participation, achievement, equality. I need my “good girl” to be in charge as an educator in order to accomplish these goals. In this blog, I will not necessarily be speaking from my good girl place all the time. I might write stuff that will piss people off or offend people. I might express opinions that my good girl would never think of saying out loud in a public forum.

That’s where my bad girl comes in. She’s been feeling trapped in a good girl’s body for a long time and she has a lot to say. I am going to call her, Griff. That sounds bad to me, don’t you think? When Griff speaks, expect more immediate emotion, less filtered and careful balanced commentary.

Griff is angry and tired of making nice. She’s feed up with mean people and stupid people. She has difficulty hearing professional athletes say things like, “I hate gay people” or coaches say things like, “I don’t allow drugs, alcohol or lesbians on my teams” without indulging in fantasies of violence and mayhem that Dr. Griffin (the good girl) would never condone.

Dr. Griffin will also be contributing to this blog. She does have opinions and perspectives to share. After all, she has been writing and speaking about sports equality for over 30 years: fighting for Title IX and equality in sport for women, speaking as an out lesbian fighting for equality in sport for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, working as a white ally for sports equality for people of color. She’s seen a lot, lived through a lot and she can present a particular historical perspective now that she is qualifying for senior discounts at the movies. Dr Griffin, however, will be sharing airtime with Griff. Dr. Griffin is already nervous about what Griff might say.

So, stay tuned. The girls (Dr. Griffin and Griff) plan on blogging anew each week (or as close to that as possible). Let’s get the party started. This should be fun.