Friday, February 26, 2010

NCAA Use of FOTF Ads Still Under Consideration

I do not want to be writing about this. I was hoping it was done. I hoped that the NCAA got the message that their association with FOTF is inappropriate for a national sport governing organization that professes a commitment to non-discrimination, equity, diversity and inclusion. I crossed my fingers that an organization that represents hundreds of colleges and universities from all over the USA would understand the damage it does to its reputation and the turmoil it causes its membership by associating itself with a Christian right wing organization that has an exclusionary and divisive political agenda. I believed that the NCAA would read their own constitution and standards for accepting advertising, smack their foreheads and say, “what were we thinking, of course the FOTF ad violates our own policies.” But apparently no.

I understand that, though the ads have been taken down, there are still internal discussions going on at the NCAA about the pros and cons of using the FOTF ads in the future, like maybe for the men’s basketball tournament beginning next month. Some people take the position that the message in the FOTF ads is benign – “Celebrate Families, Celebrate Life” - and that it is possible to separate this simple message from the messenger – FOTF.

I believe this is a seriously naïve or seriously disingenuous perspective. Anyone who has any familiarity with FOTF knows that the families they celebrate are of only one kind – heterosexual married ones and that when they talk about celebrating life, this is code language for their opposition to a woman’s right to choose whether or not to bear a child. FOTF is a political organization that devotes significant resources to oppose civil rights for LGBT people, pray people out of their gay and oppose abortion rights.

Let’s look at another example to explore the connections between an advertising message and the organization that crafts the message. What if you saw an advertisement that said, “Celebrate Your Family, Celebrate Your Heritage. “ Let’s say the ad was for, a genealogical search web site. You might say, “Cool, this is inviting people to explore their family tree.” But what if the same ad, “Celebrate Your Family, Celebrate Your Heritage“ was for Wouldn’t you have a completely different reaction to the meaning of the ad? I sure would.

Look, if FOTF wants to buy advertising time on CBS and the ad meets CBS standards, they have a right to buy the time. I would only hope that CBS would fairly apply their standards to other advocacy ads from a different part of the political spectrum as well. But the NCAA is more than a commercial venture and their standards are and should be different. The NCAA has a responsibility to all its member schools and every student-athlete who competes in NCAA-sponsored events to avoid association with political organizations whose agendas contradict the NCAA’s stated commitment to non-discrimination, diversity and inclusion.

If this makes sense to you, please let the NCAA know. They apparently need a reminder. If this doesn’t make sense to you, please do not write me to consign me to hell or pray for my soul or call me names. You have a right to your beliefs; you just don’t have a right to associate them with the NCAA.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

More Information on the Menage a Trois Among the NCAA, CBS and Focus on the Family

Though we can thank the NCAA for pulling the Focus on the Family ads on yesterday, it looks like we need to stay alert about what might be coming as March Madness approaches. According to this article in Inside Higher Education, the Focus on the Family ads on were part of a larger package deal between CBS, who manages the site, and FOTF. The Super Bowl ads were part of this package too. It remains to be seen whether or not the package also includes an agreement to air FOTF ads as part of the NCAA tournament TV or internet coverage.

As the Higher Education article points out, the issue here is not the right of CBS, a for-profit organization, to set their own advertising standards around so-called “advocacy” ads, even if we don’t like them. The issue is the involvement of the NCAA, a non-profit educational organization made up of hundreds of member institutions across the USA, allowing itself to be associated with advertising that is in contradiction to the NCAA’s own written standards and organizational mission.

Though the FOTF ads on the site were not strident, anyone who is minimally familiar with FOTF’s goals and mission knows that when they say “Celebrate Families, Celebrate Life” this is not just a generic feel-good message. Their definition of families they want to celebrate is restricted to heterosexual married families. When they talk about celebrating life, it is an explicit anti-abortion message. To belief otherwise is naïve.

FOTF is entitled to their perspectives on controversial issues. They have a right to buy advertising time if their ads meet the standards of CBS or any other for-profit media group. However, we must draw a line when it comes to the involvement of non-profit educational organizations like the NCAA that represent educational institutions whose mission and values do not square with those of FOTF.

I’d like to go into March Madness like I always do, excited about the basketball I will be obsessed with over the next 5-6 weeks. I do not want to feel sold out by the NCAA or need to go to war about it. But I will if I have to.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

NCAA Pulls Focus on the Family Ads

Yippee! Our voices were heard. I just got word that the NCAA is pulling the Focus on the Family ads that have been running on the web site. No decisions have been made about future ads, so maybe we need to make sure the NCAA gets it that ANY ads from FOTF associated with the NCAA in any way are unacceptable.

More On the NCAA and Focus on the Family Ads

The blogosphere is beginning to light up on this issue. Check here and here, for more information about the NCAA ads and here to sign a petition to the NCAA asking them to take down the FOF ads they have on

I just received a copy of the NCAA's Advertising and Promotional Standards. It is clear to me that running the Focus on the Family ads is in complete violation of the these standards. A few excerpts from the standards:

The NCAA’s advertising and promotional standards are designed to encourage those advertisements and advertisers that support the NCAA’s ideals and exclude those advertisements and advertisers (and others who wish to associate with NCAA activities) that do not appear to be in the best interests of higher education and student-athletes.

The NCAA strives to be associated with entities and messages that:

• Support diversity, gender equity, nondiscrimination, physical fitness, healthy behaviors, youth development, sportsmanship, ethical conduct, academic standards, student-athlete welfare and amateurism.

NCAA believes, at a minimum, that advertisements, advertisers and others who wish to be associated with NCAA events should not:

• Cause harm to student-athlete health, safety and welfare.
• Bring discredit to the purposes, values or principles of the NCAA.
• Negatively impact the best interests of intercollegiate athletics or higher education.

Among the examples of ads that are "impermissable" according to the NCAA Standards are "Advocacy of viewpoints on controversial issues of public importance (e.g., religious beliefs, political beliefs)."

Here is the email address of the Director of NCAA Broadcasting, Greg Weitekamp – Write him to demand that the NCAA take down the FOF ads and reconsider the decision to run them during the men’s basketball tournament.

We can do this, people. We can turn this bad decision by the NCAA around.

Monday, February 22, 2010

NCAA is Shilling for Focus on Family and A Right Wing Political Agenda

Ok, we endured the Focus on the Family Ted Tebow anti-abortion ad during the Super Bowl (along with a lot of other ads demeaning women). But now,, is also carrying a banner ad for Focus on the Family. I hear that CBS, the network that brought us the Focus on the Family Super Bowl ad, is also covering the Men’s NCAA Tournament, and plan to air these ads throughout the tournament with the complete complicity, consent and support of the NCAA.

Focus on the Family is a right-wing Christian political organization that not only opposes a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion, they also are one of the most powerful national opponents of civil rights for LGBT people. You can bet they are in the forefront of every national and state battle over LGBT rights and abortion rights. Now they want to impose their values on the NCAA tournament and college basketball fans and the NCAA and CBS are inviting them to. They are rolling out the red carpet and I am deeply offended by the NCAA’s complicity in this.

The NCAA is the most prominent national governing body for intercollegiate athletics for women and men. The NCAA constitutional principles include an explicit prohibition on discrimination based on sexual orientation. Lesbian and gay student-athletes, coaches, and administrators are a significant part of the NCAA’s membership. Women are a significant part of the NCAA on all levels. Many of the individual institutions that belong to the NCAA have policies prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. Yet the NCAA apparently thinks it is just fine to support an anti-gay agenda.

The hypocrisy of this decision must have recently deceased NCAA Executive Director, Myles Brand, rolling over in his grave. This is an outrageous slap in the face to every LGBT person and their allies in athletics and to all other people who believe in a woman’s right to choose who are associated with the NCAA.

The NCAA cannot have it both ways. They cannot claim to care about the quality of the athletic experience for LGBT student-athletes and provide educational programs to assist schools in making sure that LGBT student-athletes can compete with respect and dignity and allow Focus on Family to use the NCAA web site and men’s basketball tournament to promote their discriminatory right-wing Christian agenda.

Besides, why on earth would the NCAA want to get involved in this controversial mess when it will only draw attention away from basketball and embroil the NCAA in an ugly public culture war battle. That is a question, I cannot answer, but we sure can make sure their decision is a painful one.

I’m serious. We cannot let this stand. So, the question is how to let the NCAA know that their promotion of the Focus on Family agenda is a big mistake. I am calling on everyone who reads this blog to pass it on to everyone you know who cares and ask them to pass it on. Ask your friends to contact the NCAA and tell them you are outraged. Tell your friends who attend an NCAA school or who have graduated from an NCAA school to call the president of their university and ask them to contact the NCAA to object to their support of the Focus on the Family political agenda. The NCAA is speaking for these schools. Is this how NCAA schools want to be represented?

Call NCAA Public Relations - 317 917 6762
Call NCAA Main Number - 317 917 6222
Email NCAA Public Relations -

I Am Woman (Not A Girl), Hear Me Roar, You Idiot!

Kathy and I are looking to buy a truck. Yesterday, when the salesman who swooped out to greet us introduced me to one of his male associates at the dealership, here is what he said, “And this attractive young lady is Pat.”

I’ll pause here and take a deep breath. Just repeating this for you makes me want to rip the guy’s throat out all over again. My inner angry feminist is in full battle cry over this, so be forewarned.

A little context is probably helpful. One, I am not young. I am 64 years old, for crying out loud and proud of it. I think it is also likely that I am older than the potbellied pig of a salesman who called me young. Whether or not I am attractive and certainly whether or not I give a flying Fig if he thought I was has nothing to do with buying a truck. Finally, I am no lady. I am emphatically not a lady. Ladies sip tea with their dainty little fingers lifted in the air. Ladies faint and fan themselves at the slightest exertion. Ladies are tiny and thin. They need taking care of. They blush and bat their eyes coquettishly when some bozo introduces them as an “attractive young lady.” I definitely did not bat my eyes. I wanted to bat him.

A little more context , which actually has more to do with this blog, I have been watching a lot of the winter Olympics this past week. And I. am. Sick. To. Death. Of. Hearing. Women athletes called “girls” and their athletic events classified as “Ladies” events. OK, we should not be surprised that the IOC calls the women’s events, “ladies” events, they are largely a bunch of old white men who are out of touch with the modern world of strong women. They don’t believe women can/should ski jump. They believe women lugers should compete on the shorter courses than the men, etc. But the TV commentators, both men and women and even the women athletes themselves calling women competitors “girls” is just making me crazy.

I can hear the hue and cry already from folks who think this is a picky, stupid detail to get upset about, but I beg to differ big time. I can remember having these conversations back in the early 80’s with coaches in a workshop on sexism in sport. I remember in particular one guy who screamed at me, with the veins in his neck standing out, his face red and contorted, that “it didn’t matter if he called women athletes ‘girls.’ It was just words.” Really? It seemed like it mattered to him quite a bit. Enough to risk a heart attack over.

Language does matter and who gets to decide what a particular social group gets called is about power. Calling women athletes “girls” or “ladies” is not only ridiculous – These are mature, strong, daring, committed, risk-taking, competitive world class athletes, not shrinking violets whose frailty and faintheartedness must be protected. They are not children who must be patronized or protected. Calling women athletes “girls” and “ladies” trivializes their accomplishments and infantilizes them. We would never call the men’s downhill the “boy’s” downhill. We would never refer to the men’s luge as the “gentlemen’s” luge. What makes it ok or appropriate to call the women “girls” or their events the “ladies” events? Sexism is what. Pure and simple.

When I get called a “girl,” often by men who are far younger than me, it completely knocks me off balance. Now I have to decide if or how to react to the comment. Is it worth going to war about? Should I just shut up and ignore it? Is there some clever response that will get my point across without making a scene? Should I just let ‘er rip? I don’t think most people who call women “girls” or “ladies” do it with the conscious intention of trivializing women, but the resistance to NOT doing it is something to think about. For the women who call other women “girls,” I think it is a way to mask or undercut their own power. It’s a way to avoid appearing too threatening, too strong, too challenging. Women have always needed to assure men that they are “feminine,” heterosexual and sexually available to men in order to be accepted as athletes. The willingness to pose semi-nude is part of this. Calling yourself a “girl” is just another way to achieve the same end.

Oh, you might be wondering what happened back at the car dealer ship. In my fantasy, I winked at him, hocked a loogie on his shoe, grabbed my crotch and told him he was not a bad looking little boy himself for a sleazy car salesman, all this before crushing his hand in my iron grip. Instead, Kathy and I took that baby out for a spin on the Mass Pike with Mr. Potbelly in the back seat (it was a dual cab), cranked it up to 75 and pinned him to the back window while we discussed engine ratios and drive trains. Does that sound like a couple of ladies to you?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Openly Gay Athletes Are Not Necessarily Public LGBT Advocates

Every Olympic Games, summer or winter, we tally up the number of publicly out athletes and their names get posted on blogs and they get interviewed by the media about their sexual orientation. Some athletes, like gold medal diver, Matthew Mitcham and silver medal softball player, Lauren Lappin, embrace the media attention and use their high profile to call attention to LGBT issues in sport.

This story about Ireen Wust, the openly lesbian Dutch Olympic short track speed skater, provides another perspective on high profile athletes being publicly out. Ireen bristles at media questions about her sexuality and her relationship with teammate Sanne van Kerkhof.

She said in a recent interview, “I want to talk about ice skating. You are not asking Sven Kramer (Presumably heterosexual Dutch gold medalist in speed skating) about how his relationship is going. So why would you ask me? If I would’ve had a relationship with a guy, you wouldn’t have asked me either.”

Certainly, part of the interest was because Ireen Wust’s partner is a teammate. We certainly heard lots the last two nights about the two U.S. pair figure skaters who are a couple, but both have other skating partners and how they were planning to celebrate Valentine’s Day after their competition was over.

Wust has a point about heterosexual male athletes not typically being asked media interview questions about their relationships though. However, I believe that women heterosexual athletes are asked about their relationships and plans to have children, etc. during media interviews. Olympic sand volleyball gold medalist, Misty May comes to mind. So, it is partly a sexism thing.

I also understand that not all openly lesbian or gay athletes want to be flag bearers for the LGBT movement, as much as we’d like them to. It seems that Ireen Wust falls into this category. It might also be that she is an outspoken activist in other contexts who just doesn’t want to mix her Olympic experience with her activism. I cannot even imagine the pressures and distractions that threaten an athlete’s focus on their performance that are part of any Olympic athlete’s experience, let alone a gay or lesbian Olympian’s experience. This article discusses this issue with a closeted gay male Olympian.

Plus, if I trained at that level for many years and was competing in the Olympics for my country, maybe that is what I’d want to focus on in media interviews, not my relationships. Clearly, it isn’t that Ireen Wust is closeted. She is open about being a lesbian. She just doesn’t want that to be the lead story during the Olympics. Fair enough.

The problem is that we are so hungry for LGBT role models and visibility in athletics. We know that the more openly, publicly out LGBT people there are in sport and everywhere else, the more things change for the better. We just have to remember that openly lesbian or gay athletes are not necessarily interested in being public spokespeople or interested in making their personal lives public or at least not making their personal lives the focus when they’d rather focus on their athletic accomplishments.

Until every Olympian and every pro or collegiate athlete has the privilege of talking freely about their sexual orientation and their relationships and their families without fear of financial or competitive reprisals, we will have to be grateful for the LGBT athletes who choose to be public and use their visibility as a platform for social change. We also must understand the decisions of others not to.

Friday, February 12, 2010

It’s Winter Olympics Time. Do You Know Where the LGBT Olympians Are?

Well, of course they are in Vancouver, B.C. preparing for the competition. Thanks to the research of women at AfterEllen, we know that there are at least four openly lesbian Olympians competing. Heather Hogan wrote this article about them with some great photos.

The lesbian athletes she identified are:

• Ireen Wüst, Dutch speed skater
• Vibeke Skofterud, Norwegian cross-country skier
• Sarah Vaillancourt, Canadian hockey player (who also skated at Harvard University)
• Erika Holst, Swedish hockey player

I don’t know if there are any gay men competing. U.S. figure skater, Johnny Weir, describes himself, “I don't feel the need to express my sexual being because it's not part of my sport and it's private. I can sleep with whomever I choose and it doesn't affect what I'm doing on the ice, so speculation is speculation." He also says, “I am who I am, and I don't need to justify anything to anyone." So, let’s just say for now that Johnny, whether gay or not, skates gay with his sequins, sparkles, and fabulous exhibition skate to Lady Gaga’s Poker Face.

I don't know if there are any transgender athletes competing either.

Five thousand plus Olympians and four confirmed publicly out athletes among them. I wish it were more, but there it is. I hope in a couple of weeks we will be celebrating some gay medal winners. I will keep you posted. Let the game begin.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Olympic Pride House Opens Today

The first ever Pride House for LGBT athletes and friends opens today at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, BC. Sponsored by a private local LGBT group called GayWhistler, the Pride House does not have any official affiliation with International Olympic Committee or the Canadian Olympic organization. Like other similar “hospitality” houses for Olympic athletes from different nationalities, the Pride House provides a place for LGBT athletes, friends and family to relax and be together.

In addition, Pride House is sponsoring a series of educational and cultural events during the Olympics. Jeff Sheng will be there with his excellent photo exhibit of high school and college LGBT athletes (Jeff just finished shooting several Canadian athletes so I am sure they will be part of the exhibit in Vancouver). CAAWS will sponsor a showing of Dee Mosbacher’s documentary, Training Rules, about Penn State women’s basketball coach, Rene Portland, and her “no lesbian” policy. You can see the full schedule of events here.

A sculpture of a naked male ice hockey player will be on display at the Pride House too. This article has a picture of the sculpture. Apparently being nude is meant to symbolize “innocence, purity and truth. The artist says his work is the, "personification of the philosophical ideal of living one's life true and honest unto one's self with a noble character and pure spirit” blending the ancient Olympic ideal with a modern form – Ice hockey.

Ok, I see that, but it also is a reminder that ancient Olympians were all men and competing in the nude since women were barred from competition under pain of death. Even women spectators faced a potential trip off the nearest cliff for just watching the naked men compete. It’s too bad we couldn’t have a sculpture of a male and female athlete. Perhaps a nitpick, but I really get tired of needing to remind gay men who want to do something about LGBT issues in sports that it is important to include images of women athletes and trans athletes too.

The Pride House has raised some controversy, not about having a Pride House in and of itself, but about whether or not it promotes segregation when the goal should be integration. I believe this is a silly argument at this point in history. Minority groups, whether based on religion, race or culture, sexual orientation, gender or disability benefit from having “safe spaces” where they are assured a welcome and an opportunity to gather with other people who share some part of their identities. As long as we live in a world that is hostile or tolerant only when minority groups are silent or invisible, these spaces are needed. This is why gay sports leagues, school GSA student clubs, LGBT web sites, hiking clubs and the endless list of such LGBT focused groups still enjoy widespread support.

Plus, it isn’t as if straight people are not allowed. Pride House is explicitly welcoming for LGBT athletes, friends and families. I suppose you could argue that, since there are no publicly open LGBT athletes competing in Vancouver (at least that I know of), the Pride House’s function is purely symbolic, providing a visible reminder that LGBT athletes are assuredly competing in Vancouver, even if they choose not to be public about who they are. I’ve talked to several high school students who were not open about being gay in school and who would not go to a GSA meeting, but they felt safer just knowing there was a GSA in their school. Maybe the Olympic Pride House will serve a similar and equally important function, especially for closeted athletes representing countries where being gay is a criminal offense.

The Pride House also is serving an important educational function. The Fearless photo exhibit and the showing of Training Rules provide an opportunity for Olympians and others to learn a little more about LGBT athletes and the fear and prejudice they face as well as the inspiring courageous and resilience they have.

I think it would be really fun if the Pride House gained a reputation as a fun place to go to relax with great music, friendly people, good food that attracted athletes of all sexual orientation and gender identities. Olympians always talk about how great it is to live with and get to know athletes from all over the world in the Olympic Village. Wouldn’t it be great if this could happen in a place like Pride House where the explicit understanding is that the people who visit support LGBT openness and equality since we cannot say that about the Olympic Village or the broader Olympic Movement…yet.

Monday, February 1, 2010

LGBT Sports Advocacy Loses Another One

I got an email from Ted Rybka, last week letting me know that his position at GLAAD has been eliminated. Ted was in charge of the sports media desk for GLAAD. This position was established by Neil Giuliano, the former executive director of GLAAD. Ironically, Outsports posted an interview with Neil about GLAAD and sports media last week probably on the same day that Ted emailed to tell me he lost his job.

I had the pleasure of working with Ted on 2-3 projects. Most recently we were on a panel together at the NCAA convention. I don’t know whether it was economic contingencies or a shift of priorities within GLAAD’s new leadership that resulted in the elimination of Ted’s position, but either way, it is a loss for all of us who are committed to equality for LGBT people in all levels of sport.

I’m not worried about Ted. He is a great guy with lots of talent who will land on his feet and do good work wherever he is. I hope we will be able to work together again in the future. It does make me sad though to lose another organizational voice in the ongoing conversation committed to education the sports world about LGBT athletes and coaches.

The loss of the GLAAD sports desk comes at a time when we could use their voice in response to CBS’s decision to change their policy to accept “advocacy ads” for the Super Bowl. The picked a doosy for their first one in terms of controversy. University of Florida quarterback, Tim Tebow will appear in an ad next Sunday paid for by Focus on Family, the right-wing anti-gay fundamentalist Christian advocacy group. Tebow is quite public about his Christianity. He paints biblical verses in the black under his eyes on game days. Tim and his mother will be featured talking about her decision not to heed her doctor’s advice to have an abortion when she was pregnant with Tim. CBS’s change in policy is particularly hard to take since last year they turned down an ad paid for by the United Church of Christ advocating welcoming diverse worshippers that specifically included LGBT people. It remains to be seen whether CBS’s change in policy about advocacy ads will be slanted toward a right or left leaning political agenda or inclusive of all political perspectives.

Following the recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for corporate “free speech” in the political process though, it is clear we are all going to be subjected to a barrage of more media propaganda from corporate and political groups with an agenda and the money to inflict it on us wherever we are.

The loss of the sports desk at GLAAD couldn’t come at a worse time. We need someone watching the sports media and monitoring the corporations and political organizations that sponsor sports in the media. I hope GLAAD will to see the importance of vigilance in this arena despite the elimination of the sports desk.

Addendum - I just saw that GLAAD has indeed spoken out about the Focus on the Family Super Bowl ad. You can read what they say here.