Thursday, September 9, 2010

When Coaches Teach Bigotry in the Name of Christianity

Excuse me, but I thought the primary goal of coaching girls' or women’s basketball teams was, well, coaching basketball . That would not be the case for Jaye Collins, however. He is the coach of the Louisville Legends. The Legends are part of a network of independent girls basketball teams affiliated with Elite Basketball Family. EBF’s goal according to their web site is as follows: The EBF is a 501©3 non-profit organization designed to ensure the future success of hundreds of young ladies each year by giving them chances to earn college scholarships to play basketball.

But if you go to the Legends web site and click on the coaches tab, here is what Coach Collins has to say about his goal:

I started the Lady Legends program with the support of my wife, Kari, in hopes of encouraging young girls to be proud and secure in not being part of the lesbian and homosexual lifestyle which is so prevalent in woman's/girl's athletics. Many girls, as early as middle school, are being influenced or "tested", or converted and convinced that if they play sports, specifically basketball, they must be, should be, or need to be gay.

I believe that we should encourage girls to glorify God and please Jesus Christ in their decision making processes. I know this is not the socially accepted or politically correct perspective, but our goal is H.O.O.P.S.....Helping Others Obtain Personal Salvation.

If you go to the Legends home page, you find that it starts off with a Biblical quote in huge letters and then, secondarily, if you scroll down, features photos of team members and where they will be playing college ball.

I don’t know if independent teams like the Legends are governed by any rules or policies about either Christian proselytizing or anti-gay discrimination under the guise of coaching a girls’ basketball team so maybe what Coach Collins is doing is perfectly legal, but it isn’t right. Maybe it is a good thing that he is so completely transparent about his beliefs and his goals. Let the buyer beware, so to speak.

It just makes me sick and sad and angry that such ignorant propaganda can be so blatant and, apparently acceptable. And that young girls who play with the Legends are subjected to the coach’s religious and anti-gay rhetoric. Collins is teaching prejudice and fear under the guise of making girls basketball “safe” for straight, Christian girls. What about Legend players who are questioning their sexuality or who know they are gay? He is teaching them to hate and fear themselves. He is teaching them shame and denial. What happens to Legends players when they are recruited to play college ball and find that they have lesbian teammates or coaches whom they are expected to treat with respect? Will the example set by Coach Collins’ anti-gay and pro-Christian beliefs make it more difficult for Legends players to adjust to a team where player and coach diversity is valued and respected? Where lesbians are not assumed to be drooling child molesters or out to convert all their teammates to their “homosexual lifestyle?”

Coach Collins claims to be providing some kind of Christian refuge for basketball players from the “tests” they need to endure presumably from evil lesbian teammates and coaches who try to “convince or convert them” that they need to be gay to play women’s basketball. Clearly Coach Collins has a personal problem with lesbians in sport. This hysterical and bigoted perspective is an important reminder that homophobia is alive and well in girls and women’s sports, particularly basketball.

Far from being a principled or courageous stance, I believe what Coach Collins does is a kind of abuse of power wrapped up in self-righteous bigotry masked as Christian concern. Providing girls with opportunities to play basketball and get college scholarships is a terrific goal and volunteer coaches who are committed to working for young women in this way are to be applauded. However, coaches owe it to their team members to check their personal prejudices at the gym door and do the best they can to create a climate of respect and safety for every team member – gay, straight, Christian, Jew, atheist, black, white.

Many Christian coaches live their religious values without pushing them on their teams. Most lesbian coaches live their life without any thought of “converting” players. It is wrong for Christian and lesbian coaches to impose either their religion or their sexuality on their athletes. Both Christians and lesbians can be great coaches. Neither religious belief nor sexual orientation has much to do with being a good coach though (or a good basketball player either). Great coaching is about Xs and Os, but it is also so much more. It is about living your life with integrity and confronting prejudice and bigotry in any guise. It is about modeling and teaching athletes about self-respect and respect for people who are different from you. It is about confronting one’s own stereotypes to avoid passing them on to young women. It is not about conjuring up a lesbian bogeywoman and then claiming to protect your team from her. That’s working your own personal agenda and calling it coaching.


Sally said...

Excellent post, Pat!

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