Thursday, July 29, 2010

Allegations of Anti-Lesbian Bias in IUPUI Women’s Basketball Program

Here we go again. An article in the Indianapolis Star reports that allegations of NCAA rule violations and allegations of abuse have been lodged against the head coach and associate head coach of women’s basketball at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI).

The abuse allegations against coaches Shann Hart and Chanel Spriggs come from 11 former players. The Star article reports that 28 players and assistant coaches have left the program in the last four seasons. This number includes 19 scholarship athletes. Wow. Wouldn’t you think that these numbers might raise some kind of red flag for administrators that something is terribly wrong in the women’s basketball program? These numbers are higher than the 23 people who left the Oregon State women’s program where the head coach was fired amid allegations of abusive and, frankly, a little unhinged behavior. I wrote about the situation at Oregon State in my June 2 post.

The IUPUI players claim that the coaches created an “atmosphere of fear, favoritism, humiliation and inappropriate interest in their personal lives.” One player told the Star that she was asked “explicitly” about her sexual orientation and others described a “reckless” postgame “rant” by the coach about players who “break team rules by becoming involved in intimate relationships with each other.”

IUPUI has named a three member panel to investigate the charges. Coaches Hart and Spriggs have declined to comment on the allegations. No timeline for the investigative panel’s report has been made public, but I will definitely follow-up on this.

A state-wide LGBT rights organization, Indiana Equality, has taken note of the anti-lesbian allegations and sent a letter to the university president and athletic director citing the university’s non-discrimination policy and demanding that they take action if the allegations are confirmed.

If these allegations of abuse are substantiated, it is not only the coaches who should be held accountable. It is also the school athletic administrators and any other athletic staff who ignored or supported the alleged abusive behavior and anti-lesbian interrogations and relationship rules. How many times do we have to hear this story or variations of it for coaches and administrators to begin to take seriously their responsibilities to abide by school policies and state non-discrimination laws?

And, please, to people who say homophobia is no longer an issue in women’s sports: These allegations are exactly the kind of abuse of power and unethical coach behavior that ruins sport for all women athletes, not just lesbians, but any woman athlete who must live in fear of accusation or innuendo.

*Thanks to Helen Carroll for calling this situation to my attention.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Looking Gay Male Athletes

Dee Mosbacher, the acclaimed videographer who brought us the amazing documentary "Training Rules", is planning her next project. She asked me if I would post the following notice on my blog. I am happy to help Dee in anyway I can. She produces high quality award-winning educational videos that advance the cause of LGBT equality in and out of sport.

So, if you are a gay male athlete or if you know gay male athletes who fit the following demographics, please contact Dee or provide your friends with her contact information so we can all help Dee with her new and important project:

Looking for a Few Gay Men

If you are an out gay athlete who was awarded an athletic scholarship to college or recruited from college for a professional career, you may be eligible to be featured in an upcoming documentary by Academy Award nominated producers/directors Dee Mosbacher and Fawn Yacker (see for info about our last film). Please send a brief sports bio and your contact information, using the subject line MEN'S SPORTS to:

Dee Mosbacher, MD
Woman Vision
3570 Clay Street
San Francisco, CA, 94118

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Jennie Finch Retires, but Leaves Her Glitter and Make-up Behind

Jennie Finch is an awesome softball pitcher. No question about that. Her accomplishments on the field speak for themselves: NCAA championships, Olympic gold and silver medals, World Championship. She was arguably the face of women’s softball for the last 10 years.

Unfortunately in women’s sports though, it takes more than being an accomplished athlete to get the mainstream sports media’s attention. You have to combine your awesome talent with physical beauty and then highlight your “femininity” by wearing make-up when you play your sport, swinging a hot pink bat, festooning your long hair with glitter and brightly colored ribbons. You should also pose in sexy photo shoots for men’s magazines if you really want to show your stuff (and I’m not talking about your wicked curve ball).

In perhaps one of the more nauseating quotes I’ve read recently, Jessica Mendoza, one of Jennie’s teammates and President of the Women’s Sports Foundation says of Finch,

"She set the standard for softball in a new era of being able to be feminine and play this sport. Not that you have to be feminine to play this sport, but I see hundreds of thousands of little girls now with glitter headbands, hot pink bats, makeup. I'm not saying that every girl has to do that but when I was growing up, it wasn't like that. She has created a new era of softball player, and it's for those softball players -- those little girls out there -- that want to be cutesy with the bows and the glitter and still be that dirty jock. Covered head to toe in dirt but she's got her hair all perfect with a bow."

It saddens me that the “freedom” to be feminine is somehow interpreted as progress for women’s softball and women’s sports. This is not a new era. Appearing feminine has always been a requirement, hardly a “freedom.” Women athletes have always needed to prove their femininity and heterosexuality. They have always needed to compensate for their athleticism by highlighting their “normality,” that would be their girly-girlness and their interest in men. The acceptance of women athletes has always depended on their ability to project conventional femininity and heterosexuality: She can strike out big league baseball players, but, by gosh, the ribbons in her hair are so darn cute, her make-up is impeccable, and not a hair out of place.

Women athletes have always felt the pressure to compensate for being “dirty jocks” (read lesbians) by presenting a feminine image off the field. Is it really progress that now women have to do it on the field as well? Is it progress that game preparation now includes hair and make-up sessions and the application of glitter and the tying of pretty hair ribbons? Is it really progress that “hundreds of thousands” of little girls now believe that glitter, hair ribbons, and make-up are part of a softball uniform? Will little girls who aspire to be like Jennie Finch believe they need to pose in men's magazines to be accepted as athletes?

Don’t get me wrong, I would be happy if it were true that girl and women athletes had choices in how they present themselves. The ones who like long hair, ribbons, make-up, and glitter can wear it and the ones who don’t are equally celebrated as role models. The ones who are partnered with or married to men and the ones who are partnered with or married to women have their personal lives equally celebrated and respected. Now that would be a new era for softball and all of women’s sports.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Home Again!

We are home from our travels. I was disconnected from cyberworld for eight days while we were on a Grand Canyon raft trip – Amazing! Absolutely no contact with the outside world for eight days. It was pretty cool, but left me wondering what international calamities we would face when we got back to civilization. Though we had absolutely no access to the outside world in the canyon, I had to take my Blackberry with me, buried deep in my dry bag in a waterproof pouch. Somehow it managed to die anyway, so I had to make a quick trip to Verizon for a replacement in Las Vegas.

Last week the powers that be ruled that Caster Semenya can compete as a woman. I must admit that I did not give them enough credit because I feared they would ban her from future competition. I am happy to be surprised. They also refused to release any information about Caster’s medical review which I also applaud.
Next, I am hoping that, at the meeting of international sport governing organizations scheduled to take place in the next few months, guidelines for inclusion of women athletes who are intersex (or have disorders of sexual development, as the docs prefer) will be changed so that women who live and identify as women and are intersex will be eligible to compete, period.

The stumbling block is resistance from sports leaders and competitors who fear that allowing women athletes who are intersex to compete in women’s events will upset “the level playing field” in women’s sports. I think we are singling out intersex athletes as a threat to the so-called level playing field when there are so many ways that the playing field is tilted in favor of some athletes over others that we just accept as part of the competition. How come?

Related to this is the need to revise the process for challenging a competitor’s eligibility to compete in women’s events. Right now, just about anyone can challenge any competitor on just about any prejudiced notion of what a woman is supposed to look, act and perform like. We have already seen what kind of travesty this procedure can cause in the horribly botched process last summer when Caster Semenya was challenged.

I’ll write more on this later. Just wanted you to know I am back and I’m blogging again.