Thank you for the invitation to contribute to the Corpus. I’ve visited the blog and I will definitely return to see what you are thinking and writing about.
As some of you may know I am speaking at the University of Maryland on Monday (4pm in the Health and Human Performance Building) on Homophobia in Women’s Sport. I hope some of you will be able to come.
Maryland is my alma mater so speaking there has added significance for me. I graduated from the physical education program in 1967 and played field hockey, basketball, lacrosse and swam on the women’s swim team (it was back in the pre-Title IX days when you could actually play multiple sports).
To tell the truth I am very sad this morning over the news that LSU women’s basketball coach Pokey Chatman has resigned amid rumors that she had an “inappropriate” relationship with one of her players. I’ve just written about it on my own blog – www.ittakesateam.blogspot.com – So, I won’t go on here. It’s a tragedy from many different perspectives: losing a promising young African-American woman coach, reinforcing the lesbian coach/athlete sexual predator stereotype, providing more fodder for unethical coaches who rely on negative recruiting to scare parents and high school athletes away from rival athletic programs, driving already closeted lesbian coaches even deeper into the shadows. Enough. Read my blog if you are interested.
This sadness is in contrast to my usual moderately optimistic belief that we are making headway in the battle to reduce the effects of homophobia and heterosexism in sport. The LSU story illustrates, however, the “two steps forward, one step back” nature of this progress. When I lead workshops with collegiate student-athletes and their coaches I find a much more receptive atmosphere in the last five years or so. Before then, working with coaches was really difficult. The room practically vibrated with the discomfort and fear some coaches felt about discussing homophobia. My job was getting them to even acknowledge that addressing lesbian and gay issues in athletics should part of their professional universe.
More recently, I find that most coaches already get why we are talking about it and they have many more specific questions about how to respond to concrete situations they are facing with athletes, parents and other coaches: “What do I do about athletes who are not comfortable in the locker room with a gay man?” “How should I respond to two women on my team in a relationship with each other?” “What if my religious values are that homosexuality is a sin?” “How can we stop negative recruiting?” I love these conversations and find that most (not all) coaches want good answers to these questions and appreciate a forum where we can talk.
I find that student-athletes, in general, are way ahead of their coaches on this topic. Especially the women, but I also believe that even the men’s teams are not as anti-gay as common wisdom tells us. I believe that it will not be one famous NFL football star coming out that will change the sports world, but many young athletes, gay and straight, who will gradually change the face of collegiate and professional sports.
More young lesbian and gay athletes are out, proud and feel entitled to fair treatment than ever before. More of their parents support them and more of them will not hesitate to get a lawyer if need be to make their point. At the same time, more of their heterosexual teammates are taking a “live and let live” approach. Some are even great allies who will speak out against homophobia in sports. This is certainly not the end of the journey by any means, but we are on the road to a more open, safe and inclusive climate for lesbian, gay and bi athletes and coaches. Whereas five years ago, addressing homophobia in sport was not even a topic of conversation, it is now squarely on the table. The NCAA has made some great progress (with a lot more needed, of course) and there are some terrific resources out there: The Women’s Sports Foundation’s “It Takes A Team! education initiative www.ittakesateam.org and The National Center for Lesbian Rights Sports Project www.nclrights.org to name two.
OK, time to wrap this up. I have to put the finishing touches on my powerpoint for Monday.
I love the “Fear the Turtle” slogan and have a tee shirt with that on it, but then I saw another slogan, I think used by the LGBT group on campus – “Queer the Turtle.” That one made me laugh out loud and was wonderful to see since when I was an undergrad at Maryland I was sure that I was the only “queer turtle” on campus. We have come a long way and one of the perks of age is that I’m old enough to see it. I like that.
I hope to meet some of you on Monday. Go Terps!