NCAA and Gay Rights Group Take on Homophobia in College Sports

Article excerpt

The National Center for Lesbian Rights recently announced a settlement in the discrimination lawsuit fried by Jennifer Harris, a former Pennsylvania State University women's basketball player who sued the school over alleged mistreatment by former coach Rene Portland, who allegedly thought Harris was a lesbian. Although virtually all colleges and universities have non-discrimination policies in place, the case has propelled discussions about homophobia in college sports. Last fall, the NCLR and the NCAA co-hosted the "Think Tank on Homophobia in Sport," bringing together coaches, administrators and-athletes to discuss an issue that's been receiving increasing national attention.

"The basis of the think tank was to move from conversation and actually get into action," says Helen Carroll, NCLR's sports project director. "I felt that people were not giving lip service, they were really ready to commit." Carroll is a former college athletic director and coached the University of North Carolina's women's basketball team to the NAIA National Championship in 1984.

She says one of the things that helped that team win the title was the fact that the coaches and players openly acknowledged their diversity and therefore found common ground.

"We in sports have said, 'You leave all that at the door and you get on the court and just play." That's not true. Athletes don't leave that at the door, because it's who they are," Carroll says. "If you can find a way to take that full personality and pull it into the game, then that's what gives you the special qualities you see in teams that can win national championships.

"We as coaches and administrators have not been taught how to do it, how to talk about these topics," she continues. "They're not easy topics to sit down and talk about with a group. Whether it's race or sexual orientation--to even say it out loud and recognize it to your athletes--it makes a huge difference."

Karen Morrison, the NCAA's director of education services, says materials developed at the think tank are now being vetted by the organization, which will determine this spring how those materials will be disseminated.

Notes from the think tank have already been distributed to coaching academies and to committees planning coaching conferences. …