A group of about 30 NCAA coaches, administrators and student-athletes joined representatives from the National Center for Lesbian Rights in examining issues related to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in intercollegiate athletics during the first National Center for Lesbian Rights Sports Project Think Tank.
Co-sponsored by the NCAA and the NCLR, the focus of the October 30 meeting in Indianapolis was negative recruiting based on perceived sexual orientation. NCLR Sports Project Director Helen J. Carroll emphasized that the practice of implying to recruits and their families that a rival coach is gay or that an opposing team is "full of lesbians" preys on unsubstantiated stereotypes. She said it is a tactic primarily used in women’s sports, but will likely increase in men’s sports as more gay athletes and coaches are open about their orientation.
"This practice affects all women coaches, regardless of their sexual orientation," Carroll said. "Putting a stop to this unethical tactic is critical not only to protect lesbian and gay players and coaches, but also to attract and retain more women coaches. As long as any woman athlete or coach can be harmed by being tagged with the label ‘lesbian,’ the goal of achieving true equality for women in sport will remain elusive."
Carroll said she knew from experiences as a coach and athletics director that negative recruiting based on sexual orientation was a topic of conversation among coaches, but possible solutions had never been discussed.
"Negative recruiting is widespread," she said. "As long as it’s effective and spreads fear into parents and young student-athletes trying to choose an institution, it’s going to remain in play. If we can take the punch out of it, with the best practices work and the work of the people in the think tank, that’s going to make a huge difference."
Think-tank participants identified the inability to recruit and retain women into the coaching profession as a pressing issue, as well as the need for education, research and best practices regarding LGBT people, their experiences and issues. They also expressed concern for straight members of teams and coaching staffs who are harmed by the practice.
The group agreed that educational efforts should target athletics administrators, student-athletes, coaches and even families of student-athletes, since coaches in attendance noted that in most cases recruiting a student-athlete means recruiting the parents. To that end, participants noted upcoming meetings and events of key organizations and governance groups at which LGBT issues and concerns could be raised. They also called for best practices and model policies to guide athletics departments in effective and appropriate ways of handling LGBT issues, including the issue of negative recruiting.
Though think-tank participants acknowledged that references to negative recruiting already appear in codes of ethics and other policies at several schools, conferences and other organizations, the practice remains popular because of its effectiveness and the lack of serious repercussions.
While enforcement is a challenge, think-tank participants pointed to the most recent version of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association code of ethics as a best-practice approach. The WBCA code presents a specific process for addressing complaints about the conduct of its members and a range of penalties that includes being ineligible for a position on the WBCA board for up to five years, being prohibited from purchasing Women’s Final Four tickets, and even suspension of membership.
Participants also assembled in small groups to address concerns on the institutional, conference and Association levels. Ideas included issuing a white paper on positive approaches to recruiting student-athletes, ensuring that LGBT issues are included in appropriate programmatic initiatives, enlisting Student-Athlete Advisory Committees as resources, and cultivating allies and safe spaces for LGBT people. Ultimately, think-tank organizers plan to include the suggestions as part of a best-practices document.
Carroll said the NCLR is committed to making the think tank an annual event.
"It was a historical event regarding LGBT issues in collegiate sports because it not only brought together great thinkers, but action people," Carroll said. "The NCLR is all about trying to be active and prevent legal cases. Though we are not afraid to take that route, we’d rather take other approaches in helping institutions dog the right thing."
Karen Morrison, NCAA director of education services, said the NCAA was pleased to partner with the NCLR.
"I hope that bringing together leaders in athletics and the legal field will allow us to both discuss the impact of negative recruiting and strive to develop effective strategies to overcome discriminatory behavior. We hope this is a step toward transforming the environment of intercollegiate athletics," she said.