Media Coverage for Women's Sport
When Brittney Griner, Baylor University’s star basketball player and one of the most celebrated athletes in the history of the sport, came out publicly as gay last month, she was rather nonchalant about it. She didn’t write a Sports Illustrated cover story – à la professional basketball player Jason Collins, a few weeks later – she just sort of mentioned it in media interviews. Griner is “someone who’s always been open,” she said, with family, friends and teammates.
But, as Griner revealed a few weeks later, she wasn’t allowed to be open as much as she might have liked. That’s because Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey told her and her teammates not to talk publicly about their sexuality.
“It was a recruiting thing,” Griner told ESPN. “The coaches thought that if it seemed like they condoned it, people wouldn’t let their kids come play for Baylor.”
Griner’s account followed on the heels of speculation that her coming out signaled a new age at Baylor – a private Christian university whose nondiscrimination policy does not cover sexual orientation and whose student handbook entry for “sexual misconduct” includes as examples of inappropriate actions “homosexual behavior” and participation in “advocacy groups which promote understanding of sexuality that are contrary to biblical teaching.”
But the news about Baylor’s gag order was a sobering reminder that while lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer advocates have made progress in college sports – and the National Collegiate Athletic Association is actively pushing an LGBT inclusion campaign – they still have a long way to go.
“Most of the athletes who are in her situation never say anything, but it’s not a new situation,” said Pat Griffin, a scholar on LGBT issues and author of Strong Women, Deep Closets: Lesbians and Homophobia in Sport. “What’s new is that Brittney Griner has the courage not only to come out, but to call the game.”
Baylor’s unofficial rule against talking openly might seem like an outdated if not outright ridiculous concept at a time when states are legalizing same-sex marriage, the general public is more accepting of homosexuality than ever, and 7 in 10 incoming college students believe same-sex couples should have the right to marry.
And college sports have not been immune from those cultural shifts, to be sure. Rene Portland, the former and extremely successful women’s basketball coach at Pennsylvania State University, made no secret of her disdain for homosexuality, at least on her team – “I will not have it in my program,” she told the media. The brazen discrimination continued until 2007, when Portland resigned after settling a lawsuit with a former Penn State player who said the coach made her miserable and threw her off the team because of suspicions she was gay.
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