Sports

Time for Heterosexual Women Coaches and Athletes to Speak Up

| by Pat Griffin

On October 26 I wrote about a feature in the Portland Monthly on Portland State head women’s basketball coach, Sherri Murrell. Sherri is the only publicly out lesbian Division 1 basketball coach.

As hard to belief as that is, it is true. Happily, Sherri’s experience at PSU with administration, colleagues, athletes and their parents has been totally positive.

In a couple of email exchanges, Sherri told me that you can ditto that for the reactions to the Portland Monthly article: Totally positive. She has been receiving lots of emails and phone calls from coaching colleagues around the country about the feature and, yep, totally positive.

At least one closeted lesbian coach told Sherri she was inspired by the PM feature to come out to her parents and to her athletic director. This is part of what Sherri had hoped for: that other coaches who have been living a double life, keeping secrets, even lying about themselves might be inspired to follow Sherri’s example and be more open too. Totally positive.

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Sherri’s openness and her willingness to use her visibility to challenge homophobia in women’s basketball ARE inspiring and it makes a difference. The support she receives at PSU and the success her team is having challenge long held assumptions that lesbian coaches cannot be open without suffering serious professional consequences. It is true that not every out lesbian coach would receive the kind of support Sherri has and it is important to respect the more cautious decisions these coaches make about how much to share about their personal lives. However, I think there are lots of coaches who want to and can be more open and I hope Sherri’s experience helps them to take that step.

I know it must be terrific for Sherri to get such a positive response from so many of her coaching colleagues and good for them for taking the time to let Sherri know how they feel. However, I have a message for these coaches: Your private support for Sherri is great. Thank you. And your show of support would be much more effective if you would speak out publicly.

One of the problems that we face in women’s sports is that if heterosexual coaches who believe homophobia and discrimination against lesbian coaches and athletes are wrong remain silent in public, it leaves too many other coaches, athletes and parents with the impression that homophobia and discrimination against lesbians in sport is fine and dandy. We need more coaches who privately express their support for lesbian coaches and athletes to speak up in publicly and do it more often.

I’ve been noticing lately how many heterosexual men in sport – coaches, athletes, pro team GMs have been speaking out to support LGBT athletes, school anti-gay bullying programs and broader LGBT issues like marriage rights. NFL players Brendan Ayanbadejo, Scott Fujita, Antonio Cromartie, Drew Brees; NBA players, Manu Ginobli and Steve Nash; MLS player, Mike Chabala; Ohio State Football coach, Jim Tressell, NCAA Wrestling Champ, Hudson Taylor; Toronto Maple Leafs GM, Brian Burke; former NLF commissioner, Paul Tagliabue; and others I have missed have all spoken out publicly.

When I try to name one heterosexual coach of a woman’s team or college or professional athlete who has spoken out in similar ways, I am stumped. The silence is deafening. What does this mean? Is it part of the broader media attention given to men’s sport? Is it that women in sport are more concerned about being perceived as gay or jeopardizing their sport by association with lesbians or being lesbian-positive? Are women in sport more apolitical than men in sport (except for fighting breast cancer, of course)? All I know is that I’d like to see a lot more heterosexual women’s coaches and athletes speaking up publicly against anti-gay bullying in and out of sport and in support of lesbian coaches and athletes right to fair and respectful treatment in sport.

Private support is great. Public support is much more powerful. Some heterosexual men in sport are beginning to get this message. Where are the heterosexual women? I’d love someone to challenge me on this perception. Where are the heterosexual women in sport speaking out about anti-gay bullying and discrimination?