Religion, Marital Status and Sexual Orientation as Coaching Credentials?

| by Pat Griffin

The University of Missouri has hired a new women’s basketball coach. Robin Pingeton, from all accounts, is an accomplished coach with all the credentials you might want in a college women’s athletic program. She has lots of coaching experience and success. She was named regional coach of the year for her season at Illinois State University. She sounds dynamic and positive in interviews. She has a 5-year contract with a base salary of $300,000 and the chance to earn up to $600,000 with incentives. The Missouri athletic director talks about the importance of increased spending on women’s basketball so the team can compete in the tough Big 12 Conference. It all sounds great, right?

Yes, I thought so too until I got to this part of the ESPN article,

“Calling herself a Christian who happens to be a coach, Pingeton was accompanied by her husband and 3-year-old son. An aunt and uncle who have lived in Columbia for nearly 50 years sat proudly in the audience…She emphasized the theme of family throughout her remarks, noting that the three assistants who will follow from Illinois State are each married with children.”

Pingeton’s particular personal religious convictions should be irrelevant in this context. She is going to be coaching at a public institution, not a private religious institution. Her husband and son were at the press conference as were her proud aunt and uncle. Nothing unusual about that. Family is often present to celebrate professional achievements (unless, of course, the family is a same-sex partner). But then she goes on to make sure we know that heterosexual marital status is important to her by noting that all of her assistants are married with children.

So, we now know as much about Pingeton’s religious convictions and status as a heterosexual married mother as we do about her coaching achievements and plans. We can also infer that she believes that one of the most important qualities in assistant coaches is being heterosexual and married since this is what she chose to highlight at the press conference rather than their basketball credentials.

The reporter notes that Pingeton “emphasized the theme of family throughout her remarks.” Nothing wrong with that. Except that when the coach leads with a description of herself as a Christian and boasts at her first press conference about how straight her assistant coaches are, you have to wonder about what kind of team climate she will promote for student-athletes who are not Christian or who are not heterosexual.

Why do you think a coach would foreground this information in her introduction to the community? Is she beginning her recruiting efforts already by sending a not so subtle message to potential athletes and parents that Missouri is now a Christian heterosexual team? Maybe in Missouri this is perceived as a positive message. I don’t know. I’ve never been to Missouri.

It just amazes me that a coach at a public institution feels entitled to focus on religion, marital status and heterosexuality as part of her and her assistant coaches’ professional credentials. It does not bode well for anyone on the University of Missouri team who is not a Christian or not heterosexual. I hope I am wrong, but it doesn’t seem like a good beginning. It makes no sense to me that new coach would limit her potential recruiting pool to heterosexual Christians either. No offense, Coach Pingeton, but that is not the way to win a championship. It certainly isn’t the way to communicate a message of openness, respect or inclusiveness.