When will women’s coaches openly support LGBT rights?


Since we now know that basketball causes lesbianism, let’s take a quick count of out lesbian Division I basketball coaches.

1. Sherri Murrell, Portland State University head coach.

Yep, that’s it.

About a month ago, Portland Monthly published an article on Murrell, noting that she is the only openly gay coach out of 335 Division I women’s basketball head coaches, both male and female.

Portland is not exactly lacking in out lesbians, but Sherri still was encouraged that the response she got to the article was totally positive. More notable is the fact that she’s received a lot of emails and phone calls from coaching colleagues around the country – again, all positive.

On her lesbian sports blog last week, Pat Griffin said that Sherri told her about a closeted lesbian coach that was inspired by the article to come out to her parents and her athletic director. That’s one reason she agreed to the article — she hopes that her visibility and willingness to challenge homophobia in women’s basketball will make a difference.

But Griffin has a message for the coaches who called privately to express support for Sherri:

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.

The point is well taken. If straight coaches who are opposed to discrimination against lesbians don’t speak out, other coaches, players and parents get the impression that homophobia is OK. Coaches who support lesbian coaches and players in private need to “come out” and express their support in public.

Griffin notes that straight men in sports, from coaches to players to GMs, have started speaking out in support of LGBT athletes, anti-bullying programs and even issues like gay marriage. But try to name a single heterosexual coach or player of a women’s team who has taken a public stand — nada. Have you seen any women’s coaches or pros make an It Gets Better video or a NoH8 photo?

I’m sure part of the problem is that women in sports are afraid that if they publicly support lesbians, people will think they are gay. Or that open support of LGBT players and coaches will perpetuate the stereotype that all athletic women are lesbians. But is that risk more harmful than the implied message that lesbians should be ashamed — and afraid — of being who they are?

For Sherri Murrell, the answer is obvious:

We’ve all got to come together. Maybe straight players wonder, why is this such an issue? It separates. It divides. You hear about programs where there is a division between white players and black players, even today. If you accept and tolerate those kinds of things, you’ve going to have divisions. And you’ve got to come together to win ballgames. It’s real important. That’s what all these coaching books are about, team unity. You can’t promote divisions. And homophobia is a divider.

Murrell’s Portland State team made the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever last year; her approach seems to be working.

Tell us what you think. Do you know of any heterosexual women coaches or athletes that speak up for LGBT rights? Is private support of lesbian players and coaches better than nothing?

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