First was the controversial press conference by the new women's head coach at the University of Missouri. Robin Pingeton's press conference in which she announces her Christianity and talks about the family atmosphere of her coaching staff (all married to opposite sex partners and with children) has been fairly well covered but I thought I would mention it anyway. You can check out Pat Griffin's blog for an excellent assessment of the conference and the ramifications of Pingeton's discourse.
In the aftermath of the press conference, a lot of comments have been made about Pingeton's intentions. There is a lot of skepticism regarding them; about whether Pingeton was sending the message to potential recruits, their parents, and fans that this was not going to be a dyke-y program. But this guy, an avowed atheist, is giving Pingeton the benefit of the doubt. I think it's a little naive actually. And those of us who have just the slightest familiarity with the business of intercollegiate recruiting know that those statements are not benign. That Pingeton had no complaints about mixing religion and coaching in her former position at Illinois State, does not really convince me. After all, student-athletes are not exactly in a position to protest the pre-game prayers or other manifestations of Christianity that may appear in their sporting lives--sporting lives that they are not likely to put in jeopardy because their coach is an out Christian. After all, it's pretty hard to argue--in our culture--that Christianity is harming them. That prayer here and there is offensive.
But here is my positive take on this (I know--it's unusual; just go with it for a sec). Student-athletes are more aware--I think. They are certainly more aware of sexuality--their own and that of their peers. Sure, there are still anti-gay teens that will enter the recruiting pool. But there are probably a lot more who do not care. Or even those who care that their future coach might be a homophobe. In other words, I think and I hope that we are reaching some kind of tipping point where being anti-gay will be a detriment for a coach and not an asset. My hope is that with this new generation where people aren't really "coming out," there is less tolerance for those who are not so open to all sexualities. I hope the "we are who we are--no labels" attitude translates into disdain for those (like coaches) who will keep insisting on labels and using them to judge and discriminate.
Also on the issue of women's basketball, in the wake of March Madness, Salon published a column on lesbian athletes--especially basketball players, titled "Lesbian athletes just can't win." This is the kind of cynical title I would expect from...well, me. But, of course, it's not untrue. Salon mentions the Rene Portland case, talks to the only out DI coach Sherri Murrell, discusses how the Women's Basketball Coaches Association would not show the film Training Rules (about homophobia in women's sport which highlights Portland's behavior) at their annual convention, and Pingeton's press conference. It discusses the pressure on all female athletes anywhere on the sexuality spectrum to conform to gender norms (even as playing a sport--certain sports in particular--is itself a departure from historical constructions of femininity). And though the writer acknowledges the homophobia in all for sport--for men and women--she writes:
what is particular to female athletes is that they bear an additional burden of having to constantly justify their game. Women's sports are compelled to prove again and again that they are worthy of attention, fans, and funding.
With such absurd day-to-day defenses foisted on women's sports, it seems that few gay athletes and coaches are inclined to meet additional backlash by coming out. It's hard enough to validate women's sports; to embrace women's sports that include out lesbians seems to be too much to ask.
And finally, as I was looking into the Pingeton situation, I found an old column from Inside Higher Ed about the University of Virginia fight song (written in the late 1800s) which includes the phrase "bright and gay." Apparently students, not content with the historical meaning of gay as happy, will yell out after the line is sung after UVA scores (in football) "not gay!" You know, just in case we outsiders thought that singing the line meant everyone at UVA was gay. This was a few years ago and some students took action to explain why the "not gay" chant is offensive and encourage education about the behavior. There was some success with people noting the chant got softer (i.e. not as many people who using it) but also some backlash with students who did not want to be told what to do and those ubiquitous free speech arguments. Yes, congratulations, you have the right to say "not gay" wherever and whenever you want. Note though that many people--with those same rights--are not able to say "gay" whenever or wherever.
As far as I can tell, the practice has not been eradicated. But apparently the campaign advisor for the Republican candidate for Congress in Virginia was one of the students who spoke out in favor of the "not gay" chant. And his participation has come to light and forced the candidate to "rebuke" his staffer's comments. My cynical self says this is just lip service from a Virginia Republican--but at least it's making news.