Wednesday, February 09, 2011

ESPN focuses on homophobia in recruiting

The current issue of ESPN Magazine, which appeared on stands this week, features a very good article on homophobia in college recruiting. The story originally was published online at the end of January and thus has been well-covered in the blogosphere. But I would be remiss not to mention it--especially since several people have emailed me the link to the story thus making me think that it's kind of my bloggerly duty.
"On homophobia and recruiting" co-written by Luke Cyphers and Kate Fagan acknowledges, actually focuses on the subtly of homophobia in recruiting. It's a major point that needs to be highlighted in this way. Homophobia is not dead just because fewer people shout dyke or fag to your face (or to your back as you walk down the street). And every coach knows overt homophobia will not be accepted by most administrators and recruits these days.
The language cues center mostly on a family values and morals rhetoric. Not news to many of us. But again, glad to have ESPN shine their spotlight on it. Also reported were the ways that coaches who are openly heterosexual discuss the personal lives of themselves and their staff whereas schools with gay staff members do not. And the openly hetero coaches cast suspicion on other schools' staff and suggest that there is something hidden, possibly nefarious, going on.
ESPN's own study (using 50 former recruits) found that just over half of them said that sexual orientation is part of the "underlying" conversation during the recruiting process.
But two of the openly heterosexual male coaches, Bill Fennelly from Iowa State, and Geno Auriemma from UConn, do not think there's anything wrong with using the family atmosphere language as a recruiting technique. In fact, Fennelly said he and his straight staff are being penalized for being straight and having families. Oh goodness, it's a little too early--even for those who don't know its true meaning--to be invoking the reverse discrimination defense.
There is a lot more covered in the article, so go read it! But I have basically two comments/reactions.
The first is about the closeting of gay coaches. Former WNBAer and assistant coach Sue Wicks spoke about the atmosphere of fear among gay coaches and her own experiences including the advice that she not do an interview for a gay publication.
It appers that the closet atmosphere is being perpetuated by those inside and outside of it. So why don't more coaches come out--and come together? I had the opportunity to interview a very wise older lesbian who came out in a meeting at her place of business in the 70s as a way to protect herself from being fired. Her rationale was that if that information was out there, she would have recourse should she be fired under suspect terms. Granted, it was not a guarantee she would keep her job (she did by the way), but it would have made her bosses have to work all the harder to find "legitimate" reasons for firing her. Several lawsuits brought by dismissed female coaches have claimed discrimination based on perceived sexual orientation. If they were out perhaps they could build a stronger case. This is all speculation of course, but it doesn't seem that this whole asexual facade is working all that well for gay coaches.
Of course the coming out and coming together potential is somewhat negated by the fact that the professional organization for coaches of women's basketball, the WBCA, could be seen as part of the problem. Though the organization has created an ethics committee and is examining and planning to hold seminars on "ethical recruiting," it is the same organization that decided not to show Training Rules, the documentary about the negative recruiting and atmosphere created by Rene Portland, former coach at Penn State. Also note the Auriemma is the current president of the WBCA.
Second, the belief, as expressed by Janel McCarville of the New York Liberty and formerly of University of Minnesota: the younger generation will change things because they do not care about sexual orientation in the way older people do. But I worry that this not caring is part of the problem. If you're a young female athlete, gay or straight, and sexual orientation is just another unnecessary label you don't want to put on yourself, will you really care if one of the schools recruiting you is offering subtle hints that they are not gay--especially when what you really want to do is play basketball at a high level? To actually deal with the problem, people have to be more proactive. This includes my above suggestion about coaches coming out. But it also means punishing the coaches who engage in unethical recruiting by NOT GOING to their programs. A recruit might see herself as a basketball player first and attempt to believe that her sexuality has nothing to do with her athletic identity, but being gay matters. It matters so much that it is used to penalize some and reward others.

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