Wednesday, September 21, 2022

The character of coaches: Shane Beamer's outburst

 Most semesters I start off my ethics course with an article about the connection between sports and character building. It inspires debate, requires an assessment of data, and sets the tone for the course in which I am asking my students to check their preconceptions in order to effectively engage in a process of moral reasoning. 

We discuss definitions of character and how those definitions are often shifted or ignored when considering actions and decisions that happen in the context of sports. While many students will start to see that sports are not automatic character builders, that mere participation does not make someone a better person, they will take exception to the idea that unethical things done "in the heat of battle" does not make one unethical or speak badly of sport itself. In other words, the drive to win sometimes makes people do unethical things, but that's kind of just the nature of sports. 

But doesn't an ethical person, by virtue of being ethical, do the right thing regardless of "the moment"? I ask.  

Later in the semester we read a piece about virtue ethics and coaching in which the authors demonstrate the moral imperative coaches have to behave ethically and teach ethical behavior that, in fact, this is their primary responsibility--above winning and even above skill building. The majority of my students have experienced bad coaching. We fill the board with their examples. But few have ever questioned why so many of them have had bad coaching experiences. 

If we truly want sports to build character, we must acknowledge that coaches are crucial components in modelling character. This rarely gets discussed though. And it is never a requirement for consideration when we talk about "good coaches." I still hear people call Joe Paterno a great coach. 

Last weekend, University of South Carolina football coach, Shane Beamer, yelled at women athletes who were brought onto the field to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Title IX. He wanted them off so the game--which was at a critical juncture--could proceed. He claims he was not aware that the ceremony was happening (yet also goes on to explain how much of a women's sports fan he is and that he has sport-playing daughters so...there was a celebration of the law that likely led to his daughters' ability to play sports yet he was unaware. #thingsthatmakeyougohmmmm)

He apologized but in the same breath noted how he was so focused on this fourth down conversion and that other team was gaining an advantage and...and..."heat of the moment." Perhaps he thinks this focus and attention makes him a good coach. I think it makes him a bad coach. Because good character should be displayed in the most difficult moments. In the grand scheme of things, a 4th down conversion in a game you are losing--even in the SEC--is not an especially difficult moment. He did not model good character for his players. He modelled what has become very common in our sport culture: making a mistake in which a minoritized person or persons is a victim and apologizing with an asterisk (heat of the moment, in this case). He also, in the process, threw the officials under the bus saying that they told him to line his players up. Blaming the officials is also not good character. 

Sports do not magically make one a better person and research shows that actually the longer one stays in sports and the higher the level achieved, the less likely one is to have/display good character. Sadly, there are examples galore to use but no real movement to hold people--like coaches--responsible. 

Monday, August 29, 2022

Unreconciled racism: The BYU incident

 Last weekend, BYU fans directed racial slurs against several Black women on the Duke volleyball team. It seems that Rachel Richardson experienced the brunt of it including a threat from a white man in which she was told to "watch her back" on her way to the bus. She is the athlete who has spoken up about the violence. 

BYU responded late and poorly, but this was an all-around failure by all coaches and officials. 

It has been pointed out that BYU's response reflects their ignorance. Others have thrown up their hands in a "it's BYU--what do you expect?" kind of way. 

ALL institutions should already be doing this work. That Heather Olmstead, BYU coach, said that after talking to Richardson (and others) that she now "understand(s) areas where we can do better" is offensive. Stop asking Black people to educate you about racism. AND ALSO how do you not understand that yelling racial slurs is a problem? This is not an area to be worked on--this is an area that should be fully understood; there should be a plan in place for if this happens and more importantly a culture in which this behavior is not acceptable should already exist. 

This work should have been done already! This is basic stuff. Athletic departments and colleges/universities that are not having conversations about race, that do not have action plans in place are failing. 

This is not revelatory. 

The question/issue that remains for me is whether an institution such as BYU that has clearly not engaged at all with its racist, imperialist, and colonist past AND ongoing practices can actually do this work authentically. One of the Mormon church's crucial practices is missionary work. Missionary work is a form of imperialism. They recruit non-white people into their religion without having addressed the church's own history. How can BYU legitimately engage in anti-racist work? 

Arguably, the majority of higher ed institutions have not approached their own racism honestly, and many institutions fail to appropriately address and sanction racist fans (hey UIowa my alma mater, I am looking at you!) For some reason, BYU's actions and inactions seem more egregious, more hypocritical as they preach a morality that they cannot adhere to given their historical and current practices. 

Tuesday, August 09, 2022

That umbrella makes you a hypocrite

 Mariah Burton Nelson and Donna Lopiano, long-time women's sports advocates, have found "a fair and inclusive solution" to the "problem" of trans athletes--specifically trans women (because trans men are apparently inherently disadvantaged despite all that testosterone, the very substance that a mere blink of an eye ago everyone said meant everything in terms of advantage). 

They (presumably with their more visible/vocal and polarizing colleagues Nancy Hogshead-Makar and Martina Navratilova) have created the Women's Sports Umbrella. The umbrella, they claim, allows for anyone identifying as female to have a "team" experience. But if an athlete was assigned male at birth and transitioned after the age of 12, that person cannot compete alongside women. Well unless it is an individual sport in which case fine but the scores/times do not get included with the "real women's" scores, they get put into the trans category. (But rugby and other contact team sports--forget it; they will hurt someone with their dense dense bones.) The authors do not use the term real women of course; but all their rhetoric about how trans women are category-defying makes the implication easy to pick up. 

I am going to break down pieces of their Forbes column (linked above) in a moment, but first some context. It is clear that Burton Nelson and Lopiano are playing good cop to Makar and Navratilova's fascist cop. They use terms like inclusion and advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion training for coaches, teammates and administrators (which should already be happening). They call trans athletes brave and say they should not be sidelined for being who they are. 

But they are all still cops; they are all arguing for surveillance; they are all damaging the very entity they claim to protect and serve: women's sports. Because as much as they think that they are being all post-modern by recognizing that gender is not a binary, they themselves cannot actually get out of that binary and the traditional way of thinking that has reified western gender categories. This was cemented when they wrote: "our nonbinary solution is called the Women's Sports Umbrella." 

To be fair, the binary they actually invoke is the inclusion/exclusion one. But their "third" non-binary option is inspired they say because trans women do not fit the category of woman--"biologically speaking." This is the height of cis white women privilege. They are deciding that trans women are other; that they are a third category. They are taking a huge range of trans experiences and putting it into a "third" category. 

They keep invoking biology and categorization based on biology without acknowledging that humans create these categories and definitions. For example, some people in the past (and still) think they women who love women (which Burton Nelson does according to her website which states that she has a wife) are not actually real women because real women have a biologically based desire for men. The norm is heterosexuality. The whole lesbian panic in sports is based on the idea that these women are more like men and it includes a biological component: some people believed that lesbians were biologically advantaged. And it is not just about sexuality. Many people today still believe that Black people have biological advantages. Though no one says aloud anymore that Black women should compete in their own separate categories, that based-on-science belief is not in the distant past, nor has its effects disappeared. (A cursory look at the coverage of Serena Williams attests to this.) But certainly we all know that is not true anymore, one might retort. Do we? Who gets picked out for being suspiciously masculine? Whose sexuality and gender get questioned? 

There is a lot in this piece. I could point out the lack of nuance in the thinking and the violence that this perpetuates, but I want to end on the concept of fairness which is over and again uncritically invoked here and in other pieces about trans athletes. 

SPORTS ARE NOT FAIR. This discourse has done so much damage to so many marginalized people in ways I cannot begin to enumerate. It is again being used as a weapon against marginalized people. Even if these women have decided that fairness is based on bone density and lung capacity and testosterone, they have not ideologically committed to that. Because if they had, they would be advocating to abolish gender categories and create sports categories on the basis of those factors. But that's not the umbrella they have opened. Why? Because advantage--even if we look only at biological advantage and not economic and sociopolitical and cultural--is complicated and not reduceable to neat categorization. They refuse to acknowledge this messiness because it might mean having to ditch the umbrella and reconceptualize sports. 

person in green coat in rain and wind holding tightly to inverted umbrella

Thursday, June 30, 2022

What "Save Women's Sports" has wrought

There are so many anti-trans bills passed by and pending in state legislatures here in the United States that I cannot even begin to address them all except to say this has been a concerted movement targeting trans youth for several years now and it is horrifying.

The bill in Utah is my focus today. All the bills are horrible and saddening and enraging, but this all that and more. This one demonstrates the consequences of the anti-trans "save women's sports" movement.

The bill, which originated in 2021, bans children from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity. It was passed in March 2022, the governor vetoed it, the legislature overrode the governor's veto. 

Governor Cox, a Republican, expressed some compassion when explaining his veto of the bill. He cited that fact that Utah had four transgender children playing school-sponsored sports at the time. (I would argue that the number does not matter, but will save that post for another day.)

“Four kids who aren’t dominating or winning trophies or taking scholarships. Four kids who are just trying to find some friends and feel like they are a part of something. Four kids trying to get through each day,” Gov. Cox wrote in the letter. “Rarely has so much fear and anger been directed at so few. I don’t understand what they are going through or why they feel the way they do. But I want them to live. And all the research shows that even a little acceptance and connection can reduce suicidality significantly. For that reason, as much as any other, I have taken this action in the hope that we can continue to work together and find a better way.”

Like in other states that have passed anti-trans laws, Utah is facing a legal challenge from the families of trans children. This lawsuit is in its early stages.

Despite this challenge and fears that Utah will be passed over for events like the Olympics or the 2023 NBA All-Star Game (come on, NBA--use your power for good here) the legislature has moved forward with its assault on the dignity, rights, and health of children. The bill created the Utah School Activity Eligibility Commission whose members are appointed by the legislature. These members get to determine who is eligible to play girls' sports in the state by establishing a baseline range of physical characteristics that include height, weight, wingspan, flexibility, among others and by meeting with students whose eligibility is in question.  

Students who want to play girls' sports but whose birth certificates (for whatever reason) have them designated as male must submit documentation to this group (i.e. out themselves, i.e, endanger themselves) and meet with this group in a CLOSED session. What kind of traumatic events will occur behind those closed doors? [I am watching Under the Banner of Heaven on Hulu right now so my feelings about Utah are not very positive right now anyway.]

This is so very flawed and misogynistic and racist. Who is going to be targeted? Most definitely girls who are racial minorities and any girl who does not appear feminine enough. This is Caster Semenya all over again. Who is too strong, too tall, too wide? 

The commission will establish gendered baselines for all activities. So now what happens to the cisgender boy who is "too short" for volleyball or the cisgender girl who is "too tall" for field hockey? What happens to children with disabilities? What happens to children who weigh more than the baseline? 

The philosophy behind interscholastic sports is participation for the purpose of health, and emotional and social growth. They should not be promoting ableism, fat phobia, racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia. 

This is what the save women's sports movement has wrought. In arguing that we need all these (scientifically unsupported) regulations to make sports "safe" for cisgender, white, middle-class women, they have endangered so many people across ages, races, and socioeconomic classes. They have increased the surveillance of all women. They have increased gender- and race-based violence. All of the efforts to make sports more inclusive by combatting all the -isms I listed above are being erased by these so-called women's sport advocates. 

Monday, June 20, 2022

NCAA Inclusion Forum Talks Around Trans Inclusion

 [this is cross-posted. Original post is at Title IX Blog.]

 I virtually attended last week's NCAA annual Inclusion Forum which was celebrating Title IX but also included issues of BIPOC inclusion and athlete mental health (among others).

There was a panel on Thursday afternoon headlined by former Harvard swimmer Schuyler Bailar about trans athletes. 

When the conference was announced, I was curious about how the organization would approach--or even if they would--trans athletes given the recent seemingly abrupt change in their policy (January 2022--curiously amidst the growing visibility of Penn swimmer Lia Thomas). They moved from a not ideal but not totally horrible policy in which hormone levels (specifically testosterone) governed participation, to a we-are-cowards-kowtowing-to-the-misnamed-fear-mongering-save-women's-sports folks policy in which trans athletes are treated as cheaters constantly having to submit to surveillance. Additionally, the NCAA policy is basically a non-policy because they have decided to follow the "Olympic model" in which each college sport will follow the rules of its governing body. 

They have washed their hands of responsibility to throw the anti-trans activists off their backs, and they have sacrificed trans athletes in the process as well as compromising their own philosophy about the goal of college sports and inclusion and participation. To be fair, the organization has never truly adhered to that philosophy. [I will save a more thorough interrogation of the policy for another post.]  

The description of the panel in the agenda (available in the first link above) was as follows:

Session 1 | Beyond the Headlines: Understanding the Trans & Non Binary Student-Athlete Experience Media headlines and state laws have contributed to increased discussion about transgender and nonbinary athletes. Rarely are the perspectives of these athletes shared or included in these discussions. This session provides an opportunity to hear directly from a former trans student-athlete about their experience in college sports and to discuss with administrators how campuses can support all student-athletes around this subject. 

Schuyler told his story, the panel (there were two others who work in college athletics) answered some pre-set questions posed by the moderator, and we in the audience were allowed to submit questions in the Q&A window. Several of us asked questions about policy--the NCAA's and other organizations' policies. NONE of them were picked. 

In the chat, as things were winding down and it was clear these questions would go unasked, I commented on this fact. Schuyler saw my comment, in which I mentioned that these policies are a form of violence (because he had talked about violent threats against him on social media and anti-trans violence in general). He responded that the panel was not about policy but about showing the humanity of trans people by sharing the story of a trans person. 

Humanity is great; I wish the NCAA had more of it in fact. But framing this panel as one about humanity and then refusing to discuss policies that are the opposite of humane; that in fact are othering, is disingenuous. I am not directly blaming Schuyler Bailar. I am sure the directive was issued from on high. In fact, when I went to the panel description as it was presented on the meeting platform (different from the posted agenda), I found this addition: Please note, this session is not intended to discuss or go into detail around the NCAA's transgender student-athlete participation policy.

The humanity discourse was a cover. It allowed the NCAA to show a success story in Schuyler Bailar. It threw attention off of their own inhumane governance. It is a cover for the violence they are doing. It focused on one person, which has been a huge problem in ALL the discussions of trans athletes. They are focusing on individuals and not the larger philosophy(ies) and ethics of sport and human dignity. This approach has made lightning rods out of people such as Lia Thomas. It literally endangers lives by perpetuating the idea that trans people are not fully human; that they should be subjected to constant testing and monitoring and scrutiny. It was offensive that they approached the issue this way at a conference about inclusion. 

Wednesday, June 08, 2022

Confession: I don't care about rainbows


This perhaps make me an outsider in the LGBTQ+ community. Even before the concept of rainbow-washing was a thing, I was not especially drawn to companies/entities that displayed a rainbow flag. How did I know if it was genuine? What did the display of the flag even mean in terms of actions taken (or not); what did support/allyship look like? 

And so, I am not particularly disturbed that some players for the Tampa Bay Rays chose not to wear rainbow patches and rainbow logo hats during their recent Pride Night. Five players said it conflicted with their religious beliefs. While, yes, their discourse of conflict with beliefs and not judging/being welcoming is contradictory, that is not new when it comes to this issue. 

The patch/hat was an opt-in for players. Now we know more about the five players who chose not to participate. They don't support LGBT rights because they feel it conflicts with their religion. Ok. 

I am more interested in what the players who chose to wear the Pride gear feel and do. I am more interested in what the Rays as an organization do. 

I am currently finishing(ish) research/writing on the sports closet/coming out discourses. One of the issues that I take up is how sport organizations capitalize on things like Pride Nights and "support" for athletes who come out, but that such actions are not especially progressive nor do they represent how gay players themselves experience their workplaces (in the case of professional sports) on a daily basis. [Think about Raiders player Carl Nassib who had to play under Jon Gruden.]

Five players on one MLB team made it clear that they don't support gay rights. That does not offer us special insight into the Rays, the MLB, or professional sports. Some people don't want to be associated with gay things. This is not shocking. Given everything else happening in sports around gender, sexuality, race, I don't even find this incident especially dismaying. 

Tuesday, June 07, 2022

I'm back!

After a 6-year hiatus which I spent being on the academic job market, getting a TT job and getting tenure, I have returned to After Atalanta. I am excited about phase 2(?) of AA and getting back to more public scholarship. I have kept up a sporadic presence at the Title IX Blog, which I am solely in charge of now (yikes!), but am trying to be more consistent. Since so many of my current interests (trans policies, labor, ethics) fall outside Title IX or are only tangentially related, I wanted to come back here. 

I am not sure what form posts will take. Likely, some of them will resemble what I had been doing. I am planning one on the new Ohio law that allows anyone to question the sex of any female child playing sports. "Verification" would be done via genital, penetrative exams. 

But I imagine briefer "quick take" posts as well. Things too long for Twitter (I will be using @titleixblog for After Atalanta content as well) but definitely worth mentioning. (I have some about the Women's College World Series which culminates this week.)

Over the next weeks, I will be trying to clean up the blog--remove dead links, add new resources, etc. I have to think about how/if I will address the comments section as well. (Things are scary in social media!!)

Glad to be back!!