(This story was published in 2006).

By: Helen Carroll (Sports Project Director, NCLR)

I had the privilege of participating in an event which will transform college athletics forever by taking initial steps to eradicate a prevalent, damaging, and discriminatory practice. The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) co-hosted an inaugural Think Tank on Homophobia in Sport, the first event of its kind, of national experts and policymakers to address “negative recruiting,” the practice of playing on irrational stereotypes to deter recruits from going to rival schools based on allegations that a rival coach or team members are lesbian or gay.

The Think Tank took place this fall in Indianapolis, Indiana at NCAA headquarters. Top sports leaders from across the country, including NCAA staff, athletic directors, coaches and athletes, conference commissioners, researchers, and coaching organization representatives, came together with a shared vision of eliminating negative recruiting. This group of key leaders explored solutions and developed concrete action steps to establish a positive environment for LGBT student-athletes and their teammates, as well as coaches and athletic directors, which will profoundly change the climate for all involved in collegiate sports.

As a former NCAA Athletic Director and National Championship Basketball Coach, I know firsthand the importance of addressing discrimination in college athletics. Putting an end to negative recruiting is critical not only to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender players and coaches, but also to attract and retain the best, most qualified coaches. As long as any athlete or coach can be harmed by being tagged with the “lesbian” or “gay” label, the goal of achieving true equality in sports will remain out of reach.

In 2007, NCLR will continue to work closely with the NCAA to develop effective strategies to overcome discriminatory behavior. The event couldn’t have been more perfectly timed. Early next year, the NCAA will conduct its first-ever national campus climate survey—the beginning of a process of change that will transform the environment of intercollegiate athletics. Other initial steps include:

  • A subcommittee consisting of the NCAA, NCLR, and other participants will develop a “Best Recruiting Practices” paper initiating policy change and discouraging unethical practices based on negative recruiting.
  • Student athletes will report the outcome of the Think Tank to their national NCAA Student Advisory Committees.
  • The NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics will suggest an examination of NCAA legislation to identify any needed revisions to (omit-bylaws and) regulations to address discrimination issues.
  • The NCAA Coaching Academies and the National Association for Collegiate Women Athletic Administrators will include discussion of negative recruiting in their course curricula.

These and the many other sport conference meetings, NCAA committee management council actions, and college presidents involvement will go a long way toward changing the climate in sports to be more affirming and inclusive.

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