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545 Athletes to NCAA: ‘You have been silent’ and we want you to take action to support trans student-athletes

A letter signed by hundreds of NCAA student-athletes demands the organization move tournaments out of states considering or enacting anti-transgender legislation.

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NCAA’s headquarters in Indianapolis, Ind.
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Hundreds of college athletes put their names to a letter to the National Collegiate Athletic Association in an act of solidarity with transgender student-athletes who have been targeted by almost two dozen state legislatures. The letter by 545 men and women, reported first by Sports Illustrated Wednesday, demanded the NCAA pull all tournaments from states that are engaged in anti-trans legislation.

“We, the undersigned NCAA student-athletes, are extremely frustrated and disappointed by the lack of action taken by the NCAA to recognize the dangers of hosting events in states that create a hostile environment for student-athletes,” they wrote at the start of their letter, which was addressed to NCAA President Mark Emmert and the NCAA Board of Governors.

“You have been silent in the face of hateful legislation in states that are slated to host championships, even though those states are close to passing anti-transgender legislation. All student-athletes should be safe and protected when competing in NCAA championships.”

According to SI, two cisgender runners from Washington University in St. Louis got the ball rolling: junior Aliya Schenck and senior Alana Bojar, along with GLAAD and Athlete Ally. Schenck and Bojar, who GLAAD identified as Athlete Ally Campus Chapter co-presidents, reportedly recruited athletes from at least 85 schools, including Duke, Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, Villanova and Maryland. The signatories play football, men’s and women’s basketball, soccer, cross-country, gymnastics, rowing and other NCAA sports.

“All of the anti-trans legislation sweeping the country is in direct violation of the NCAA’s 2016 nondiscrimination policy for championship events,” Anne Lieberman, Director of Policy and Programs for Athlete Ally, told Outsports in a statement. “Though the NCAA has continued to monitor the bills and has spoken out in support of trans athletes, the time is now for the NCAA to listen to hundreds of student athletes calling on them to clearly and unequivocally put the health and safety of all student-athletes first and condemn these horrific bills.”

“Sports are for everyone, and trans people pose no threat to sports participation or anywhere else,” said Serena Sonoma, GLAAD Communications Coordinator and Regional Media Lead, U.S. South, in a statement emailed to Outsports. “The NCAA should follow its own guidance issued to North Carolina years ago, and insist that all states hosting events be inclusive of all who want to participate. The message should be clear and unmistakable: Bans are wrong and trans people belong, in sports and everywhere in the world.”

In 2016 and 2017, the NCAA canceled championship games and moved tournaments out of Greensboro, N.C. because of that state’s anti-trans “bathroom bill” law, which was ultimately repealed, to some degree. That NCAA boycott cost North Carolina in excess of 14-million dollars in lost revenue.

Right now in at least 23 states, bills calling for efforts to ban transgender student-athletes from competition and other measures calling for limiting and even criminalizing gender-affirming health care are on the table, as our Karleigh Webb reported.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem are both set to sign bills banning transgender students-athletes. Each bill was modeled on a similar measure that was signed into law last March in Idaho, but remains subject to a temporary injunction after being challenged in federal court.

As of press time, the NCAA had not responded to our request for a statement. The last anyone heard from the NCAA was last month, when we received this statement in response to our request for their opinion of anti-trans legislation in Montana:

“The NCAA is aware of Montana’s HB 112 and continues to closely monitor this bill, as well as other state bills and federal guidelines that impact transgender student-athlete participation.

“The NCAA believes in fair and respectful student-athlete participation at all levels of sport.

“The Association’s transgender student-athlete participation policy and other diversity policies are designed to facilitate and support inclusion.

“The NCAA believes diversity and inclusion improve the learning environment and it encourages its member colleges and universities to support the well-being of all student-athletes.”

And even though most of these measures target trans girls and women, Arizona’s trans boys and young men could also lose the right to participate in youth and college sports aligned with their gender identity.

“The NCAA can no longer turn away from what is happening here,” Chris Mosier told SI. The Team USA trans duathlete reportedly played a role in composing the letter. Late Wednesday, Mosier provided a statement to Outsports: “The NCAA has an anti-discrimination statement for Championship events and it is clear that states with anti-trans bills are unable to provide an environment where all NCAA athletes will feel safe and welcomed. I’m proud of these students for speaking up and holding NCAA accountable.”