EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect the NCAA’s announcement of locations for Division I Softball tournaments.
Once again, the NCAA was asked to take a firm stand on moving championships from states with trans athlete bans.
And once again, the NCAA is being evasive.
This week, the heads of GLAAD and Athlete Ally signed an open letter to the NCAA days ahead of the anticipated announcement of the DI colleges and universities that will host softball championships. They asked the NCAA governors to refuse to hold those preliminary rounds —and possibly super regionals — at six schools in states targeting transgender athletes for discrimination.
The NCAA announced the locations Saturday: One in Mississippi and two in Alabama — two states that have banned trans athletes — and there could be more where the schedule says “Location of highest seed.”
Of the seven states that have so far either outlawed or appear ready to ban trans student-athletes, Alabama and Mississippi and four other states are potential hosts for those other tournaments: Arkansas, Florida, Tennessee, and Texas. In addition to Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee, three more states — Idaho, Mississippi and West Virginia — already have anti-trans laws on the books; South Dakota has an executive order and Florida and Texas are on the verge of joining the list.
On Friday, the NCAA responded, and pretty much said nothing.
“The NCAA Board of Governors firmly and unequivocally supports the opportunity for transgender student-athletes to compete in college sports and believes they can do so fairly with cisgender competitors,” the note reads. “We are also concerned with the laws that you noted in several states and are tracking them and their pending effective dates closely. We will continue to follow our established championships selection process to ensure hosts for our Division I Softball Championship and all championships are able to foster an environment free from discrimination.”
Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, responded to the NCAA in a statement to Outsports:
“We are concerned about the lack of clarity in the NCAA’s response to our very direct questions. The NCAA reiterated its 2016 inclusion policy, as it should, to only host events in states that do not discriminate — so why announce locations in states with discriminatory laws in the first place? It does not matter when a harmful bill or law might be enacted, or whether a team has an out transgender player. All athletes are endangered by these bills that can impose invasive gender verification screenings. All LGBTQ youth hear the damaging message of exclusion when their authentic identity and expression is not recognized and respected,” said Ellis. “We will continue to engage and urge the NCAA to insist on inclusive host sites so that all athletes and fans feel welcome. There’s still time to find a winning solution for all.”
Last month, the NCAA issued another statement saying it was continuing to “monitor the situation” regarding legislative efforts to exclude transgender kids from playing sports. Since then, more states, including Texas and Florida, have moved to enact their own bans.
There is building pressure on the NCAA to take a stronger stand on trans inclusion. In March, 545 college athletes called on the organization to pull championships from states with anti-trans legislation.
Notably, the NCAA took much more concrete actions against North Carolina’s anti-LGBTQ legislation five years ago, temporarily pulling championships from the state. This time around, the NCAA is shamefully trying to have it both ways.
Dear Sarah and Hudson:
Thank you for your letter and for your advocacy for transgender students. We appreciate your continued attention to the laws regarding transgender student-athlete participation in sport across the country. As the NCAA’s senior vice president of inclusion, education and community engagement, I am responding on the NCAA’s behalf.
As you noted, the NCAA Board of Governors firmly and unequivocally supports the opportunity for transgender student-athletes to compete in college sports and believes they can do so fairly with cisgender competitors. Our long-standing policy demonstrates our commitment to transgender student-athlete inclusion and fair competition.
We are also concerned with the laws that you noted in several states and are tracking them and their pending effective dates closely. We will continue to follow our established championships selection process to ensure hosts for our Division I Softball Championship and all championships are able to foster an environment free from discrimination. Our championships policy requires that safeguards are in place to ensure the dignity of everyone involved in our events, and we work closely with host sites to address any concerns that may arise. It is our clear expectation that all NCAA student-athletes will be welcomed, treated with respect, and have nondiscriminatory participation wherever they compete.
Thank you again for writing to us.
NCAA Senior Vice President of Inclusion, Education and Community Engagement