CAT | Sports Idiots
Yesterday, U.S. District Judge John Coughenour ruled that the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance (NAGAAA) could limit the number of “non-gay” players allowed on softball teams participating in major tournaments.
I think this is the wrong conclusion from a legal perspective (which I’ll address at the bottom of this post to make it easier for anyone who is not into that sort of thing to avoid it), but more importantly, I think NAGAAA is doing a major disservice to the LGBT community by fighting to keep its “non-gay” exclusion policy.
The case, if you have not heard about it yet, arises from an incident at the 2008 Gay Softball World Series. At the tournament, D2, a team in the A Division (the highest division you of NAGAAA), was challenged for having too many non-gay players.
The interrogation process was the most offensive part of the story. Three players from D2 were brought into a room individually and questioned in front of 25 random people about their sexual histories, whether they were predominantly attracted to men or women, etc.
(You can read a thorough description of the facts of the case in the plaintiff’s complaint, available here, starting on page 7.)
(Although the judge ruled to allow NAGAAA to keep its policy to limit the number of “non-gays,” the case is proceeding to determine if the players have any remedy for the intrusion and subsequent emotional damage from the interrogation.)
I am sure that NAGAAA admits that the interrogation was uncalled for and unprofessional. And I’m assuming they have updated their policies to try to prevent something like this from ever happening again. However, how you can “confirm” someone’s sexual identity without being intrusive is beyond me.
Improving their enforcement process is not enough.
NAGAAA needs to scrap the entire policy for two main reasons: (1) how it categorizes and (2) how it stereotypes.
(1) NAGAAA’s “non-gay” exclusion policy is founded on antiquated views of sexuality and is incredibly offensive.
This is the most important reason. I cannot believe more people are not offended by this. Hell, I cannot believe the entire LGBT/Queer community is not pissed off about this.
I put “non-gay” in quotes in this entire piece to highlight it. The NAGAAA policy interprets this language as a strict binary. You can have as many “gays” as you want on a team, but only two “non-gays.”
“Non-gays” does not only include heterosexuals. It includes bisexuals, pansexuals, those who are questioning, etc.
When one of the players was being interrogated, a member of the NAGAAA Protest Committee told him, “This is the Gay World Series, not the Bisexual World Series.” (Plaintiff Complaint at page 11.)
That is such an offensive and brainless comment. I am dumbfounded that NAGAAA embraces such an outdated view of sexuality and labels.
So much of the community’s struggle has been to distance society from the need to label people based on their sexuality or to live in these strict binaries of male/female, man/woman, gay/straight.
For this reason alone, the policy needs to be removed.
(2) Straight men will not ruin the culture of the league.
Most the people I have talked to that defend the policy do so on two grounds: (1), they are worried about harassment from straight bullies, and (2) they are worried that teams will “stack” their team with talented straight guys.
Both of these arguments are unfounded and shortsighted.
The first argument goes that if the policy is gone, so many straights will join the league that the culture of the sport no longer feels safe for gay men. (Part of the argument is that the leagues initially formed to create this safe culture and that the leagues shouldn’t have to change.)
Sorry, but this view is incredibly paranoid. Straight men are not going to band together in order to infiltrate a gay softball league so they have fresh targets to bully.
Most players in these leagues find them by invitation from a friend. Homophobic straight guys will not get that invitation.
Most importantly, the solution to this problem is simple. Do not exclude players because of their sexuality; exclude them if they are homophobic.
Am I missing anything? Wouldn’t that take care of the fears?
Secondly, proponents of the policy cite to the risk to the competitive balance of the sport.
Again, I think this argument lacks any sort of merit. NAGAAA has a pretty extensive rating system for players. You have to get rated before you can join, and if you’re too good for your division, you have to move up a division.
So, if some team wants some amazing straight softball player on their team, eventually they’ll have to move up divisions to retain those players.
If you’re in the A Division (the top division) you are seriously good at softball. If a bunch of straight guys come in and dominate the A division, increase your rating scale, create an A+ division, and put them (and anyone else at that level) in that division.
Again, am I missing something?
Additionally, the policy, as a general matter, is offensive for perpetuating a stereotype that straight men are superior at sports than gay men.
And what if you’re a straight guy, who sucks at softball, who wants to play softball with your gay friends? Tough luck, bud, those two precious “non-gay” spots are reserved for superstar straight athletes.
That whole idea, and the associated stereotyping, pisses me off.
Legal Mumbo Jumbo
Even though I’ve rambled on quite a bit, I said I’d talk about why I think the legal conclusion made by Judge Coughenour is wrong. (And since I wrote a paper about Boy Scouts v Dale, the case that allowed the Boy Scouts to exclude gays that Judge Coughenour relied on, last semester, I probably should chime in.)
Unfortunately, I was unable to find Judge Coughenour’s actual opinion, so I’m basing my thoughts solely on what has been reported.
The Associated Press writes that, “U.S. District Judge John Coughenour ruled Tuesday that the organization has a First Amendment right to limit the number of heterosexual players, much as the Boy Scouts have a constitutional right to exclude gays.’
“It would be difficult for NAGAAA to effectively emphasize a vision of the gay lifestyle rooted in athleticism, competition and sportsmanship if it were prohibited from maintaining a gay identity,” the judge wrote.
In Boy Scouts v. Dale, Chief Justice Rehnquist, writing for the majority of five Justices, concluded that BSA had an official view opposing homosexuality and that its freedom to express that view was significantly affected by forced inclusion of gay members. (And yes, I just copied/pasted that word-for-word from my paper.)
Rehnquist concluded that this official view came from the Boy Scout Law and Oath that men by “morally straight” and “clean.” While that conclusion is suspect, as Justice Stevens expresses in his dissenting opinion, reaching a similar conclusion for NAGAAA—a need to exclude “non-gays” as a means to expressively associate—is even more farfetched.
NAGAAA’s stated mission is to promote “amateur sports competition, particularly softball, for all persons regardless of age, sexual orientation, or preference, with special emphasis on the participation of members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community.”
Do you think the Boy Scouts’ right to exclude gay members would have be upheld if they had “regardless of sexual orientation” in their mission statement? Or if they allowed only 2 gay members per Troop?
The answer is no. Once an organization officially recognizes that it will not discriminate based on sexual orientation, they no longer can argue that they have a 1st Amendment right to exclude heterosexuals as a means of expressive association.
(Nevermind the fact that NAGAAA’s mission states that it would put a special emphasis on the participation on members of the bisexual and transgender community, yet their policy distinguishes by “gay” and “non-gay.”)
Lastly, Judge Coughenour wrote, “Plaintiffs have failed to argue that there is a compelling state interest in allowing heterosexuals to play gay softball.”
That “compelling state interest” language is critical because it shows that the judge applied a strict scrutiny standard of review for the constitutional issue. The Supreme Court has never said that strict scrutiny applies to discrimination based on sexual orientation. Under a lower standard of review, it’s more likely that NAGAAA’s policy would not survive.
Hazing, an undeniable truth in athletics in this country, occurs at all levels – high school, college, and in the pros. It is justified as beneficial for building a team, for team camaraderie. By subjecting yourself to the hazing, the player says: “I’m willing to endure this to be a part of the team.” It’s an endless cycle that pits upperclassmen/veterans against underclassman/rookies: since you survived it as the newcomer to the team, it entitles you to return the favor once you climb the ranks.
Commonly, hazing can be relatively harmless: having a freshman carry the seniors’ pads to the locker room, forcing a player to sing the school’s fight song at a team lunch, or in the NFL, where funds are more abundant, having the rookie buy members of the team a nice meal (example: Dez Bryant picking up a $54,896 tab). But at what point do the risks of hazing going too far – of causing serious bodily injury, emotional humiliation, and sexual violations – call into question these traditions entirely?
That is the question we’re left to consider after Reuters released the report today of 5 recent high school athletes who are being charged with misdemeanor and felony counts of “forcible sexual penetration using a foreign object” for hazing that occurred while playing basketball at a high school in Blackfoot, Idaho, last year.
Charged are Nathan Walker, Logan Chidester, Tyson Katseanes, Anthony Clark (whose name will be attached most prominently as he is now a football player at Boise State University), and a fifth unnamed defendant who is under age 18. Each of the players has been suspended from their current collegiate teams.
Hazing does go beyond athletics as a 2008 University of Maine study found that 55 percent of college students involved in clubs, teams and organizations had been hazed. But, it does seem that the extreme form of hazing that seems to pop up in the news every couple of years is related to a sports team.
So is there a solution? The Blackfoot school district adopted anti-harassment and anti-bullying policies in 2006, three years before these incidents. Do athletes feel invincible or above those types of policies? Probably a little, but that certainly should not justify these charges. I also don’t think the policies have any effect on the culture of hazing in sport.
How closely should coaches and team personnel monitor players? Should they stop hazing in any capacity hoping it will establish a no-tolerance for the conduct, and thus, hopefully, break the cycle of hazing? Should players be required to watch a training video on permissible (assuming you think hazing, in some forms, is acceptable) versus non-permissible hazing?
I hate asking questions without having answers, but I’m at a loss on this one. Any ideas?
When FIFA announced that Russia and Qatar would host the 2018 and 2020 World Cups, respectively, cries of corruption rang out across the globe. England has declared it will not make any more bids for the Cup until the voting process becomes more transparent. A consultant for Australia, after the country received only 1 vote in the preliminary round, responded by saying, “The most fundamental mistake we made … is that we played it clean.”
After the initial shock of the selection sunk in, people then considered, what will it be like to have the World Cup in Qatar?
The second wave of criticism of the selection followed. First, Qatar law prohibits drinking alcohol in public, a major downer for many fans of sport. Second, homosexuality is illegal in the country.
On Monday, FIFA President Sepp Blatter made an attempt to address these two concerns, yet his remarks only make it worse.
His first statement, apparently jokingly: “homosexual fans should refrain from any sexual activities.”
But, more so, consider that statement in light of his following remarks: “We open everything to everybody and I think there shall not be any discrimination against any human beings … Football is a game that does not affect any discrimination. You may be assured … if people want to watch a match in Qatar in 2022, they will be admitted to matches.”
So, you claim that soccer does not discriminate, yet by saying only a certain group of people should refrain from an activity, you are, by definition, clearly advocating for discrimination. Oh, you mean, you’re only concerned about eliminating the discrimination at the ticket gate, so you can still take our money, but discrimination beyond that – you know, selecting a host country that is one of the most anti-gay in the world – is okay. Pathetic.
And, hypothetically, if Qatar remains as homophobic as it is now and other countries around the globe continue to progress towards full equality for the gay community, will any countries boycott the Cup like the 1980 Summer Olympic games in Soviet Russia? I would hope so.
Today, it has come out that Miami Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland, while conducting a pre-draft interview with Dez Bryant, asked if Bryant’s mom was a prostitute. Naturally, this has caused uproar in the national sports media outlets. That type of question crosses every possible line that could exist for a pre-employment job screening interview and is completely irrelevant to assessing a player’s athletic abilities.
I don’t mind all of this coverage. It all needs to be said. Ireland’s questioning was unacceptable. Teams should not be able to show such disrespect for players and their private lives during the pre-draft process.
But, I HAVE to ask:
Where was the national media coverage when Bryant had to talk about his mother’s sexuality AND when he said “I didn’t like it. Really, I still don’t”?
I realize I can’t dictate what stories become news and those that do not. But I cannot believe that a story about a high-profile draftee being so homophobic, directed specifically at his own mother, gets ignored while another question to that same player about his mother is creating such a scene.
There is also a second part of this overall story that could be extremely disturbing, if true. I have no way to confirm this, but I did consider: could Bryant’s mother’s sexuality have influenced Ireland to give more clout to the prostitution rumor? Would he have asked the question if she were straight or would he tossed the rumor aside as nonsense?
I would love to be able to ask that of Ireland and to get a truthful answer.
The questions is grossly archaic—bringing us back to the days when a woman’s role in society was to be a stay-at-home mom—yet, the question is just now being addressed and traditional coaching roles being challenged. Remember: the sports world is old-fashioned and grounded in its views of gender norms. (Check back tomorrow when we expand the question to consider if gays and lesbians can/should coach.)
The question has come to issue with Coolidge High in Washington DC announcing on March 12th that Natalie Randolph will be their head football coach (Washington Post article here). Randolph joins Debbie Vance, from Lehman High in Bronx, NY, as the only female high school football head coaches.
Randolph is certainly qualified: she has played five seasons in the Independent Women’s Professional League and was an assistant coach for two years at another DC high school. Further, according to the Post’s article, she is very well-liked by the students and the players; when she was introduced to the team, she was met with overwhelming applause.
She acknowledges that people will have negative things to say, but she will not be swayed: “I can’t control what people say. The first thing is, I love football, no matter whose domain it is. I’m going to do it. If I let people dictate what I do, I wouldn’t be where I am.”
Vernon Davis, tight end for the San Francisco 49ers who grew up in the DC area, blew up his Twitter and provided the predictable arguments against having a woman head coach. Here are some of his tweets:
- Back home in dc where I grew up, a nearbye high school just hired all women to coach the varsity football team. That is ridiculous
- A woman can’t relate to a boy like a man can in my opinion! What do you all think about that? They even have a woman strength coach.
- Football is a mans sport way, not woman. That’s why there is cheerleading and other things.
- Females can do anything, but a boy will respond to a man better than a woman when partcipating in this game of football.
- You show me a woman that can run a better route than Jerry Rice then j will let her be my coach.
- I wish the woman coaches all the luck in the world and hope they become successful at what they are doing. I agree, anything is possible.
Okay, now ignoring that last tweet which screams of agent-imposed-damage-control and the remarks that are absurd (suggesting cheerleading as what women should be doing), the valid themes are that players need a male coach to be like a father—tough, disciplined, authoritarian—and that you need to be able to play the sport in order to coach it. I guess I’ll just address these arguments in order:
(1) You need a male coach to instill discipline, be a father figure, blah, blah, and blah.
This argument stems from the militaristic style of coaching that tears down the players and builds them back up as a team. The coaching style definitely has its merits: it does build discipline and character, it does build team camaraderie, and it does challenge boys to become men, as cliché as that sounds. The argument is furthered by suggesting that these values traditionally are instilled by a father, and as many of these players may not have a father-figure in their life, that the male coach should fill the role.
To counter these points, I would just say first, the authoritarian style can easily go too far and become abusive (see: Mark Mangino); second, there are women that are just as capable of being tough if needed; third, just as a man may be able to get the most out of his players being tough, a woman may be equally successful building a team being compassionate, discovering what motivates the players, etc.; and fourth, there are many sources needed for both father and mother figures—football is not the exclusive source, and further, a female coach can be an important mother-figure as well.
On this topic, the football practice scene from The Blind Side comes to mind (if you haven’t seen the movie yet, go rent it). In it, the Michael Oher character is new to practice with his coach trying to teach him techniques of blocking. With progress slow, Oher and his coach both get frustrated. Then, Oher’s adopted mother Leigh Anne Tuohy, played by Sandra Bullock, walks up to Michael and says, “This team is your family, Michael. When you look at him, you think of me. Now you have my back. Are you going to protect your family, Michael?” He responds, “Yes, ma’am,” and from that point forward is a dominant left tackle. I don’t know if this is one of those iconic scenes from the movie that is true or Hollywood-embellished, but it illustrates the point: there are various ways to get everyone to perform and sometimes it is the non-traditional, other-gendered perspective that is most successful.
(2) You need to be able to play the sport to coach it.
I infer this argument from VD’s tweet that he’d allow a woman coach if she can run a route as good as Jerry Rice. Again, there are certainly benefits if a coach has experience playing the game, but it is by no means a requirement. Again, see: Mark Mangino, only this time actually see him. There is no way he could run a route as good as Jerry rice, or a route at all for that matter, but he coached Division I football for years. Further, football is a sport where the positions require such distinct skill sets that very few have ever been equipped to play at different places (George Blanda, quarterback-slash-kicker extraordinaire, comes to mind as an exception). If it was required that you could do the job of each position in order to coach, there would be no qualified male coaches either.
Jamele Hill, an ESPN personality who I was fortunate enough to meet a few years ago at Leigh Steinberg’s Super Bowl party, is always on the scene when race or gender gets brought up. After VD’s tweets, the idea of a woman coach became the focus of Hill’s twitter for a few hours. She seemed especially keen to point out the fallacy in suggesting you must have athletic ability to coach:
- OK w/ comment abt young boys responding differently 2 women. but @VernonDavis85 4got his coaches cant run J rice route, either.
- If ur against women coaching fb, fine. but dont make it an athletic argument. plenty of bad/mediocre male athletes are coaches
Let’s also not forget that Randolph does play. Five years in a woman’s professional league surely makes her more experienced than many of her male counterparts across the country.
Ultimately, coaching positions, like any other job, should be given based on qualifications. Race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. should not be disqualifying traits. If you can do the job, you can do the job. Check back tomorrow as I write the 2nd part to this coaching question: can/should gays and lesbians coach?