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Female coaches face double threat of sexism, homophobia

Only 40 percent of women’s teams coached by women



female coaches, gay news, Washington Blade
female coaches, gay news, Washington Blade

Some have questioned whether Shannon Miller’s outspokenness as a lesbian factored into the University of Minnesota Duluth not renewing her contract as ice hockey coach. (UMD staff photo)

Seemingly, 2014 was a banner and historic year for female coaches.

For the first time ever, four women coaches met in the conference finals of the WNBA; Becky Hammon became the NBA’s first full-time female assistant coach as a member of the San Antonio Spurs’ staff; and Rachel Balkovec cracked the Major League Baseball locker room, becoming MLB’s first-ever female strength and conditioning coach (for the St. Louis Cardinals).

But the news for women coaches isn’t as good as it appears. According to research conducted by the NCAA, only 40 percent of women’s sports teams are coached by women (down from 90 percent when Title IX was introduced in 1972), and there are fewer than 300 total women coaches leading men’s teams — a miniscule 2 percent.

Add to that the recent news of Iowa’s prominent field hockey coach Tracey Greisbaum being fired or the decision to not renew the contract of Minnesota Duluth’s ice hockey coach Shannon Miller, despite her leading the team to five NCAA championships and developing 28 Olympians in her time, and there’s clearly a problem.

Some have questioned whether Miller’s outspokenness as an out lesbian had anything to do with her dismissal, and it’s definitely a worry that has to be on the mind of any female coach when discussing her sexual orientation. It’s why many female coaches who are gay stay closeted for fear of losing their jobs.

“The thinking has always been — for both straight and lesbian coaches — keep your head down, do your job, win, and you’ll succeed. These two coaches have shown that that truism doesn’t hold up,” says Nancy Hogshead-Makar, CEO of Champion Women, which advocates equality, accountability and transparency in sports. “Particularly in Shannon Miller’s case, I believe she was fired because she was so successful. Her success gave her a power base that the male coaches and (athletic directors) wouldn’t ever have.”

Roger Brigham, who in 1982 became one of the first sports reporters to come out as gay, has long championed equality for all in sports. He feels female coaches have been under attack for decades and only recently are people becoming aware of the institutional and cultural discrimination they face.

“They are routinely underpaid when their salaries are compared with male peers and they are held to a double standard on conduct that essentially infantilizes female athletes with its implication that the female athletes are not as emotionally tough as males and therefore need to be protected,” he says. “Female coaches also have to deal with the presence of the male-monopoly in the massive sacred cow that is known as football. In short, women coaches, heterosexual or gay, are faced with a system that is stacked against them.”

Brigham says that the cases of Greisbaum and Miller will have a general chilling effect and may make more coaches reluctant to leave the closet, but also hopes both expose the built-in homophobia and sexism in the institutions and will activate people to fight those things harder.

“I would also hope that the cases would make closeted coaches realize the sense of security a closet provides is false and the greatest control they can have over their lives and careers is by being as open and honest about who they are as they can possibly be,” he says. “Look at the support the athletes of both coaches expressed when their coaches came under attack. Clearly the athletes knew the sexual orientation of their coaches and it was a non-issue for them.”

Hogshead-Makar, who is also a civil rights lawyer, said Greisbaum’s case makes it clear that lesbian coaches will be evaluated differently, based on gender stereotypes. It’s something she is fighting to change and she wants to start with Mark Emmert’s leadership at the NCAA.

“Mark Emmert is not friendly to women; I cannot think of a single decision that has benefitted women. In my four years with the Women’s Sports Foundation, and almost a year at Champion Women, our efforts to get the NCAA to adopt female-friendly policies were regularly ignored,” she says. “It was a completely different story under his predecessor, Myles Brand.”

The first step in improving the disparity, Hogshead-Makar notes, is recognizing the male bias in sports.

“If hiring committees receive training on bias, they’re more likely to hire diverse candidates,” she says. “I view male bias in sports as harming both women and particularly women of color, and the LGBT community, equally. I don’t think there can be success in one of these areas without the other.”

Brigham feels the best thing to do would be to erase the incredible imbalance created by football, requiring every school that has a football team to spend an equal amount on women’s football and have one female coach for every male coach.

“That kind of financial burden might be enough to make athletics directors and university presidents realize that way too much is spent in one sport and steps should be taken to reduce costs through smaller rosters, smaller coaching staffs and rule changes,” he says. “Of course, none of that is likely to happen. The number of women coaches will increase the day we eliminate sexism in all aspects of society and schools take proactive steps to adopt equal opportunity employment practices.”

Rick Leddy, senior director of communications for the National Association of Basketball Coaches, understands the problem but says not every school should be lumped into the bias.

“I have worked at a Division II school for more than three decades with many openly gay coaches, athletic administrators and athletes who were extremely successful and highly respected by me and our campus community in general,” he says. “It’s my hope that our society in general will become more accepting of all people, regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion or sexual preference and that everyone will have greater opportunities overall, including in sports and the coaching profession.”

According to Hogshead-Makar, there’s still a long way to go. She says homophobia is still a driving force in the decisions made in intercollegiate athletics and until something changes, the number of women coaches will continue to be small.



Brittney Griner, wife expecting first child

WNBA star released from Russian gulag in December 2022



Cherelle and Brittney Griner are expecting their first child in July. The couple shared the news on Instagram. (Photo courtesy of Brittney Griner's Instagram page)

One year after returning to the WNBA after her release from a Russian gulag and declaring, “I’m never playing overseas again,” Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner and her wife announced they have something even bigger coming up this summer. 

Cherelle, 31, and Brittney, 33, are expecting their first child in July. The couple shared the news with their 715,000 followers on Instagram

“Can’t believe we’re less than three months away from meeting our favorite human being,” the caption read, with the hashtag, #BabyGrinerComingSoon and #July2024.

Griner returned to the U.S. in December 2022 in a prisoner swap, more than nine months after being arrested in Moscow for possession of vape cartridges containing prescription cannabis.

In April 2023, at her first news conference following her release, the two-time Olympic gold medalist made only one exception to her vow to never play overseas again: To return to the Summer Olympic Games, which will be played in Paris starting in July, the same month “Baby Griner” is due. “The only time I would want to would be to represent the USA,” she said last year. 

Given that the unrestricted free agent is on the roster of both Team USA and her WNBA team, it’s not immediately clear where Griner will be when their first child arrives. 

The Griners purchased their “forever home” in Phoenix just last year.

“Phoenix is home,” Griner said at the Mercury’s end-of-season media day, according to ESPN. “Me and my wife literally just got a place. This is it.”

As the Los Angeles Blade reported last December, Griner is working with Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts — like Griner, a married lesbian — on an ESPN television documentary as well as a television series for ABC about her life story. Cherelle is executive producer of these projects. 

Next month, Griner’s tell-all memoir of her Russian incarceration will be published by Penguin Random House. It’s titled “Coming Home” and the hardcover hits bookstores on May 7.

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Applause and criticism for Staley’s trans-inclusive stance

South Carolina Gamecocks women’s coach made comments on Sunday



South Carolina Gamecocks women's basketball head coach Dawn Staley. (NBC News Today YouTube screenshot)

If not for a conservative transphobic blogger, this moment should be a celebration of NCAA women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley and the women of the South Carolina Gamecocks.

On Sunday, they concluded their undefeated season with a decisive win and a championship title. But when Staley faced reporters before that big game, Outkick’s Dan Zakheske asked her an irrelevant, clickbait question about transgender women in sports, referring to them as “biological males.” 

Staley could have ignored the question, or stated she had no opinion, but instead the legendary coach offered a crystal clear endorsement of trans women competing in women’s sports, something outlawed in her home state of South Carolina for girls in kindergarten through college. 

“I’m of the opinion,” said Staley, “If you’re a woman, you should play. If you consider yourself a woman and you want to play sports or vice versa, you should be able to play. That’s my opinion.”

Zakheske clearly wasn’t satisfied with that declaration of allyship and Staley swiftly cut him off. 

“You want me to go deeper?” she asked. 

“Do you think transgender women should be able to participate,” he started to say, when the coach stole the ball and took it downtown on a fastbreak. “That’s the question you want to ask? I’ll give you that. Yes. Yes. So, now the barnstormer people are going to flood my timeline and be a distraction to me on one of the biggest days of our game, and I’m okay with that. I really am.” 

Staley is herself a Hall of Fame player a leading voice for diversity. 

Reaction to her comments were swift, from LGBTQ rights organizations, athletes and inclusion opponents. 

“Coach Staley simply spoke the truth that trans women are women and should play if they want,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, in a post on Instagram. “All of us can take a page from Coach Staley’s playbook as a sports leader and as a person of high integrity guided by faith, compassion and common sense.” 

A White House pool reporter revealed President Joe Biden called Staley Sunday evening to congratulate her and the Gamecocks on their championship win. But it’s not clear if she and the president, an outspoken supporter of trans rights, discussed her remarks on trans athletes. 

A number of Black leaders in the LGBTQ movement applauded Staley for taking a stand. 

“Coach Staley has always been a trailblazer, but she’s also shown that true leadership is about advancing justice and equality for everyone,” said Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson. “By expressing her full-throated support for transgender athletes’ inclusion in sports, she’s sending an important message — our shared humanity matters. 

“Coach Staley showed courage and vulnerability, in choosing to answer the question and make a powerful statement of support for trans people on one of the biggest days and biggest stages in sports history,” said Kierra Johnson, executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, in a statement. “Not only does that make her a leader we can all aspire to like, it makes her a class act. She has etched her legacy in the history books with her play, her coaching, her heart and her smarts.”

In congratulating Staley on her championship title victory, Dr. David J. Johns, the CEO and executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, also commended her for “her unwavering advocacy and support for transgender people in sports.” 

“In a time when transgender athetes face unjust scrutiny, discrimination and exclusion from the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, her courage to speak truth to power and in support of inclusion and fairness sets a powerful example for us all, and is a testament to her integrity and compassion.”

The NBJC leader was referring to Monday’s announcement by the NAIA, the governing body of athletic programs at small colleges nationwide, voting 20-0 to essentially ban trans women from competing with other women beginning Aug. 1, as ESPN reported.

“It is a shocking and devastating development that the NAIA, an organization that has done so much to open doors, is now slamming those doors shut on transgender athletes,” said Sasha Buchert, Lambda Legal’s senior attorney and director of the organization’s nonbinary and trans rights project. 

“Instead of standing up in support of transgender young people, the NAIA has simply turned its back on them — permanently depriving them of the benefits of competition. Would that they had the courage of victorious University of South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley, who didn’t miss a beat in clarifying that transgender women should be able to play.” 

However, praise for Staley’s stance was not universal. 

Riley Gaines, failed former college swimmer and paid shill for the anti-inclusion organization, Independent Women’s Forum, called Staley “entirely incompetent or a sell-out” on Fox News. “Personally, I don’t think she believes what she said.” 

Gaines has turned her fifth-place tie with out trans NCAA champion Lia Thomas into a career as a crusader against inclusion and a former advisor to the presidential campaign of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Val Whiting, a former Stanford University and professional women’s basketball player, tweeted her strong disagreement with Staley. “A lot of my basketball sisters feel differently but trans women do not belong in women’s sports. It’s not fair nor safe for biological women. There has to be another solution for trans women to be able to compete athletically besides having them compete against biological women.” 

Zaksheske’s Outkick colleague, anti-trans pundit David Hookstead, also went all-in with a transphobic post. 

“Dawn Staley says she supports men who identify as women competing against real women in sports. Her view could literally destroy women’s basketball forever. Why won’t more people stand up for women?”

Hookstead then boasted that Staley blocked his account. 

Republican South Carolina Congresswoman Nancy Mace retweeted Zaksheske’s account of his interaction with Staley, calling her support of trans athletes “absolute lunacy.” That in turn won praise from Caitlyn Jenner, who retweeted Whiting and posted her thanks to Mace, along with this comment: “There is nothing complicated about this issue!” 

What is complicated is that Jenner has never explained why she has competed with cisgender women in golf ever since her transition almost a decade ago. 

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Caitlyn Jenner backs NY county transgender athletes ban

‘Let’s stop it now while we can’



Caitlyn Jenner endorses Nassau County's transgender athlete ban during a press conference. (YouTube screenshot)

Caitlyn Jenner flew from Malibu to New York this week to join her fellow Republicans in their nationwide quest to keep transgender girls and women from competing in sports with other women. 

“Let’s stop it now while we can,” said the Olympic gold medalist, at a news conference carried live by Fox News Channel. 

Republican Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman organized the event so that Jenner could speak in support of his February executive order banning trans athletes at more than 100 county-owned facilities. 

“Trans women are competing against women, taking valuable opportunities for the long-protected class under Title IX and causing physical harm,” said Jenner without providing supportive evidence of her claim. Jenner said the ban would defeat “the woke agenda.” 

Her comments drew praise from former NCAA swimmer and paid shill Riley Gaines, who represents the Independent Women’s Forum and has also worked with the failed presidential campaign of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida on his anti-trans athlete platform.

“If the left wants to fight this battle on this hill, it’s a losing battle,” said Jenner. “We will win the battle.” She claimed she spoke on behalf of women and girls, contradicting her past statements in support of trans girls competing according to their gender identity and despite the fact she herself still competes in women’s sports.

Shortly after the ban was announced last month, New York State Attorney General Letitia James and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, both Democrats, denounced it and accused Blakeman of “bullying trans kids.” 

James called the order “transphobic and deeply dangerous,” and argued that it violates the state’s anti-discrimination laws. The state attorney general challenged it in court March 1 with a “cease and desist letter,” demanding that Blakeman rescind the order, saying it subjects women’s and girls’ sports teams to “invasive questioning.”

As the Los Angeles Blade reported, Blakeman’s legal team countered with its own lawsuit on March 5, claiming her cease and desist letter violates the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.

“Not only was the executive order legal, but we had an obligation to defend it,” Blakeman said Monday. 

The order has also been challenged by the New York Civil Liberties Union, which filed suit last week on behalf of a women’s roller derby league based in Nassau County that welcomes trans women and would be barred from using the county’s facilities by Blakeman’s executive order.

Just days before the Long Island news conference, Jenner joined Olympian Sharron Davies, who also campaigns against trans inclusion in sports, for an conversation with a British newspaper, the Telegraph, which has been outspoken against trans inclusion. 

They recalled that in their day, tests to determine sex were mandatory in order to compete, and Jenner said she has been “pushing” for sex tests to return to sports, decades after sports organizations around the world abandoned the practice because they were unreliable. “If they continue down this road, it will be pretty much the end of women’s sport as we know it.”

“I can still hit a golf ball 280 yards,” Jenner continued, not mentioning she plays from the ladies’ tee. She did however opine about not being “a real woman,” acknowledging that many trans women disagree with her view. 

“They keep saying, ‘Oh, I’m a real woman, I’m a real woman,’ and I’m going, ‘No, you’re not,’” said Jenner. “I will use your preferred pronouns, I will treat you as a female, you can run and dress and do whatever you want, I have nothing against that, it’s fine, but biologically you’re still male.”

She added: “​Let me explain — I am biologically male, OK? I’m XY. There’s nothing I can do to change that. If you believe in gender dysphoria, and I think most people do realize it’s not a disease, it’s a mental condition, just like some people are left-handed and some people are right-handed, it’s kind of the way you’re born and I’ve dealt with it my entire life.“

“I consider myself a trans person, I am still genetically male, I changed all of my ID right down to my birth certificate so technically yes, I am female, but on the other hand I know I’m not.”

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