Sport needs to really step up on anti-LGBT states

Basketball in spotlightIt was the conservative right’s political version of a buzzer-beater.

While real issues swirled around North Carolina — economic, educational, environmental — the state’s General Assembly held a hurried special session to discuss … bathrooms.

Well, they did not actually discuss them. In just a couple of hours, and with virtually no public input, the legislators passed House Bill 2. It repealed an ordinance passed the previous month in Charlotte, which provided “public accommodation” protection to LGBT people (including allowing transgender folks to use the bathrooms of the gender with which they identify).

A few days later, Mississippi legislators enacted a law that would allow individuals, religious organizations and certain businesses with “sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions” that marriage should be between one man and one woman to discriminate against LGBT people.

Reaction was swift. Major corporations — including Charlotte-based Bank of America — blasted the North Carolina legislation and threatened action. Bruce Springsteen canceled a concert in the state. Charles Barkley told the NBA to move the 2017 All-Star game away from Charlotte. And now Michael Jordan has given his state until the end of the month to retreat or he will move the Hornets out of state.

Barkley and Jordan’s stands are instructive. As important as business and entertainment are, sometimes the sports world can have the greatest impact in areas that (at first) may not seem to have anything to do with LGBT issues.

Pat Griffin is a founding leader of the LGBT Sports Foundation. As the two states weathered a storm of national criticism — and stuck to their anti-gay guns — she circulated a letter among her group’s members.

The letter was addressed to the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Griffin wanted to make sure that one of the most powerful organizations in the U.S. sports world understood the impact the two states’ laws would have on colleges in general, and student-athletes and coaches in particular.

Griffin cited hypothetical examples. Suppose a college sports team travels to a state with such legislation, and an athlete or staff member used what the law considers to be the “wrong” public bathroom or locker room. Suppose an athlete or coach is refused service in a restaurant or hotel, based on the manager’s perception that that person is LGBT. Suppose someone is denied medical care, based on the healthcare provider’s religious belief. Each of those situations could arise, based on North Carolina and Mississippi’s bills.

Griffin also wondered about the implications if a governor or university president refused to provide funds for travel to states with discriminatory laws. She also asked what would happen if an individual student-athlete, coach or staff member refused to travel to such a state.

And, she noted, the NCAA itself has scheduled conventions, professional meetings and competitive events in states that single out LGBT people for discriminatory treatment. She said the NCAA put them at risk of discrimination… or of losing their jobs.

Griffin noted that the federal legislation known as Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation. Those prohibitions directly contradict state laws targeting LGBT people.

She, and the letter’s many signees, urged the NCAA to make a strong public statement condemning legislation that permits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity; back up that statement with consequences (for example, not allowing them to host NCAA-sponsored events); provide guidelines to schools on how to protect student-athletes and staff while competing in states with discriminatory laws; amend NCAA bylaws to permit individuals and entire athletic departments to refuse to travel and compete against universities and states that discriminate, and redouble the organization’s commitment to diversity and inclusion programs and resources.

Griffin wrote her letter a few days after the most dramatic NCAA men’s college basketball championship game ever. Villanova won on a dramatic buzzer-beater against the University of North Carolina. Between that school and Duke, the state has been home to nine national champs in the last 25 years.

That led LGBT sports activist Cyd Zeigler to write on his Outsports website: “As reaction to the North Carolina law came pouring across social media, I found myself again shaking my head at the sports world’s utter failure to definitely address LGBT issues, get ahead of these kinds of discriminatory developments, and lead our society on LGBT equality.” Zeigler faulted the NCAA for not putting more pressure on the state of North Carolina. (Or Texas. The Final Four was held in Houston, a city that voted last year to legalize LGBT discrimination.)

“It’s impossible to believe the NCAA would stand by if an institution banned black students,” Zeigler wrote. He urged the NCAA to immediately withdraw 2017 and ’18 men’s basketball tournament games from North Carolina — and other championship events. “No more talking,” he said. “No more meetings.”

Bruce Springsteen canceled a concert with two days’ notice. The NCAA has a year to act.

The ball is in their court.

 — Dan Woog

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Can white girls jump?

As in, out of the closet? For hoops legend Nancy Lieberman, it’s still a game

RICH LOPEZ | Staff Writer

Dr. Pepper Ballpark,
7300 RoughRiders Trail, Frisco. June 26 at 6 p.m. $5–$15.

Nancy Lieberman

JUMP SHOT | Lieberman plays with the boys at the Reebok Heroes Celebrity Baseball game, but we wonder if she likes to play with girls, too.

I have to admit: When I booked an interview with basketball legend Nancy Lieberman, I didn’t realize she wasn’t officially playing for our team. I assumed a lot based on nothing but speculation and simple gay math: She’s worked with the HRC, she’s an athlete and well, then there’s her scandal.

This came to mind as she tries a different game this weekend. She’ll play for the home team at the 9th Annual Reebok Heroes Celebrity Baseball game in Frisco, benefiting children’s charities The Heroes Foundation and the Mike Modano Foundation. She’ll play for the White Sox home club, but why can’t we get an answer on what other teams she might play for?

Lieberman is to women’s basketball what Michael Jordan is to men’s. She’s decorated with a gold medal from the Pan American games and a silver Olympic medal as the youngest basketball player in Olympic history. She’s set records, won championships and been elected into several basketball halls of fame. She’s got cred.

Then Sports Illustrated published a 2001 article revealing that she’d had an affair with Anna DeForge, one of the players Lieberman was coaching on the WNBA Detroit Shock team during the 2000 WNBA season. The buzz unraveled the team and Lieberman’s contract wasn’t renewed. But by the end of it, we knew little more about Lieberman personally … other than that she was divorcing her husband of 13 years.

Since then, Lieberman has thrived as an ESPN reporter and was recently named as the first female head coach in the NBA’s D-league, coaching the Texas Legends.

Caught up? OK, so, the question is, at this point in her career, and if she identifies as either lesbian or bi, what could be preventing her from coming out — even as straight?

The incident with DeForge gained Lieberman some fans in the community. Despite no definite answer, the hope that she could be one of ours was enough for the community to embrace her as one of its own. Instead, she appears to be pulling a Sean Hayes (and we all know how that turned out).

Lieberman even made an appearance earlier this year at a bachelorette auction fundraiser for Her HRC, an initiative to get more women involved with the Human Rights Campaign. Not only that, she had the winning bid at $4,000. Seriously, that says something, right?

We like Nancy, we really do. Heck, even I have a slight crush on her. But her lack of candor also feels like a slap in the face, or at least a smack of a wet towel on the backside. After a while, hiding is a little embarrassing. At this point, practically not even being around women anymore (Texas Legends plays men’s hoops), how could it hurt her career?

A community is like a team. LGBT civil rights are moving along but we can’t go into the fourth quarter two points behind when our star player could pull off a three-pointer in the last seconds. If we’re going to win, it would help to know who our MVPs could be to help get to that championship.

That goes the same for even coming out as straight.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 25, 2010.

—  Dallasvoice