There is still work to be done

Update: The Rutgers Athletic Department announced this morning that they have terminated the contract of Mike Rice.

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Like many, I watched the recently aired video of Coach Mike Rice and the Rutgers University’s Men’s Basketball team in disbelief. Of course this was not the first piece of evidence that suggested to me that there is much work to be done in combating anti-LGBT attitudes and behavior in sports, but this perhaps more than other examples showed just how pervasive the culture of dis-respect in sports is and how casually common anti-LGBT language is hurled around on courts and fields and in locker rooms and arenas, including those in K-12 settings.

Findings from GLSEN’s 2011 National School Climate Survey confirm that LGBT students experience discrimination and harassment in school sports. Over a quarter of LGBT student athletes reported having ever been harassed or assaulted while playing on a school sports team because of their sexual orientation or gender expression.  What’s worse is that they and their teammates experience that this is okay (and in the case of Coach Rice may even be rewarded with coaching positions in big-time college sports programs).

Watching a local news channel interview a former RU player who dismissed the coaches’ behavior as nothing out of the ordinary made me refocus my gaze as I watched the video footage again – this time focusing less on the coach but more on the team members and their reactions (or non-reactions). They seemed to respond in a way that said to me that this was not new to them (from this or other coaches they had played under).

As we do at GLSEN, my thoughts then turned to K-12 school sports as I imagined these players first as student athletes learning to accept or even expect such treatment from their coaches and then as current or future coaches of youth sports themselves either replicating that behavior or choosing something better for their athletes. I wondered if they, and the hundreds of other players Coach Rice has had the opportunity to model appropriate coaching behavior for over the years, would choose to coach differently.  I hoped that they would instead of choosing to follow in Coach Rice’s footsteps they would instead choose to use the tools that GLSEN has created for just this purpose as part of Changing the Game: The GLSEN Sports Project. I hoped that they would take to heart the first recommendation from the Game Plan for Coaches that Coach Rice seems to have missed in his training which is “Be a visible and active role model of respect and fairness for your team.”  This is how the coach of a winning team behaves.

Robert McGarry, Ed.D., Director of Education

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