Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Xs, Os — and sexual orientation?

     When the almost all-black Texas Western team shocked an all-white Kentucky squad in the 1966 NCAA men's basketball championship, the announcers did not report, "A stunning victory for the negroes."

     No, they remarked on a stunning team feat.

     When Emily Neimann hit her fifth of five majestic three-pointers to help Baylor University win the 2005 NCAA women's title, likewise the announcers did not intone, "That's three more for the lesbian."

     No, they commented on a jaw-dropping performance off the bench for a stocky sophomore.

     Which is as it should be. Talent is talent. Teamwork is teamwork. Dedication is dedication. Sexual orientation is no one else's business.

      Yet because of her sexual orientation, Neimann decided she couldn't, or wouldn't, finish her playing career at Baylor, the nation's largest Southern Baptist university. (She transferred and married her partner, Ashley Taylor. They now share the last name Nkosi.)

      Because of their sexual orientation, innumerable women athletes like Nkosi, and some of their coaches, must live a lie.

      Such is the issue in a penetrating report recently in ESPN The Magazine — that several women's college programs recruit by asserting indirectly or directly that competitors are populated by homosexuals.

      You don't want that? Do you, Mom and Dad?

      Ironically, the magazine reported that when Baylor recruited his daughter, Nkosi's fundamentalist Christian father asked coach Kim Mulkey point blank if she had lesbians on the squad.

     To her credit, the magazine said Mulkey wouldn't play that game. She said she had no idea what her players did away from the gym. Were that so with Baylor itself, which proudly drives young people like Nkosi into the shadows and to other venues of higher learning.           

       As for other programs? Suffice it to say, either in code or in outright assertion, that many try to sway recruits and their parents by saying everything in their program is on the straight and narrow, as opposed to those of some competitors.

    The code phrase they often cite, about running a "family program," yanks me back to that bacchanalia of intolerance, the 1992 Republican National Convention. For those who don't recall, it was a "culture war," "traditional family values" yap-a-thon. It inspired no one but the festival goers floating on the Astrodome ceiling, high on their own virtue.

     Lesbians in college athletics? Imagine that. Can't be. Or gays in the military all these years, either.

     We hear about the injustice that is the under representation of blacks in coaching ranks. Now consider this: In all of Division I women's basketball, only one coach is openly gay, Portland State's highly successful Sherri Murrell. That doesn't mean she's the only lesbian coach. She's the only one not living a lie. And when she was with another program, Murrell admits she lied to keep her job.

    No one should have to do such a thing. One's sexuality is no one else's business unless it comes into play in uninvited ways, and that applies to those straight as well as those not. A letch is a letch. A groper is a groper.

     What is abominable is the apparent whisper campaign conducted by institutions of higher learning. It implies that if a program has lesbians playing on the team, one's daughter cannot be safe from their advances. It's the old, "Does the black rub off on you?" concern from Jim Crow days.

     Let's face it. Underlying the assault on the human rights of human beings who are homosexual is the back-to-the-dunking-pond-days claim that associating with gay people will turn one gay. The ballyhooed "gay agenda" we are told we must fear is nothing about seizing power. It's about legitimizing casual contact with people who are different than a perceived norm.

      But, of course, each of us associates with gays and lesbians on a daily basis. Each of us depends on them in countless ways, as good citizens, productive workers, friends of mankind and occasionally as a long-distance markswoman when basketball glory is on the line.

      Nobody in the stands cared about Emily Nkosi's sexual orientation that glittering night, and it's a travesty that anyone should care, or know, about it now. 

      Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

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