ICYMI: Ahead of NCAA Special Convention, Human Rights Campaign & Athlete Ally Letter Prompts Discussion About Absent Non-Discrimination Protections in New NCAA Constitution

by Wyatt Ronan

HRC Responds To NCAA’s Robert Gates After He Suggests That Rhetoric on Diversity Can Replace Previously Existing Non-Discrimination Policy In Constitution

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and Athlete Ally sent a letter to National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) President Mark Emmert and NCAA governance calling on the organization to include non-discrimination protections and rules protecting transgender athletes from dangerous and discriminatory anti-trans laws as they amend their constitution. Today, the NCAA will be presenting and discussing their proposed constitutional changes at a Special Convention. The new draft constitution, released last week, stripped the governing document of previously existing non-discrimination policy language. Responding to criticisms from HRC and Athlete Ally, constitutional committee head Robert Gates claimed in the New York Times article that a non-binding statement on diversity and inclusion were a sufficient replacement.

“No statement alone, however strongly worded, can make up for explicit non-discrimination protections — which no longer exist in the new NCAA constitution,” said Human Rights Campaign Interim President Joni Madison in response to Robert Gates’s comments in the New York Times. “A clear and enforceable policy is the only way to ensure a safe and inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ athletes, women, and athletes of color. When it comes to protecting transgender athletes, the NCAA’s past statements claiming support for trans athletes say one thing, but their actions hosting championships in states that pass anti-transgender laws say another. The NCAA’s actions must align with their words -- and there’s no specific language here to provide clarity. Failing to adopt non-discrimination protections would mark a step back on diversity and inclusion by the organization. Simply trusting — as Gates suggests — that divisions, colleges, and schools will follow a mismatched system of laws is not a recipe for success. It ignores the reality that legislatures across the country are trying to strip inclusive laws away and organizations and individuals are fighting against inclusive interpretations of Title IX’s protections. Rather than explain away unenforceable language as sufficient, the NCAA has an opportunity to lead and they should seize on it by adopting our recommended changes to the constitutional proposal while they have that chance.”

New York Times: As N.C.A.A. Rewrites Its Rules, Here’s How College Sports May Change by Alan Blinder

“The committee has proposed removing the N.C.A.A.’s existing, detailed nondiscrimination pledge from the constitution, prompting criticism from groups like the Human Rights Campaign and Athlete Ally. The leaders of those organizations, Joni Madison and Hudson Taylor, urged N.C.A.A. leaders last week to include an ‘enumerated policy providing nondiscrimination protections for all athletes.’”

NBC Sports: NCAA constitution called out for failing to include non-discrimination policy by Alex Azzi

“As part of a major restructuring of college sports, the NCAA unveiled on Monday a draft of its revised constitution, which would give more power to the three divisions and individual schools. The 18-page draft was produced by the NCAA’s 28-person constitution committee, which is chaired by former U.S. secretary of defense Robert Gates.

While the proposed constitution says it ‘provides new emphasis on diversity, inclusion and gender equity,’ the current draft doesn’t include a non-discrimination policy.

‘Where are the protections for LGBTQ+ students? For women? For students of color?’ Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Interim President Joni Madison asked in a tweet.

On Friday, HRC and Athlete Ally announced that it had sent an open letter to NCAA President Mark Emmert with two specific demands. The letter, which was signed by Madison and Athlete Ally Founder and Executive Director Hudson Taylor, called on the NCAA to revise its constitution to include ‘non-discrimination protections for all athletes including on the basis of age, color, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, race, religion, and creed.’

The current NCAA constitution – in force since August 2021 – includes a non-discrimination section with similar language. In fact, the NCAA first adopted a non-discrimination policy in January 1993 and it has been included in the organization’s governing document ever since.

The HRC/Athlete Ally letter also demands that the NCAA protect transgender student-athletes by ‘adopting a policy of refusing to hold championships in states with laws that discriminate against LGBTQ+ people, including and especially transgender athletes.’

In 2016, the NCAA pulled championships from host sites in North Carolina after the state passed a discriminatory ‘bathroom bill.’

But the organization has not taken similar steps in response to a deluge of anti-transgender sports legislation. Ten U.S. states currently have anti-transgender sports bans, either through legislation or executive order: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Mississippi, Montana, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, and South Dakota. The NCAA currently has upcoming championships planned in five of those states (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Tennessee, and Texas).

The proposed constitution will be discussed by NCAA members at a virtual convention next week. The constitution committee is then expected to provide its final recommendations to the NCAA’s Board of Governors by December 15. The final constitution will be voted on at the upcoming NCAA Convention in January 2022.”

In 2021, during the worst anti-transgender state legislative session on record, the Human Rights Campaign, Athlete Ally, and others called on the NCAA to step up their leadership like the organization has done in previous anti-equality state legislative fights. The NCAA responded by publicly expressing opposition to anti-transgender laws and reaffirmed its commitment to their principle of awarding championship host sites to locations that were “safe, healthy, and free from discrimination.” Yet, after their statement, the NCAA violated its own principle by announcing softball tournaments at schools in Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee, all states that passed anti-transgender legislation this year.

The full text of the Human Rights Campaign and Athlete Ally’s letter to the NCAA can be read here.

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