BY Advocate Contributors
August 10 2011 4:00 AM ET
43 • Portland, Ore.
Saying homophobia runs rampant among men in professional and college sports is like saying water is wet. What might actually be surprising to some is hearing that homophobia among female sports professionals is just as pervasive, at least according to Sherri Murrell, the head coach of the women's basketball team at Oregon’s Portland State University. Murrell is the only out NCAA Division I head basketball coach.
“Women’s sports has always been labeled as lesbian, and many try to combat that,” Murrell says. “Talking to some of my colleagues, it’s just one more factor they believe can keep them from being successful. But I’m the true story that it doesn’t have to be that way.”
Ever since Murrell arrived at PSU four years ago, she’s been straightforward about her wife (and now their 2-year-old twins) — and her career has skyrocketed. As a closeted woman, Murrell previously coached the women’s basketball team at Washington State University, but in five years she suffered through a 27-114 record. In 2007, Murrell resigned her position in Washington and, without a job, bought a house in her hometown of Portland. Serendipitously, the Portland State coach quit two months later and the Vikings’ athletic director called; he wanted to take a chance on Murrell.
Murrell says being out has made her a better coach, and the stats back that up. During her tenure, the Vikings have nabbed more overall and conference wins than they had in the five seasons prior. They now have a four-year record of 83-46. In the 2009-2010 season, Murrell brought the ladies to their first NCAA tournament, and this past season Murrell was named the Big Sky Conference Coach of the Year.
“I don’t have to preach integrity and say on the court, ‘Be true to yourself,’ and then shut the door and lie to them by concealing my life,” Murrell says. “I know the [gay] coaches who constantly think about the fact that they can’t bring their partner to an event or they can’t be in public with their partner. Well, I don’t have that — happy coach makes happy players.” —Neal Broverman