The National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Board of Governors Thursday approved a new constitution that lacks the antidiscrimination language previously found in the document, and LGBTQ+ activists are not pleased.
Activists first spoke out when a draft was released in November without the language. The new constitution, approved at the organization’s convention in Indianapolis, is a much shorter version than the previous one — 18 and a half pages, down from 43 — and represents the first major revision since 1997.
The constitution makes general statements about diversity, equity, and inclusion. One section reads, “The Association is committed to diversity, equity and inclusion. The Association, divisions, conferences and member institutions shall create diverse and inclusive environments and shall provide education and training with respect to the creation of such environments and an atmosphere of respect for and sensitivity to the dignity of every person. The Association, divisions, conferences and member institutions shall commit to promoting diversity and inclusion in athletics activities and events, hiring practices, professional and coaching relationships, leadership and advancement opportunities.”
A group of 18 organizations, led by the Human Rights Campaign and Athlete Ally, had called on the NCAA to include specific antidiscrimination language in the constitution to protect LGBTQ+ athletes, women, and athletes of color. The organizations noted that this is a time when transgender athletes are particularly under attack, with numerous states proposing or enacting laws to restrict their participation in school sports.
HRC Interim President Joni Madison released a statement Friday denouncing the lack of a clear nondiscrimination policy in the ratified document. “If not through their constitution, the NCAA needs to show us their playbook for protecting LGBTQ+ and specifically transgender athletes from discrimination,” she said. “The NCAA has so far proven to be an unreliable ally to LGBTQ+ athletes across the country who depend upon the organization to protect them from discrimination and now they owe these athletes answers. Their inaction is giving extremist legislators across the country precisely what they want and need to advance a discriminatory agenda targeting LGBTQ+, and particularly transgender, people: their silence, which provides the cover to push radical policies. Look no further than Indiana’s religious refusal law in 2015 or the 2017 HB2 bathroom bill in North Carolina to see the impact NCAA action can have in defeating discriminatory legislation. Unfortunately, the past two years have been a disastrous example of what happens when the NCAA does nothing meaningful to stand up to this historic discriminatory effort.” The NCAA had spoken out against the Indiana law, which was later amended, and the North Carolina one, which has now been repealed.
Madison also made a statement about the NCAA’s new policy on trans athletes, which was OK’d Wednesday. The NCAA previously allowed trans women to compete alongside cisgender women if they had been on testosterone suppression treatment for year, but now it will leave the setting of standards for trans athletes up to the governing bodies for each sport.
HRC officials said Thursday that they were still reviewing the policy, but Friday, Madison issued a strong criticism of it along with her statement about the constitution. “The NCAA’s new policy on transgender participation is equally concerning, particularly given that it came as a surprise to advocates who had been engaging with the NCAA on this issue,” she said. “Their rollout of this policy has left many athletes and individual sports programs confused, concerned, and uncertain about their own future. The NCAA refusing to take responsibility for ensuring that LGBTQ+ athletes, women, and athletes of color have safe, equitable ability to participate in athletics puts schools and conferences in an impossible position and makes it more difficult to enforce fairness amidst an ever-changing patchwork of state laws across the country. The NCAA’s unresponsiveness, unwillingness to re-implement common sense language, and inability to enforce their own policies to protect athletes vulnerable to discrimination are all deeply disappointing and dangerous. We know they are capable of better.”