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The Outfield: Negative recruiting: positively wrong
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The Outfield: Negative recruiting: positively wrong
by Dan Woog - SGN Contributing Writer

Imagine this: A college coach tells a high school prospect, "Don't go to (name of a rival school). There are lots of black people there." Ridiculous, right?

Now replace "blacks" with "Lesbians." Not so far-fetched, is it?

The practice of stating outright - or through insinuation - that another institution is filled with Lesbian coaches or athletes is called "negative recruiting." No statistics are available on its prevalence - high school students and their parents don't report it, college coaches who are affected by it seldom draw attention to it, and no central clearinghouse collects information on it - but it is a major issue in NCAA Division I women's sports.

Now, for the first time, something is being done about it.

Dr. Pat Griffin, director of the It Takes a Team! LGBT education campaign for the Women's Sports Foundation, and Helen Carroll, sports project director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, collaborated recently on a groundbreaking report. "The Positive Approach: Recognizing, Challenging and Eliminating Negative Recruiting Based on Actual or Perceived Sexual Orientation" aims to educate - and offer "best practices" to - four distinct but crucial constituencies in sports: coaches, administrators, student-athletes and parents.

It is not an easy sell. Talking about sexuality and sports is difficult to begin with; discussing a subject filled with inferences and innuendoes is tougher still. But Carroll is adamant that it be addressed, starting with administrators.

"Athletic directors and presidents have to understand that negative recruiting does not just affect coaches and teams; it harms everyone," she says. "It undermines everything they say about diversity, and calls into question the entire university."

Negative recruiting can be subtle. One coach might point out that a rival is unmarried; another may use code phrases like "no family values" to discredit a rival program.

Carroll explains some broad effects of negative recruiting. "Of course it hurts GLBT athletes. But it puts pressure on heterosexual student-athletes too by forcing them to 'prove' they're straight or causing resentment against their Lesbian teammates. It creates a hostile climate for Lesbian and Gay coaches. And heterosexual coaches, too - especially unmarried women."

The report provides strategies for coaches, no matter their gender or sexuality. The 16 recommendations include focusing on positive aspects of the coaches' own programs and answering questions about sexual orientation by emphasizing the accomplishments and qualifications of their own staffs and teams. Also included: Discussing diversity as a strength and leaving personal information for all coaches out of media guides and websites.

Administrators are urged to develop written policies that describe negative recruiting as unethical, to educate all coaches about negative recruiting, to advocate for athletic conference policies that specifically ban negative recruiting based on actual or perceived sexual orientation, and report any incidents to conference and coaching association authorities.

Recommendations for student-athletes include discussing the importance of diversity - and the irrelevance of sexual orientation - when hosting recruits, and while working at summer camps.

Parents of recruits, and recruits themselves, are advised to spend their time and energy exploring positive attributes of schools and programs, rather than listening to negative statements. They should also tell coaches up front that their family values diversity as part of the college experience.

"We wanted to give the right language, in print, to coaches, administrators, parents and athletes, so they can see there are real actions they can take," Carroll says. "We do it with issues like gambling and alcohol, so why not with this?"

Of course, she notes, "We're not saying that Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals and Transgender people are problems. The problem we're addressing is the unethical behavior of negative recruiting."

The report has been sent to the NCAA. Carroll and Griffin hope that umbrella organization includes it in their "best practices" brochures and in diversity and inclusion training sessions with coaches and administrators.

Carroll and Griffin also plan to speak about the report at athletic conference meetings. "We're not going to hit them over the head with it," Carroll promises. "We'll be friendly. We want them to ask how they can put these recommendations in place."

How will the report's authors measure success?

"Part of it will be when coaches can be out, and still keep their jobs," Carroll says. "And part will be when we see our work trickle down into written policies of conferences and schools."

She is optimistic that will happen - and that the next generation of sports leaders will understand intuitively that negative recruiting is not acceptable. After all, today's student-athletes are tomorrow's coaches and administrators.

Carroll senses this is already happening. "More and more student-athletes are thinking, 'Who cares if there are Lesbian players or coaches?' Some of them - Gay and straight - may even choose a school because of it, or because they like diversity."

Negative recruiting may have a positive effect after all.



Dan Woog is a journalist, educator, soccer coach, Gay activist, and author of the "Jocks" series of books on Gay male athletes. Visit his website at www.danwoog.com. He can be reached care of this publication or at OutField@qsyndicate.com.
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