Testing NCAA’s Commitment to Inclusion:Â Big 12 Conference Considers Membership Application of BYU
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has in recent years emerged as an advocate for equality in college athletics. Its website includes a number of LGBT resources and statements affirming its commitment to inclusion. Moreover, it has matched its words with action, using its economic power to protect LGBT athletes and fans from discrimination.
Its commitment to inclusion will soon be tested again as one of its â€œpower conferencesâ€ considers the membership application of Brigham Young University, a school notorious for its discrimination against LGBT students, faculty, and staff.
NCAA as Advocate for Inclusion
In the spring of 2015, when Indiana Governor Mike Pence (now the Republican Party’s candidate for Vice President) signed into law an odious â€œReligious Freedom Restoration Actâ€ that would have allowed businesses to refuse service to LGBT patrons on the basis of â€œsincerely held religious beliefs,â€ NCAA president Mark EmmertÂ spoke out forcefully against the legislation and implied that the NCAA, which is headquartered in Indianapolis, was prepared not only to relocate its headquarters, where some 500 employees work, but also to move any future championships and tournaments scheduled to be played in the state.
â€œ[Inclusion and diversity] are values that are fundamental to what college athletics are all about and what higher education is all about,â€ Emmert said. â€œFor us personally in the NCAA, this is a big deal. Weâ€™re very proud of the inclusive environment in our office. Weâ€™re very proud of the environment that weâ€™ve created here and we donâ€™t want to lose that. We donâ€™t want to have it put at risk.â€
He added, â€œWe hold lots and lots of events. Weâ€™re going to have our national convention here, our offices are here. We have to say, â€˜What are we going to do if this law goes into effect in July? Whatâ€™s our relationship with the state of Indiana going to be?’â€
In the face of massive negative reaction to the â€œReligious Freedom Restoration Act,â€ the bill was significantly revised and its invitation to discriminate removed. Hence, Emmert did not have to go through with the implied threat.
More recently, in response to North Carolina’s discriminatory HB2, a law that nullified protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and prohibited transgender people from using public restrooms that do not conform to the gender on their birth certificates, the NCAA Board of Governors took steps to protect participants and spectators from discrimination at NCAA events.
On April 27, 2016, the NCAAÂ Â announced that it had added a new requirement for sites hosting or bidding on NCAA events: they must demonstrate how they will provide â€œan environment that is safe, healthy, and free of discrimination, plus safeguards the dignity of everyone involved in the event.â€
Explaining that the Association considers the promotion of inclusiveness in race, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity a vital element in protecting the well-being of student-athletes and creating a culture of fairness, Kirk Schulz, president of Kansas State University and chair of NCAA’s Board of Governors, said â€œThe higher education community is a diverse mix of people from different racial, ethnic, religious, and sexual orientation backgrounds. So it is important that we assure that communityâ€”including our student-athletes and fansâ€”will always enjoy the experience of competing, and watching, at NCAA championships without concerns of discrimination.â€
Inasmuch as NCAA championships and tournaments often inject millions of dollars into the economies of host cities and states, the new requirement serves notice that failure to protect LGBT people from discrimination may be costly, as will so-called â€œreligious libertyâ€ bills that encourage discrimination against LGBT people.
On July 22, the Association released a questionnaire that cities that are interested in hosting future NCAA events must complete, along with specific steps they intend to follow to make certain that all participants and fans are protected from discrimination.
Big 12 Expansion
The NCAA will soon face a major test of its commitment to LGBT rights and inclusion. One of its premier conferences, the Big 12, which now consists of only ten universities, mainly in the Southwest and the Great Plains, recently announced that it would explore plans to expand, at least to its original size of twelve and possibly beyond.
The Big 12, which shrank as a result of a series of conference realignments over the past twenty years, has slipped behind the SEC, the Big Ten, and the Pac-12 conferences on a number of measures. It now consists of the following members: Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas Christian University, and West Virginia.
Upon the conference’s announcement that it had authorized commissioner Bob Bowlsby to begin negotiations with prospective candidates, Brigham Young University, currently a member of no conference but with a large national fan base and a big stadium, indicated interest in being considered for membership. Indeed, among sports writers and fans, BYU quickly became the leading candidate for admission, along with such other schools as the University of Houston, Colorado State University, University of Cincinnati, Boise State University, and the University of Memphis, among others.
In response to the speculation that BYU would be granted membership in the Big 12, Athlete Ally, an organization devoted to ending homophobia and transphobia in sports, along with more than twenty other organizations, issued a letterÂ on August 8 opposing membership for BYU.
Signed by such organizations as the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the National Center for Transgender Equality, the National LGBTQ Task Force, GLAAD, Campus Pride, Soulforce, and the National Organization for Women, the letter asserted that â€œAdding BYU would be inconsistent with Big 12 Conference membership values.â€
It pointed out that â€œBYU . . . actively and openly discriminates against its LGBT students and staff. It provides no protections for LGBT students. In fact, through its policies, BYU is very clear about its intent to discriminate against openly LGBT students, with sanctions that can include suspension or dismissal for being openly LGBT or in a same-sex relationship.â€
The letter noted that â€œBYU’s anti-LGBT policies violate both Big 12 guidelines and NCAA guidelinesâ€ and argues that adding BYU would undermine Big 12 values.
[Salt Lake City television station KSL reported on the letter and interviewed Athlete Ally founder Hudson Taylor.]
Indeed, the Big 12 Conference Handbook includes several references to discrimination, diversity, gender equity, and fairness. For example, in addition to affirming the conference’s commitment to observe Title IX requirements that prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender and sexual orientation, the Conference Handbook also says, â€œThe Conference shall not schedule (nor participate in) any regular or postseason competition or event at sites, venues or facilities which have membership restrictions or practices which result in discrimination on the basis of gender.â€
The Handbook also spells out a policy on Diversity: â€œConsistent with NCAA Constitution 2.7, the Conference and its Member Institutions are committed to cultural diversity, promoting respect and sensitivity to the dignity of every person and fostering participation of all in competition, administration and governance. It is the obligation of each Member Institution to refrain from discrimination prohibited by federal and state law, and to demonstrate a commitment to fair and equitable treatment of all student-athletes and athletics department personnel.â€
As part of its Diversity policy, the Conference pledges to â€œEncourage an atmosphere throughout the Conference among staff and student athletes that demonstrates respect and support for each individual. As such, within the context of Conference events, the Conference will not tolerate disparaging comments, remarks, or jokes about any group of people including racist, sexist, or homophobic comments, remarks, or jokes.â€
It is difficult to see how BYU can meet such requirements.
Brigham Young University
BYU is owned and operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), a religion that has been at the very center of efforts to deprive LGBT people of equal rights in the United States and abroad. In many ways, BYU is less a university as generally understood than an indoctrination project of the Mormon Church, which sometimes refers to it as the â€œLord’s University.â€
It severely restricts academic freedom and limits any criticism by faculty members or students that contradicts church doctrine or policy.
[The video below, from BYU’s admissions office, hyperbolically describes the school as a “world-class institution of higher learning.”]
BYU also imposes on students and faculty an Honor Code that is rigorously enforced and almost absurdly detailed. The code covers everything from academic honesty, dress and grooming standards, the use of alcohol and tobacco to what rooms guests in residential housing may enter. Not only are gambling, obscene or indecent conduct or expressions, disorderly or disruptive conduct, and involvement with pornographic, erotic, indecent, or offensive material prohibited, but so is “any other conduct or action inconsistent with the principles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
At one time homosexual impulses as well as homosexual behavior were punished (including by aversion therapy and reparative therapy, among other means). Now the recently revised Honor Code distinguishes between homosexual orientation and homosexual behavior, with only the latter subject to punishment. The university apparently believes that punishing someone on the basis of their homosexual conduct is more acceptable in polite society than persecuting someone on the basis of their homosexual orientation.
The section on â€œHomosexual Behaviorâ€ reads as follows:
â€œBrigham Young University will respond to homosexual behavior rather than to feelings or attraction and welcomes as full members of the university community all whose behavior meets university standards. Members of the university community can remain in good Honor Code standing if they conduct their lives in a manner consistent with gospel principles and the Honor Code.
One’s stated same-gender attraction is not an Honor Code issue. However, the Honor Code requires all members of the university community to manifest a strict commitment to the law of chastity. Homosexual behavior is inappropriate and violates the Honor Code. Homosexual behavior includes not only sexual relations between members of the same sex, but all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings.â€Â
The video below, posted in 2012 by BYU student members of an unrecognized student group called â€œUnderstanding Same-Gender Attraction,â€ recounts the painful experiences of several LGBT students who have come out under very difficult conditions. The video is heartbreaking both because of what these young people have had to endure and, equally, because they seem to have reached a spectacularly erroneous conclusion as to how to make things get better. The LDS Church should be deeply ashamed of the spiritual terrorism it has inflicted on these and millions of other LGBT young people.
As a private university governed by a religious organization, BYU has been granted an exemption from certain Title IX requirements by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. It is also exempt from Utah’s nondiscrimination statutes. Hence, however repugnant the university’s discriminatory policies are, they are not illegal.
Moreover, no one is forced to attend such a repressive institution (though, of course, many LDS youth experience enormous family and community pressure to attend the “Lord’s University”). People who voluntarily subject themselves to the policing strictures of BYU’s Honor Code may deserve sympathy, but they cannot claim to having been duped since the university widely publicizes its expectations and values.Â
But simply because BYU’s discrimination is both legal and well known does not make it acceptable.
Response to Athlete Ally’s Letter
In response to the letter asking the Big 12 conference to reject Brigham Young University’s application for membership, the university’s athletic director Tom Holcomb issued a brief statement via Twitter: “LGBT players, coaches and fans are always welcome to the BYU campus. Everyone should be treated with respect, dignity and love.”
Another university spokesman said,Â “BYU welcomes as full members of the university community all whose conduct meets university standards. We are very clear and open about our honor code, which all students understand and commit to when they apply for admission. One’s stated sexual orientation is not an issue.”
Such a statement, of course, does not address the real issues posed by the letter. The question is not only whether visitors are treated with respect, or whether students are aware of the Honor Code, but also, and more pertinently, whether the discrimination practiced by Brigham Young University against its LGBT faculty and students, including student-athletes, is consistent with the values of the NCAA.
Unsurprisingly, supporters of BYU are casting themselves as victims, saying that intolerant gay bullies are advocating discrimination against them for their religious beliefs. Some are even alleging that the letter abridges the university’s First Amendment rights.
But Athlete Ally is not challenging BYU’s right to believe or practice their religious beliefs. Rather, it is challenging the NCAA to practice its own widely-touted commitment to diversity and inclusion.Â
Even BYU Law School professor Lynn Wardle recognizes that BYU has “no right to join” the Big 12. “It’s a free association issue,” not a First Amendment issue, he told Salt Lake Tribune reporter Peggy Fletcher Stack. However, he believes the attempt to keep BYU out of the Big 12 is simplyÂ “an opportunity to put pressure on BYU and embarrass it.”
By minimizing the issue of discrimination, Wardle is typical of his co-religionists in refusing to acknowledge the consequences of the discrimination practiced by his church.
In contrast, several openly gay Big 12 athletes and former athletes have expressed trepidation about traveling to BYU to compete. Former University of Oklahoma pole vaulter Tanner Williams said “I would like to see any athlete feel comfortable to be who they are in the Big 12. Adding a school that is homonegative can destroy that type of atmosphere.”
He stated that he would refuse to travel to BYU for a meet were he still competing. “LGBT athletes should not have to compete at a school where they do not feel comfortable or accepted,” he said.
Former TCU football playerÂ Vince Pryor also told Salt Lake TribuneÂ reporter Aaron Falk that he would be apprehensive about traveling to BYU.
Pryor said that he would be disappointed were BYU welcomed into the Big 12 without making a change. “This is a huge opportunity for people on both sides of the fence, the Big 12 and BYU, to make a statement about what kind of organization and what kind of conference they’re going to be.”
OutsportsÂ co-founder Cyd Zeigler recently pointed out that other current and prospective members of the Big 12 also have problematic records of LGBT acceptance, but noted that “Probably no school has a longer, darker history in oppressing LGBT students and student-athletes than BYU.”
Pointing to the mental and emotional torment that BYU forces upon its LGBT students, he concludes that “Adding BYU to the Big 12 would be a complete rejection of the equality of LGBT people by the conference.”
It is not known exactly when the Big 12 will make its decision concerning Brigham Young University’s bid to join the conference. The decision could come at any time, but many observers believe that it will be announced in October, when its governing board has a regularly scheduled meeting.
BYU brings much to the table, including a huge fan base, good facilities, and a passion for sport. However, it also brings a great deal of baggage. In addition to its long and ugly history of homophobia, the university is also under investigation for its handling of sexual assaults. Allegedly, women who have reported sexual assaults have themselves been punished for violations of the Honor Code.
The reputation of the LDS Church has been damaged by its political activities directed against equal rights, but its leaders seem not to have learned very much. More importantly, church leaders seem unconcerned about the suffering they cause their own LGBT members and fail to connect the dots between their homophobic policies and statements and the alarming rates of suicide among LDS youth.
I do not harbor any illusions that sports activists will change BYU’s homophobic policies, but they deserve commendation for highlighting those polices and pointing out their inconsistency with NCAA’s stated commitment to inclusion.
Their efforts need to be placed in the context of the sports activism of the 1960s and 1970s, when athletes played a role in drawing attention to the LDS Church’s discriminatory racial policies that barred Blacks from the priesthood and from participating in most temple ordinances. A number of athletes and several universities, including Stanford, protested those policies by refusing to compete with BYU.
After decades of pressure, in 1978 church leaders finally announced that they had received a “revelation” that “every faithful, worthy man in the church may receive the Holy Priesthood.”
The NCAA has previously shown that it has the courage of its convictions. I hope that it will once again affirm its commitment to equal rights and and refuse to turn a blind eye to BYU’s blatant discrimination.
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‘Toxic’ Trump Could Lose More Fox Hosts After Mar-a-Lago Search Says Morning Joe: Revelations Are ‘Going to Keep Coming’
Former President Donald Trump appears to be losing one of his top conservative media allies, and MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough said Republicans may finally be willing to cut him loose before he sinks their election chances again.
Fox News host Laura Ingraham said on a recent podcast that Americans are “exhausted” by the former president and may prefer to “turn the page” to another Republican presidential candidate in 2024, and the “Morning Joe” host said they’d be wise to do it sooner rather than later.
“I mean, from my point of view, that would be best for America, but from somebody’s point of view who is interested in the Republican Party defeating Democrats, it would be in the Republican Party’s best interest also if that’s what they did,” Scarborough said. “He has too many negatives. They say it time and again, that guy is not going to ever win back voters he lost in the suburbs of Atlanta or the Philly suburbs or the Detroit suburbs or any of these suburbs. He’s toxic for 55 percent of Americans, and he’s just never going to get those people back, so it does make a lot of sense.”
The former president has been taking on water since the FBI searched his Mar-A-Lago residence as part of an espionage investigation, and Scarborough said his legal problems could sink GOP candidates this fall.
“It makes sense to warn other Republicans, some whom have flocked to Donald Trump over the past week because they wanted to show how loyal they were to him, I mean, they’re having trouble even keeping sort of the defense consistent because he keeps changing his story every three or four hours,” Scarborough said. “One story contradicts another story. You know, we’re just at the beginning of this. The news is going to continue to get worse. This is like the first round of Mike Tyson versus Allen, the boxing club champion of Princeton from 1967. It is not going to get better over the next 14 rounds.”
“You know, it doesn’t make sense for Republicans to embrace this guy, then be shocked by one revelation after another revelation after another revelation,” he added. “They’re going to keep coming.”
Watch the video below or at this link.
Former Trump CFO Nearing ‘Unexpectedly Favorable’ Plea Deal With Manhattan DA: NYT
Former Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg, who worked for the Trump family since 1970, is nearing a plea deal with Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg in his case, according to The New York Times. Charges include conspiracy, grand larceny, criminal tax fraud, and falsifying business records.
Weisselberg, who is 75, could walk away with a minor prison sentence of just five months, the Times reports, calling it “an unexpectedly favorable outcome for him.”
The plea deal would not include any cooperation on broader issues related to Donald Trump. Legal experts have said Weisselberg knows nearly everything that the Trump Organization has done.
“His plea deal, if finalized, would bring prosecutors no closer to indicting the former president but would nonetheless brand one of his most trusted lieutenants a felon.”
Earlier this year Manhattan D.A. Bragg came under intense criticism after he seemingly halted his office’s longtime investigation into Donald Trump.
One of the prosecutors who worked 0n the Trump case but quit when Bragg ended it called it a “grave failure of justice,” and said Trump was “guilty of numerous felonies.”
“Prosecutors accuse Weisselberg of a 15-year scheme to defraud federal, New York State, and New York City tax authorities of $1.76 million in ‘off-the-books’ compensation,” Law & Crime reported. “These included $359,058 in tuition expenses for multiple family members, $196,245 for leases on his Mercedes Benz automobiles, $29,400 in unreported cash, and an unspecified amount in ad hoc personal expenses, according to his indictment.”
In 2018 The New Yorker reported “Allen Weisselberg, the firm’s longtime chief financial officer, is the center, the person in the company who knows more than anyone.”
Does Trump Still Have Classified Docs? DOJ May Think So After Asking Judge to Keep Affidavit Sealed Former Fed Says
After the National Archives had to travel to Mar-a-Lago earlier this year to take back 15 cartons of documents and other items from the Trump White House, and even after the FBI raided Donald Trump’s Florida home last week, could it possible the Dept. of Justice thinks the former president is still holding onto classified documents?
One former federal prosecutor says that one of two distinct possibilities, after DOJ asked a federal judge on Monday to not unseal the affidavit used to obtain the search warrant for Trump’s Mar-a-Lago mansion.
“There remain compelling reasons, including to protect the integrity of an ongoing law enforcement investigation that implicates national security, that support keeping the affidavit sealed,” the Dept. of Justice’s filing states, ABC News reports. “In a footnote, department officials write that they ‘carefully considered’ whether they could release the affidavit with redactions, but the redactions necessary to ‘mitigate harms to the integrity of the investigation would be so extensive as to render the remaining unsealed text devoid of meaningful content, and the release of such a redacted version would not serve any public interest.'”
“Interesting tidbit,” writes The New York Times’ Alan Feuer. “Prosecutors acknowledge they’ve been interviewing witnesses and say the release of the warrant application could ‘chill future cooperation by witnesses as ‘investigation progresses.'”
Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotto says the Dept. of Justice may think Trump still has more classified documents – or there are charges coming in response to the Mar-a-Lago raid.
Mariotto writes: “This suggests DOJ is continuing its investigation, which means one of two things: 1) DOJ *still* isn’t convinced they have all of the classified material Trump took when he left office. 2) They have an ongoing criminal investigation of this matter that could result in charges.”
“That’s potentially very important news,” Mariotto adds. “Many national security pros thought that the main (if not only) purpose of the search warrant was to secure sensitive material, not to build potential criminal charges.”
“The government does not object to unsealing other materials filed in connection with the search warrant whose unsealing would not jeopardize the integrity of this national security investigation, subject to minor redactions to protect government personnel.”
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