Advocates call for NCAA to add nondiscrimination protections to new constitution

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With the 2022 NCAA Convention underway in Indianapolis, at least 17 advocacy organizations — including the Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD and Athlete Ally — released a letter Thursday sent to the NCAA Board of Governors asking the organization to include and strengthen nondiscrimination protections in its new constitution, which is set to be ratified this week.

Concern surrounding NCAA’s nondiscrimination policies began last November, when the NCAA released a preliminary version of the amended constitution that did not include a nondiscrimination clause, a standard part of the NCAA’s constitution since 1993.

The current constitution – enacted in August 2021 – states: “It is the policy of the Association to refrain from discrimination with respect to its governance policies, educational programs, activities and employment policies, including on the basis of age, color, disability, gender, national origin, race, religion, creed or sexual orientation.”

While the proposed constitution includes a section promoting diversity and inclusion, it does not explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of the above traits.

“While decentralizing the NCAA and giving power to conferences and schools has its benefits, we are concerned that leaving the enforcement of non-discrimination protections to schools will create a patchwork of protections rather than a comprehensive policy that would protect all athletes, no matter where they play,” the letter read.

“This would be similar to the patchwork of non-discrimination policies in states, where marginalized groups in some states or cities are protected while others are left behind by localities that opt not to enact inclusive policies.”

This omission has especially set off alarm bells for LGBTQ+ advocates, who have have battled a recent onslaught of anti-trans sentiment and legislation in both the United States and internationally. Ten anti-trans sports bans (either through legislation or executive orders) have been signed into law over the last two years, with many of these bills impacting kids of all ages and as early as elementary or middle school.

“The political climate that we have seen develop in certain state legislatures gives us little hope that non-discrimination and fair treatment are principles that will be consistently upheld by state laws, or that state policies are even trending in the right direction,” the letter read.

Additionally, the NCAA announced a change to its transgender eligibility policy on Wednesday, with immediate effect. Going forward, the NCAA will align with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and adopt a sport-by-sport approach.

While organizations like Athlete Ally and GLAAD were supportive of the IOC’s new transgender and intersex athlete framework when it was announced in November, this abrupt change from the NCAA has drawn condemnation.

While the IOC’s policy begins from a place of inclusion and calls for sport-by-sport decisions to be based on peer reviewed research, the NCAA policy doesn’t include similar safeguards.

Athlete Ally and Transathlete.com issued a joint statement Thursday contending that the decision to align with the IOC and USOPC is in direct response to University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas. Thomas, who came out as trans in 2019 and has followed NCAA participation guidelines, has become a target of abuse in the culture-war debate.

“It is clear this policy is a direct response to pressure surrounding a current athlete competing in the NCAA,” said Chris Mosier, founder of Transathlete.com, in a statement. “It is disappointing to me that after years of discussions and calls for more research, a new policy could be quickly assembled under pressure from people who don’t want to see a great athlete who is transgender succeed.”