Issues: Sports

Sports Project Overview

NCLR’s Sports Project aims to level the playing field for LGBT players and coaches. More than 30 years ago, Title IX changed athletics forever by requiring that women and girls have equal access to sporting and athletic opportunities. Today NCLR's advocacy, public education, and high-profile cases have the potential to equalize the treatment of LGBT athletes in this century. We seek nothing less than a world in which openly LGBT sports figures can be hailed as champions and role models at every level of competition.

In 2001, NCLR made history by becoming the first LGBT national organization to tackle the rampant homophobia and transphobia in sports with the launch of our Sports Project. Since the Project’s inception, NCLR has worked to eliminate discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in sports through advocacy, outreach, and litigation. Under the leadership of former NCAA women’s basketball championship coach and athletic director Helen J. Carroll, we have provided assistance to hundreds of high school, university, and professional athletes, coaches, and sport personnel. Our Sports Project works on all levels of athletic competition, from the NCAA to the NFL, to ensure that LGBT athletes can compete and participate openly and equally.

project director | Helen J. Carroll

Helen Carroll joined NCLR in August 2001 to lead the Sports Project after spending 30 years as an athlete, coach, and collegiate athletic director. Carroll is well known in the sports world as an acclaimed national Championship Basketball Coach from the University of North Carolina-Asheville. Helen was a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Athletic Director and National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) for 12 years, and now devotes all her efforts to helping the sports world recognize that the inclusion of people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender diversifies and strengthens the sports experience for all. Carroll works closely with major national sports organizations including the Gay Lesbian straight Education Network (GLSEN) Sports Project: Changing the Game, the Women’s Sports Foundation and the NCAA. She has been a speaker on panels with the NCAA, Nike, ESPN’s Outside the Lines, The New York Times and many others. Her work appears in Dr.Dee Mosbacher's and Fawn Yacker’s award-winning film, Training Rules, Dr.Pat Griffin's book, Strong Women, Deep Closets and The Outsports Revolution by authors Jim Buzinski and Cyd Ziegler Jr. Carroll was recently named to the list of Most Powerful Lesbians in Sport by Curve Magazine.

sports project | history

NCLR’s Sports Project was founded in 2001 as the first project of its kind to prioritize, through litigation and policy work, rampant anti-LGBT discrimination and forced invisibility of LGBT athletes, coaches, and sports professionals. Since then, NCLR has teamed with national organizations such as the Women's Sports Foundation, the United States Golf Association, the Ladies Pro Golf Association, and the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletic Administrators to make changes that have long been due. More than 30 years ago, Title IX changed athletics forever by requiring equal treatment of women and girls in sports. Today NCLR’s high-profile work is aimed at assuring equal treatment of LGBT athletes. We seek nothing less than a world in which openly LGBT sports figures can be hailed as champions and role models in all aspects of competition.

sports project | partnerships

Athlete Ally

ATHLETE ALLYTM is an organization encouraging athletes, coaches, parents, fans and other members of the sports community to respect all individuals involved in sports, regardless of perceived or actual sexual-orientation or gender identity or expression. NCLR partners with creator, Hudson Taylor, a three-time NCAA Division I All-American wrestler and coach at Columbia University to combat homophobia/transphobia in sport. Hudson Taylor is a dedicated straight ally to the LGBT sports community.

Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN) Sports Project: Changing the Game

The GLSEN Sports Project’s mission, directed by Pat Griffin, is to assist K-12 schools in creating and maintaining an athletic and physical education climate that is based on the core principles of respect, safety and equal access for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. NCLR Sports Project Director Helen Carroll is one of the 19 advisory group members that provides advice and leadership on all aspects of the GLSEN Sports Project.

Our Group

Our Group is an outreach and support organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) high school and college student-athletes and allies. It serves as a network to connect LGBT student-athletes with other LGBT student-athletes. Our Group is also dedicated to educating athletes, coaches, administrators, and fans to foster a sports community that is accepting for ALL athletes, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Members or Our Group have joined the NCLR Sports Project on panels and are available to speak with young student-athlete clients that NCLR may represent.

It Takes a Team, Educational Campaign for LGBT Issues in Sport. A Women's Sports Foundation Initiative.

It Takes a Team, an initiative of the Women's Sports Foundation provides education and information resources available to educators/trainers to address LGBT issues in sports. It Takes A Team's educational resources feature legal and policy expertise from the NCLR Sports Project.

National Football League(NFL) San Francisco 49ers

After conducting a training on LGBT issues in sports for owners, coaches, and front office staff of the San Francisco 49ers, Sports Project Director Helen Carroll served as a member of the community Advisory Panel for the organization from 2006-2010. Carroll continues to work with the 49ers in an advisory capacity.

sports project | strategic game plan

No team can achieve success without a game plan and guiding principles. The Sports Project envisions an arena of competition that focuses on fairness and equality for all; strengthening the sport experience through diversity; recognition and respect of all gender identities and sexual orientations; and direct and effective confrontation of homophobia and transphobia in sport. Our plan of action includes impact litigation, public policy and advocacy, free legal assistance, and overall public education.

NCLR’s Sports Project works in the courts as well as on the playing field to ensure that LGBT athletes and coaches receive fair and equal treatment, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Groundbreaking progress continues after a decade of the Project’s success Bringing stories such as our settlement of the Jennifer Harris’ case against former Coach Renee Portland and Penn State University into the national spotlight is an important part of NCLR’s educational work in the sporting world.

Our Sports Project is an outspoken participant in many local, state, and national conversations about the evolving world of athletics. Representing the principle of true sportsmanship and fairness in sports, we bring to these discussions the concerns of LGBT players, coaches, spectators, and sports administrators to ensure that they are heard, acknowledged, and understood. Ways in which the Sports Project advocates on behalf of LGBT athletes include:

  • Advising the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) and National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) on the positive benefits to their members as they adopted domestic partner benefits
  • Working with the NCAA, Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA), Professional Golf Association (PGA), U.S. Track and Field, Basketball Coaches Associations, State High School Athletic Associations, the Women's Sports Foundation, etc., to discuss ways to include the full and fair participation of transgender athletes in sports
  • Supporting anti-discrimination policies in organizations such as the San Francisco 49ers ,Women's Professional teams, collegiate athletic organizations and individual institutions of higher learning

The Sports Project travels extensively to reach organizations, coaches and athletic directors directly, and share with them the importance of inclusivity in sports. Below is a list of many of the organizations that NCLR Sports Project worked with.

  • Black Coaches and Administrators Association
  • Black Women in Sports Foundation
  • Gay Games
  • Gay Lesbian Athletic Association
  • Gay Lesbian International Association
  • Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN)
  • Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA)
  • Lavender Law
  • National Association of Collegiate Women Administrators
  • National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)
  • National Fastpitch Coaches Association
  • National Football Summit
  • National Soccer Coaches
  • National Volleyball Coaches Association
  • Montreal OutGames
  • New York Times Speaker series
  • United States Olympic Committee
  • Women's Basketball Coaches Association
  • Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA)
  • Women's Sports Foundation

The Sports Project also collaborates directly with the nation’s top colleges and universities in forming non-discrimination policy and guidelines:

  • University of Florida: Non-discrimination/anti-homophobia training for athletic department and women's softball team
  • Tufts University: Worked with student body panel for LGBT issues
  • University of California Berkeley: Advised student advisory committee (SAC) of the NCAA to see how best to incorporate education on homophobia in sports into their program
  • University of North Carolina Asheville: Advised out athlete on working with media
  • Stanford University: Collaborated on gay and lesbian organization programming on Title IX and homophobia in sports
  • University of Minnesota: Consulted with National Association of Academic Advisors for Athletics
  • University of New Hampshire: Consulted with student affairs office to develop programming
  • Middle Tennessee State University: Consulted with athletic department
  • Springfield College: Consulted with athletic department
  • Ithaca College: Participated in panel discussion on sports programs
  • Northeastern University: Consulted with Sport in Society program

Additionally, NCLR has been joined by many high-profile athletes and coaches to participate in our Sports Project, including John Amaechi, Billy Bean, Pat Griffin, Rosie Jones, Billie Jean King, Holly Metcalf, Martina Navratilova, Dave Pallone, Dave Kopay, Esera Tuaolo, Sheryl Swoopes, Rosie Jones, Hudson Taylor, among others.

sports project | how we can help

NCLR can help. Please contact NCLR today if, as an athlete you are:

  • Disciplined for causing “trouble” with your teammates
  • Suffering from transphobia
  • Afraid you will not be chosen for the team if the coach knows you are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender
  • Fearful of physical violence or emotional abuse
  • Forced to quit your team or lose your scholarship due to a hostile environment
  • Told to remain silent or hide your identity to maintain team image
  • Pretending to be heterosexual to keep your position
  • Harassed or physically abused by team members
  • Terminated from your position and/or are unable to find another team

As a coach or administrator you:

  • Fear having to leave athletics if anyone finds out you are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender
  • Lose your job and/or financial support due to unfair treatment
  • Are denied domestic partner benefits
  • Experience rejection as your peers learn of your identity
  • Endure emotional or physical abuse in the workplace

NCLR offers:

  • Free legal help, referrals, support, and counseling
  • Publications about how to protect your legal rights
  • Assistance in developing or revising antidiscrimination policies
  • Diversity trainings for coaches, administrators, and teams
  • Face-to-face consultation on legal strategies—if needed, we will come to you
  • Confidential toll-free legal helpline: 800.528.NCLR (800.528.6257)

Please contact Helen Carroll if you have any questions or need help.


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