On the Eve of Final Four Tournament, NCAA President Mark Emmert Speaks Out Against Anti-Trans Sports Bills In States, Reinforces NCAA Will Hold Championship In Locations “Free of Discrimination.”
On the eve of this weekend’s NCAA Final Four tournament, NCAA President Mark A. Emmert spoke out against the slate of discriminatory, anti-transgender bills in state legislatures across the country—aimed at banning transgender youth from participating in sports—framing the legislation as “harmful to transgender student-athletes” and “conflicting with NCAA’s core values.” In addition to criticizing the legislation, Emmert went a step further by reinforcing NCAA’s commitment to hosting championship games in locations “free of discrimination.”
In a letter sent to HRC President Alphonso David—released today by HRC—Emmert wrote: “The NCAA Board of Governors policy requires championship host sites to demonstrate how they will provide an environment that is safe, healthy, and free of discrimination. The board policy also requires that safeguards are in place to ensure the dignity of everyone involved in the event.”
The letter—sent in response to a letter from David—further called out Idaho House Bill 500, a bill that bars transgender women and girls from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity. Emmert expressed that the legislation “conflicts with the NCAA’s core values of inclusivity, respect and the equitable treatment of all individuals.” He further emphasized the NCAA’s commitment to host sites that are “safe, healthy, and free of discrimination.”
In 2016, the NCAA Board of Governors instructed the association to relocate all seven previously awarded championship events from North Carolina after the vote of HB 2, legislation that eliminated existing municipal non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people and forced transgender students in public schools to use restrooms and other facilities inconsistent with their gender identity. The NCAA has continuously stated a firm position that if participating states do not meet the association’s “expectations of a discrimination-free environment,” they will “not hesitate to take necessary action at any time.”
“These bills seek to deny the very existence of transgender people, further perpetuating stigma that fuels an epidemic of violence against our community,” said HRC’s Alphonso David. “To be clear, this stigma is directly affecting NCAA athletes; as highlighted in a recent article detailing the steps the NCAA had to take to protect the safety of one of its transgender athletes, including hiring body guards. It bears repeating: this is a moment of crisis. HRC stands ready to support the work of the NCAA to ensure that we continue to foster diversity, inclusion and equity.”
“It’s heartbreaking that during a global pandemic, when transgender youth especially need community and support, we are seeing a record number of proposed bills threatening to ban them from playing sports with their friends,” said Athlete Ally’s Anne Lieberman. “These discriminatory bills are in direct violation of the NCAA’s 2016 nondiscrimination policy for championship events, and we hope to see the NCAA join us in supporting the rights of all LGBTQ+ student athletes to be safe, welcome and included in sport.”
Athletes Across the Country Speaking Out Against Anti-Transgender Bills
Athletes and other prominent sports figures across the country are speaking out against the discriminatory measures. Recently, 500 NCAA student athletes called on the Board of Governors to continue upholding its “NCAA Anti-Discrimination Policy and only operate championships and events in states that promote an inclusive atmosphere.” This week, Minnesota Lynx GM and coach Cheryl Reeve wrote: “Transgender exclusion pits woman athletes against one another, reinforces the harmful notion that there is only one right way to be a woman and distracts us from the real threats to women’s sports.”
The anti-transgender legislation is part of a larger coordinated effort to advance a series of anti-LGBTQ measures in statehouses across the country—where 192 discriminatory bills targeting LGBTQ people are under consideration. Of these discriminatory bills, 93 directly target transgender people and about half of those would ban transgender youth from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity.
The full letter from Emmert is below.
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April 1, 2021
Thank you for writing to me and the NCAA Board of Governors. We appreciate your continued attention to this issue and are pleased we share the same views on the importance of diversity and inclusion.
As you mentioned, the NCAA, including our more than 1,100 member schools, has long advocated for increased opportunities and inclusion in sport. We are incredibly proud of the opportunities that student-athletes have gained thanks to more inclusive collegiate environments. Our member schools and conferences also share our commitment to offering a diverse and inclusive experience for all our student-athletes, which is why we have developed policies to ensure students have fair and equitable opportunities to compete.
The NCAA is concerned with the numerous bills that have been filed across our country related to sport participation. As we have previously stated in situations such as Idaho’s House Bill 500 and its resulting law, this legislation is harmful to transgender student-athletes and conflicts with the NCAA’s core values of inclusivity, respect and the equitable treatment of all individuals. The NCAA Board of Governors policy requires championship host sites to demonstrate how they will provide an environment that is safe, healthy, and free of discrimination. The board policy also requires that safeguards are in place to ensure the dignity of everyone involved in the event.
The NCAA continues to closely monitor and assess state bills and federal guidelines that impact student-athlete participation. In addition to our longstanding work in diversity and inclusion, in October 2020, the NCAA convened a summit about gender identity and student-athlete participation that focused on issues of competitive equity, inclusion, and physical and mental health for all student-athletes. NCAA inclusion and Sport Science Institute staff and others continue to work with leading experts to assess our transgender participation policy and provide resources to the membership about inclusive practices on their campuses.
We also are aware of President Biden’s recent executive order that strengthens the enforcement power of Title IX as it relates to transgender students on campuses. This federal guidance will be another important mechanism that states consider when formulating new legislation. All NCAA schools also must follow state and federal laws, including Title IX.
It is our clear expectation that all NCAA student-athletes will be welcomed, treated with respect, and have nondiscriminatory participation wherever they compete. We are committed to upholding these principles and will continue to assess emerging laws to ensure student-athletes have fair opportunities.
Thank you again for contacting us.
Mark A. Emmert
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The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organizations working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. HRC envisions a world where LGBTQ people are embraced as full members of society at home, at work and in every community.