Following Jason Collins’ coming out in Sports Illustrated (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/magazine/news/20130429/jason-collins-gay-nba-player/), Melissa Segura of SI shared this Viewpoint “High-profile, openly gay male coach would be transformative” (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/magazine/news/20130430/gay-male-coach-jason-collins/index.html?eref=sircrc).
Segura opens by illustrating the culture of big league coaching:
Flip through the pages of any major college or pro sports media guide, and you’ll find that nearly every coach’s biography ends the same way. Buried below the exhaustive recap of every step of the coach’s career you’ll find what’s known in business school as an attempt at humanizing the brand: photographs of the coach with his wife and children, their arms locked and Trident smiles gleaming. A family photo, a quick glimpse inside a Rockwellian home life — it all cultivates a connection between the fan and the brand while less overtly reinforcing an image of a different sort: Coach is straight.
… The notion that blowing a whistle and holding a dry-erase board on the sidelines equals heterosexuality is so entrenched that in December 2010 The New York Times ran a story chronicling that rare breed — the bachelor college football coach. One anecdote: Shortly after leaving the University of Miami to coach the Cowboys in 1992, Jimmy Johnson, fresh off a divorce, inadvertently reinforced the idea that a wedding band is a job requirement when he said, “There are a lot of social functions to deal with in being a college coach. … It was good I was married then.”
OK, clearly coaching has its own barriers to inclusion, if even being single is considered risky. But aren’t the players the stars? Aren’t they the ones who matter?
Maybe the players are more in the spotlight, but Segura is making a point about shifting culture, not just tolerating individuals who don’t fit the norm. This is why Segura states that:
in the search for real equality… an openly gay coach could be even more transformative [than an openly gay male athlete on a basketball court or football field]. Coaches not only determine the lineup but they also dictate the direction of a program or franchise.
And for any competitive organization, a culture of inclusion only enhances each individual’s ability to contribute fully to the group’s goal. Segura speaks to this when she cites the example of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in the military:
Before the 2011 repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the policy barring openly gay service members, Marine Commandant General James Amos insisted that homosexual soldiers could undermine “unit cohesion” and be a “distraction.” President Obama repealed the law anyway.
“If you look back at that fight, one of the key turning points was when Mike Mullen, who was then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, went to [Congress] and testified that the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal was the right thing to do,” said Zeke Stokes, communications director for OutServe-SLDN, a legal organization serving LGBT military members and their families. “That trickled down through the ranks and set the tone for not only getting the repeal through but also a whole new landscape of fairness and equity in the military. That kind of leadership will be incredibly important from coaches, owners and team leaders in professional sports.”
And that’s what leadership needs to do: not just get behind the folks in their organizations who stand up for equity and inclusion. Stand out in front every day and when it matters. Stand out there because the change is about culture and systems, not accommodating exceptional individuals.