The University of Miami received a perfect score on Athlete Ally’s 2021 Athletic Equality Index (AEI), a data-driven method to measure National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division-1 athletic departments’ policies and practices around LGBTQ+ inclusion. These are all geared to protecting LGBTQ+ identifying athletes, coaches, staff, administrators, and fans both on and off the field of play.
To find out more about this initiative, we heard from Anna Baeth, Director of Research at Athlete Ally, Jenn Strawley, Deputy Director of Athletics and Chief Operating Officer at Miami and Shirelle Jackson, Senior Associate Athletic Director of Student Athlete Development at Miami. They opened up on the importance of LGBTQ+ inclusion in sport, how the University of Miami is paving the way for these efforts in the NCAA and how other universities can join in this movement for athlete equality.
Why is it important to protect LGBTQ+ athletes, staff, and fans?
Anna Baeth, Athlete Ally: In 2019, hate crimes against the LGBTQ+ community were on the rise, with the number of anti-LGBTQ+ hate groups soaring 43%. This year is already a record-breaking year for anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, with more than 35 states introducing bills that would ban transgender youth from sports.
In sports spaces, discrimination is especially common. LGBTQ+ athletes are twice as likely to quit sport as their non-LGBTQ+ peers and a 2015 study found that of over 9,000 sport fans, the vast majority believed that spectator stands and locker rooms were the most dangerous places for LGBTQ+ people in sport.
COVID-19 has also placed LGBTQ+ youth at increased risk of depression, anxiety, and suicidality as a result of social isolation, financial hardships and increased stress around the pandemic. According to a recent study on mental health, when LGBTQ+ youth have access to sports, they earn higher grades and are less likely to have depressive symptoms. That access depends upon schools proactively fostering an environment where students are safe, welcomed and accepted for who they are.
How does the AEI measure LGBTQ+ inclusion across NCAA D-1 athletic departments?
Anna: AEI measures the LGBTQ+ inclusion policies and practices of every NCAA D-1 athletic department by assessing four publicly facing policies: a nondiscrimination statement, a transgender inclusion policy, a sexual misconduct policy, and a fan code of conduct. It also considers four demonstrated practices: offering LGBTQ+ educational resources, partnering with their campus LGBTQ+ center, providing an LGBTQ+ training to athletics staff and giving an LGBTQ+ training to student-athletes.
Our team does this by auditing the student-athlete handbook, policy manuals, and official athletics website, to identify those public-facing policies and practices.
The AEI differs from other scorecards in that every athletic department has the capacity to earn full points by enacting and making each policy, resource, and training publicly accessible. The AEI is also evergreen, as it now lives on a constantly updated website. At any given moment, the AEI site provides a comprehensive snapshot of how NCAA institutions are supporting their fans, staff, coaches, and student-athletes.
How does the University of Miami ensure their LGBTQ+ athletes, staff and fans are fully protected on and off the field of play?
Jenn Strawley, University of Miami: Miami creates a culture of inclusion in all we do. Respect is one of our five key values and ensuring all are treated with respect and decency is critical to our department. In addition, one of our department commitments is providing equitable opportunities regardless of race, color, religion gender, sexual orientation, age, national origin, disability, or veteran status. Specific to LGBTQ+ – we have hosted the Pride games, established an Athlete Ally group and have language in our policies that reflect our values. We also review our policies on a regular basis to ensure appropriate language and that policies are inclusive.
What challenges were faced when implementing these changes and what have you learned from them?
Shirelle Jackson, University of Miami: The challenges were things such as: how do we implement our support group? How and when should they meet and where? Will they feel comfortable coming together? We continue to share and advertise Athlete Ally, make the meetings available to all student athletes and meet on the same day each month. This has brought more student athletes to the space each month. We also partner with our University’s LGBTQ+ Center which has been an extremely valuable resource.
Another thing we’ve learned is that it starts with leadership creating an atmosphere where all students can feel safe and accepted.
Why is it important for a D-1 school like University of Miami to receive a perfect score on the AEI?
Anna: Despite a growing number of athletes coming out as LGBTQ+ in college (and before being recruited), as of 2021, only 2.8% of NCAA D-I athletes compete in departments that fully protect and support their LGBTQ+ identities.
By scoring a 100 on the AEI, the University of Miami is sending a powerful message to student-athletes, prospective student-athletes, fans, and other athletic departments that LGBTQ+ athletes are not only accepted but welcomed and included. They’re also setting what we hope will be a gold standard for other schools to strive for.
What does a perfect score on the AEI mean to the University of Miami?
Shirelle: It gives us great pride to have a perfect score. Miami values our inclusive culture and commitment to diversity.
This critical work accomplished by Athlete Ally and adidas-partner schools like University of Miami is a step forward in LGBTQ+ equality on and off the field of play. However, this work is far from done.
Athlete Ally is committed to ongoing conversation and collaboration with colleges and universities to continuously improve Athletic Equality Index scores and ultimately create move inclusive communities. adidas has invested in the Athlete Ally Research Fellows to sustain this initiative for the next three years.
Want to learn more about the work of Athlete Ally? Click here to find out more.