It’s no secret to LGBT student-athletes that homophobia, whether at the college, recreational or professional level, is worse in sports than in general society. But getting the rest of society to realize that is a challenge. A vital part of changing a homophobic atmosphere for LGBTQ student-athletes and coaches rests on administrators. They must be the ones to take the lead in creating a climate of respect and inclusion that includes providing training for coaches, administrators and recreational sports staff so they learn current best practices and policies in creating an LGBTQ-inclusive athletic community.

But that is easier said than done. Having worked in higher education, I know how very difficult it can be to implement any type of change, even when many of the school administrators and department chairs are philosophically on board. Many are mired in red tape and don’t know what to do or where to turn. And sad to say, there are also some institutions whose administrators only pay lip service to the idea of diversity and inclusion in their athletic programs. There has to be a way to stimulate some action since it’s that action step that either makes or breaks an idea’s ability to become a game-changer.

Nevin Caple

Nevin Caple

And Nevin Caple and Eric Lueshen are doing just that with their new LGBT SportSafe Inclusion Program. They are providing a benchmarking framework based on a new algorithm they call their 3-Peat Model. It addresses the importance of Programming, Policy and Public Awareness at all levels of sport – college athletic administrators, coaches, and recreational sports leaders as well as professional sports leagues.

Infrastructure is a key component. The SportSafe framework supports an organization’s ability to take action; to actively champion respect and inclusion for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning student-athletes by creating an inclusive and respectful athletic community that also includes LGBTQ coaches and staff.

Eric Lueshen

Eric Lueshen

Caple, a former Division I basketball player from Farleigh Dickinson, and Lueshen, a former Division I football player from the University of Nebraska, having experienced being gay student-athletes, have dedicated their professional lives to being the change they wished they had seen and experienced when they were in school.

Together they are offering SportSafe workshops that Caple says addresses issues like “dating on teams, finding common ground between religion and LGBT inclusion and topics that seem basic, such as how a coach responds to an LGBT athlete who comes out. We have many administrators with good intentions but fear saying or doing the wrong thing.”

The important thing is that it gets the conversation started between administrators, coaches and student-athletes; a conversation that Caple says is always a hard one to get started. And then it’s up to administrators to follow through with solid programs and policies that not only create a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere but also maintain it in the event of future administrative and coaching turnovers.

The program was launched in June, the traditional Pride month, with three important founding partners – the University of Oregon, Northwestern University and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Calling them “three powerhouse institutions who are leading the way for LGBT inclusion in sport,” Lueshen said that the Orlando tragedy in June only “reinforces the need to increase the visibility of LGBT inclusive spaces, and it’s an honor to have these institutions taking proactive steps to make athletics a place where everyone is valued and respected.”

Lots of wonderful organizations have been working to change people’s perceptions of the LGBT community, particularly in sports. Caple, a well-known and highly regarded diversity consultant co-founded her Br{ache the Silence advocacy group back in 2011 and has been actively involved in changing intercollegiate and professional sports ever since. And while earning a PhD in biomedical engineering from the University of Illinois, Lueshen has continued to share his story on radio, in print and in personal appearances. With the two coming together, however, they have created something unique.

In addition to structure, SportSafe goes beyond the meaningful but intangible benefit of doing it because it’s the right thing to do. It goes a step further by offering some tangible benefits that keep member-institutions connected and actively involved in their inclusion commitment. Once a member institution reaches specific inclusion goals, it’s awarded an LGBT SportSafe medallion that shows the community it is championing LGBTQ equality. It’s also listed in the LGBT SportSafe National Registry of inclusive athletic communities.

Using the 3-Peat Model of programming, policy and public awareness, the bronze, silver and gold medallions indicate where an institution is in implementing the inclusion process – the Bronze Medallion indicates intention; the Silver Medallion indicates an institution that is actively engaged in the process and has a scheduled deadline; the Gold Medallion is for institutions that are LGBT inclusive and committed to ongoing training and keeping policies updated for LGBTQ student-athletes and coaches.

Membership also provides access to the Coaches Corner, a comprehensive online resource for LGBTQ inclusion in college, professional, club and youth sports as well as a subscription to the SportSafe quarterly e-newsletter offering exclusive content, interviews and best practices. As institutions start to join the LGBT SportSafe Inclusion Program, the first two in every athletic conference to join are eligible to be part of the elite Founders Club to honor their early commitment to LGBT student-athlete inclusion – they get to add their institution’s names to those of the three founding academic partners.

For even the most recalcitrant institutions, it’s hard to drag your feet when people can now gauge your actual commitment to LGBTQ student-athlete inclusion. With student recruitment and retention the watchword for colleges and universities, membership in the LGBT SportSafe Inclusion Program will be a positive recruiting and retention tool for them.

Interest in this new program with its pragmatic structure is expected to quickly generate lots of interest. Once the LGBT SportSafe Inclusion Program has established itself at the college and professional sports levels, Caple and Lueshen plan to introduce the program to high schools. They also note that individuals, including alumni, boosters, coaches and athletes who are interested in sharing it with athletic administrators and recreational sports leaders, can access the toolkit on the program website.

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By Connie Wardman


Photos courtesy of LGBT SportSafe




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