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It Took a Team

By |2010-02-04T09:00:00-05:00February 4th, 2010|Entertainment|

By Dan Woog

The OutField

Since its inception four years ago, The OutField has chronicled – and lauded – the work of It Takes a Team. We’ve covered the small organization’s large work in areas as diverse as anti-gay recruiting by college coaches, the preparation of an educational kit on LGBT issues in sport, and the rise of transgender athletes.

But this is our last column about It Takes a Team. In December, its sponsor – the Women’s Sports Foundation – announced the end of funding for the project. Budget woes in a soft economy doomed the decade-old program.
It Takes a Team began auspiciously. Concerned about homophobia in sport, tennis great Martina Navratilova raised funds to combat stereotypes and educate participants. Though what was then called The Project to Eliminate Homophobia in Sport became part of the Women’s Sports Foundation, Navratilova insisted it address male issues as well as female.
From the start, the Women’s Sports foundation had a hard time getting other LGBT or athletic organizations to support the project. Its first directors were paid very little and administrative aid from the WSF was minimal, limiting its impact and visibility.
A key moment occurred when Pat Griffin – a professor of social justice and former coach at the University of Massachusetts – joined with Mount Holyoke College athletic director Laurie Priest, former Massachusetts Department of Education Safe Schools Program director Jeff Perrotti and former Oberlin College athletic director Michael Muska to develop educational materials.
The result: a 15-minute video, curriculum materials and action guides, “Safe Space” stickers, posters, and a list of resources addressing LGBT issues in sport – provided help to athletes, coaches and administrators. It came at a crucial time, when student-athletes began coming out of the closet and a new generation of coaches moved into positions of power.
In 2004, director Lisa Thompson left It Takes a Team. Griffin – who had just retired from UMass – was hired at a higher salary. She worked from her home in Massachusetts, but was given administrative assistance at WSF’s Long Island headquarters. In 2005, the program’s name was changed to It Takes a Team.
Griffin took her job seriously. She traveled widely, speaking to athletes, coaches and administrators, and at PFLAG and athletic conferences. She developed strong relationships with the National Collegiate Athletic Association and National Center for Lesbian Rights.
Eighteen national advocacy organizations – from the Association for Applied Sport Psychology and Anti-Defamation League to OutSports .com and the Transgender Law Center – endorsed It Takes a Team and linked to its Web site.
A monthly e-newsletter reached over 3,000 subscribers. Griffin answered countless questions, and offered advice on ways to make sports teams safe and welcoming for LGBT athletes.
“Coaches and administrators really relied on us,” Griffin says. “They knew to come to us with questions like ‘What’s a fair transgender policy?’ or ‘How do I address negative recruiting by coaches in our conference?’ We came a long way.”
The organization had its most success at the college level, perhaps because of the older age of participants. “There’s much more work to be done in high school,” Griffin notes.
Her greatest satisfaction came from advising student-athletes about their legal rights, then following up to hear that progress was made. She was especially heartened when parents supported their LGBT sons and daughters.
For five years, It Takes a Team raised money through grants and donations. In 2009, as funds dried up for non-profits across the country, the WSF decided to end the program.
The wealth of resources will remain on the WSF’s Web site http://www.womenssportsfoundation.org/Issues-And-Research/Homophobia.aspx. However, there will be no more research, conferences or educational materials.
Griffin vows to continue her own work – including her blog http://www.ittakesateam.blogspot.com. “I’m not done,” she says firmly. “I have such a passion for this. I’m looking for my next venue, figuring out how to keep going. I want to stay in the game.”
She adds: “My goal was always to put myself out of business. It hasn’t happened yet. I hear too many stories and get too many calls about negative recruiting, anti-gay locker room environments and comments made by coaches and athletes.
“Our work is not done. We’ve got a foothold in the world of sport. I’m sad to see It Takes a Team end now.”
Griffin is heartened that her group was alone in working on LGBT issues in sport. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation has a sports media desk. NCLR, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, the student-led Our Group, OutSports.com and individuals on campus around the country “won’t go away,” Griffin says. “We’re no longer a lonely voice in the wilderness. We’ve got lots of company now.”

About the Author:

BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.