College athletes urge NCAA to move championships from states with transgender bans

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Fifty current and former college athletes sent a letter to NCAA leadership Wednesday urging the organization to remove its championship events from states that have passed bans against transgender athletes.

The athletes who signed the letter identify as transgender and non-binary. They addressed the letter to NCAA president Mark Emmert, vice president of inclusion, education and community engagement Derrick Gragg and the Board of Governors. 

'Deeply disappointed and hurt by the NCAA's choice'

The letter was sent in response to the organization's decision to schedule regional matchups for the NCAA softball tournament in Tennessee, Alabama and Arkansas, all of which have recently passed laws requiring student-athletes to compete in sports according to their birth sex. Similar GOP-led legislation has passed in Mississippi, Montana, Idaho and West Virginia. States across the country, including Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, are considering similar legislation. 

"We, the undersigned, are deeply disappointed and hurt by the NCAA’s choice to host Division I softball championship games in states with transgender athlete bans," the letter reads. "We are a group of transgender and non-binary current and former NCAA student-athletes, the community you claimed to 'firmly and unequivocally support' in your statement released on April 12th, 2021.  

"Only a month ago, you declared the NCAA 'supports the opportunity for transgender student-athletes to compete in college sports' and that '[t]his commitment is grounded in our values of inclusion and fair competition.' This statement is in stark contrast to the decision to host championship games in states with transgender athlete bans."

NCAA President Mark Emmert answers questions during a news conference at the Final Four college basketball tournament in Minneapolis. The NCAA Board of Governors voted Tuesday, April 27, 2021, to extend Emmert's contract by two years through 2025. Emmert’s contract was set to expire in 2023, but the board voted unanimously to extend his deal. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)
Fifty current and former student-athletes signed a letter urging NCAA president Mark Emmert to pull softball regionals from Tennessee, Alabama and Arkansas. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)

NCAA committed last month to environments 'free of discrimination'

The letter references an April statement from the NCAA Board of Governors that committed to avoid hosting evens at locations with discriminatory practices. The NCAA statement arrived amid the increase in state-level legislation against transgender athletes. 

“When determining where championships are held, NCAA policy directs that only locations where hosts can commit to providing an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination should be selected,” the board's statement read. “We will continue to closely monitor these situations to determine whether NCAA championships can be conducted in ways that are welcoming and respectful of all participants.”

The letter also referenced the NCAA's decision to pull events from North Carolina in 2016 because of the state's "bathroom bill" requiring people to use bathrooms that match their assigned birth sex. The student-athletes called for the NCAA to do the same with states that have passed legislation against access for transgender athletes.

Mount Holyoke field hockey player Emet Marwell and Nebraska Wesleyan swimmer and track and field athlete Dani Wheeler are among the student-athletes to sign the letter.

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