Equality is Just a Word in the 2021 NCAA Tournament

March of 2020 was a shock to most of the world when COVID-19 was recognized as a pandemic. Pre-existing inequalities in the United States were further highlighted by the spread of COVID-19 and the lack of response from the U.S. The Ivy League made the first move in the sports world by cancelling their conference tournament in response to the pandemic. This move came only one day before the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 as a pandemic. The next day, the NCAA left the world of sports in awe as they canceled the 82nd Annual edition of March Madness. Not only was this the highlight of college basketball, but the tournament is responsible for over $600 million in revenue.

2020 was a rollercoaster where the world witnessed inequalities across the nation imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic to systemic racial injustice. The year included the largest civil rights movement in human history, the failure of a country to take action, and inequality across all walks of life that were highlighted by the pandemic.

Fast forward to 2021 and things were supposed to be different. There is a new president, vaccinations are being administered by the millions, and major sports are back in full swing. Now it is March 2021 and the NCAA tournament is back after a one year hiatus; leaving college sports fans on the edge of their seats to watch college basketball on the world’s biggest stage.

Due to the events of 2020, major sports leagues, including the NCAA, tried to show their support of marginalized groups and inequality against these groups by releasing statements to promote awareness. “Black Lives Matters” and “Justice

for George Floyd/Breonna Taylor”” were plastered on advertisements and courts for the NCAA as well as professional sports leagues. The NCAA modified gear and venues to include words that show the NCAA stands against inequality. The courts for the first round of the Men’s NCAA Tournament had the word “Equality” on the sidelines to show where it stands. This poses the question: does the NCAA stand against inequality or is the NCAA merely protecting its image by slapping buzz words on the court and calling it equality?

The NCAA cares about equality, unless it comes to weight room equipment, food, COVID-19 testing methods, photographers, and coverage for the NCAA Women’s tournament. A 37-second video posted on Tik-Tok by Oregon forward Sedona Prince shows a single stack of yoga mats and free weights as the women's weight room and then cuts to a ballroom-sized area with at least 12 weight rack stations that serves as the men's weight room. Prince’s video did something that people have been unable to do for years in women’s sports: expose the blatant inequality between men’s and women’s sports. Gender inequity in sports is nothing new, and the topic is understandably polarizing. From women's tennis to the U.S. Women's National Soccer team, female athletes have fought for equal treatment and equal pay for decades -- and, in many cases, have made the sport better for future generations.

Gender inequality in sports is just one of the many inequalities that the NCAA turns a blind eye to. Going almost unrecognized, the NCAA permits the membership of explicitly homophobic institutions. One of these institutions was ultimately crowned the winner of the men’s NCAA tournament. The NCAA cannot write “Equality” on its basketball courts while permitting membership to these institutions. They stand directly adverse to the NCAA. Let’s talk about Baylor University’s “Statement on Human Sexuality,” which prohibits “advocacy groups” for “homosexual behavior.” Baylor’s student handbook contains a provision that discusses human sexuality. The handbook explicitly states:

“[t]emptations to deviate from this norm include both heterosexual sex outside of marriage and homosexual behavior. It is thus expected that Baylor students will not participate in advocacy groups which promote understandings of sexuality that are contrary to biblical teaching.”

Baylor has, as of February 11, 2021, voted to allow an LGBTQ group charter on campus and afford that group the same privileges of other official student organizations, including opportunities to advertise their programs on campus, invite guest speakers, reserve university spaces for meetings, and receive funding through the student government. This is a step in the right direction, however, the student policy has not changed. The bigger issue here is that the NCAA, and the better half of an entire nation, stood behind a school that has explicitly discriminated against and oppressed the LGBTQ community, in a tournament that was run on the image of “equality.” The NCAA awarded the championship of the "equality" tournament to a school with anti-LGBTQ+ policies.

Baylor is not the only member school in the tournament that explicitly oppresses the LGBTQ community at their school. Cinderella story and tournament fan favorite Oral Robert University, has a similar statement in their handbook that reads:

“Certain behaviors are expressly prohibited in Scripture and therefore should be avoided by members of the University community. They include theft, lying, dishonesty . . . sexual promiscuity (including adultery, any homosexual behavior, premarital sex) . . .”

This goes to show that sports, especially after the tournament’s one year hiatus, is the only thing the NCAA cares about. The Athletic Equality Index ranked all NCAA DI athletic departments on LGBTQ+ inclusion. This index found that less than three percent of LGBTQ+ student-athletes are in fully inclusive environments. However, high-scoring schools in LGTBQ+ inclusion show that progress is possible. The NCAA could prohibit member schools from allowing these anti-LGBTQ+ policies by enacting their own firm policy on discrimination. It seems that the only equality the NCAA cares about is equaling its projected revenue.

Trevor Brown is a third-year law student at the University of New Hampshire School of Law. You can follow Trevor on twitter @trev_brown_

Information in this article was gathered with the help of Nathan Kalman-Lamb, a lecturing fellow at Duke University and the co-host of End of Sport Podcast. You can follow Nathan on twitter @nkalamb and find his podcast at @EndofSportPod.

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