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Advocates Call on NCAA to Add Nondiscrimination Language to Constitution

The Human Rights Campaign joined 16 other national advocacy organizations, including GLAAD and Athlete Ally, on Thursday in calling on the NCAA to include previously existing nondiscrimination protections in the new NCAA constitution. 

The latest draft of the constitution, released in November, included major changes that would give more power to individual schools and conferences, embrace the influence of name, image and likeness compensation, and shrink the Board of Governors from 21 members to nine. 

But in a letter to the NCAA Board of Governors ahead of a vote to ratify the constitution, the advocacy groups wrote that the amended version removed nondiscrimination language that sought to protect women, athletes of color and LGBTQ athletes in NCAA competitions. 

“While decentralizing the NCAA and giving power to conferences and schools has its benefits, we are concerned that leaving the enforcement of non-discrimination protections to schools will create a patchwork of protections rather than a comprehensive policy that would protect all athletes, no matter where they play,“ the letter read. 

“This would be similar to the patchwork of nondiscrimination policies in states, where marginalized groups in some states or cities are protected while others are left behind by localities that opt not to enact inclusive policies. The health, safety, and well-being of every athlete is paramount, and a particular challenge for transgender athletes who have to contend with discriminatory laws that are being enacted in states across the country.”

Several states, including Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee, have passed legislation barring trans athletes’ participation in sports, which has left college athletes to partner with advocacy groups to pressure the NCAA to protect its athletes from discrimination. 

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The NCAA had previously responded firmly to discriminatory legislation. Last April, the Board of Governors released a statement promising to host championships in places “free of discrimination“ as the organization “firmly and unequivocally supports the opportunity for transgender student-athletes to compete in college sports.“

However, the pending vote on the new constitution without protections against discrimination has left advocacy groups wary of trusting states and individual schools. 

“The political climate that we have seen develop in certain state legislatures gives us little hope that non-discrimination and fair treatment are principles that will be consistently upheld by state laws, or that state policies are even trending in the right direction,” the letter read. 

On Wednesday night, the NCAA announced an immediate change to its transgender eligibility policy, which will now be decentralized and overseen by each national sport governing body, in line with a recent change to the IOC’s own policy.  

“We are still reviewing the NCAA's new policy on transgender inclusion and how it will impact each and every transgender athlete," said HRC vice president for policy and political affairs JoDee Winterhof in a statement Thursday.

The new NCAA constitution is set to take effect in August.

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