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Playing against politics

For schools participating in interscholastic sports, holding Biblical views of sexuality increasingly draws LGBT ire

Kevin Obanor of Oral Roberts University puts in a layup in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Division I Mens Basketball Tournament in West Lafayette, Ind. Andy Hancock/NCAA Photos/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Playing against politics

College and high school sports are becoming the new battlefield between LGBT advocates and Christian schools holding orthodox views on sexuality. Take, for instance, one of the biggest upsets in this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

Oral Roberts University (ORU) entered the tournament seeded 15th in the South Region and comes from one of basketball’s less heralded conferences. But then it busted office-pool brackets everywhere by stunning No. 2 seed Ohio State in its opening game before toppling 7th-seeded Florida to reach the 68-team tournament’s Sweet 16. It nearly made it to the Elite 8, losing in the final minute to No. 3 seed Arkansas.

Media outlets love toasting giant killers like ORU—they are what give March Madness its name, after all. But this time, a USA Today op-ed by Hemal Jhaveri ripped ORU for requiring its students to adhere to traditional Biblical mores concerning marriage and sexuality, claiming the school imposed standards that are “wildly out of line with modern society and the basic values of human decency.”

Jhaveri further argued that “any and all anti-LGBTQ+ language in any school’s policies should ban them from NCAA competition,” as its participation would give the school a platform to promote its values: “There is no way to separate their men’s basketball team from the dangers of their religious dogma, no matter how many top seeds they defeat.”

The NCAA probably won’t go so far as to ban Christian schools from its postseason tournaments—yet. The governing body for big-time college sports would open itself up to discrimination lawsuits if it did.

But the NCAA’s sympathies certainly seem to lie with commentators like Jhaveri. The NCAA yanked seven championship events out of North Carolina during the 2016-17 school year to protest that state’s now-repealed “bathroom bill.” The bill required transgender persons to use the public restrooms associated with the sex listed on their birth certificates.

In the wake of states passing bills that would protect girls and women from having to compete against biological males in school sports, the NCAA Board of Governors released a statement in April saying it would only hold championship games in states that are “free of discrimination” toward transgender athletes. This would disqualify Idaho, Mississippi, and Arkansas, which have all passed “Save Girls’ Sports” bills.

A desire to host NCAA postseason events in South Dakota caused the state’s Gov. Kristi Noem to reverse course after initially pledging to sign a bill aimed at protecting girls’ and women’s sports. Afraid the NCAA would rule out South Dakota as a host for postseason events, she demanded the state Legislature remove language requiring the state’s universities to bar biological males from participating in women’s sports. (Noem issued executive orders regarding K-12 female sports and recommendations for universities, but conservatives called the orders toothless.)

Over the past five years, pro-LGBT forces have staged boycotts pressuring states deemed anti-LGBT to change their ways: California and New York banned their public universities from sending teams to states whose laws they considered discriminatory, a move aimed at robbing such states of valuable sports-related dollars.

And in 2019, the Sheridan School of Washington, D.C., a secular private school, refused to send its basketball teams to road games at Immanuel Christian School in nearby Virginia due to the latter’s Biblical stance on sexuality.

Some Oregon lawmakers also tried to use sports to require private schools—including Christian schools—to accept LGBT values this year. An Oregon Senate bill would have excluded private schools from interscholastic competition with public schools unless they submitted to oversight by the Oregon Department of Education in areas related to student safety.

State Sen. Michael Dembrow claimed the requirement was to protect students from predatory teachers. But it also included following state standards in bullying and suicide prevention, measures linked to LGBT nondiscrimination statutes that could put private schools at legal risk. (The bill didn’t pass.)

With millions of dollars at stake, colleges likely won’t refuse to play a school like ORU in the NCAA tournament. Still, if ORU’s success at this year’s basketball tournament is any indication, Christian schools participating in the “Big Dance” won’t be the belles of the ball anytime soon.

Ray Hacke

Ray is a sports correspondent for WORLD Magazine. He is a graduate of World Journalism Institute and Syracuse University School of Journalism, and he has been a sports reporter for 25 years. He is also a licensed attorney. Ray resides with his wife, Pauline, and daughter in Keizer, Ore.



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You know, in the great scheme of things, I can think of things a lot worse than bidding farewell to the NCAA. If they give the boot to schools with a code on LBGT behavior, I'd be fine with wearing that badge.
I mentioned in an earlier comment on a different article that I felt Kristi Noem deserved a chance to be heard. Unfortunately, if she has a case she hasn't made it. It's regrettable that, apparently, some possibility of an NCAA tournament game in South Dakota has turned her priorities.