As the general manager and head coach of Minnesota Lynx, I spend a lot of time thinking about what makes a winning team. It takes more than signing individual athletes, no matter how talented they are or how hard they work. I’m looking for players who are confident enough to know when it’s time to lead and also when it’s time to let their teammates shine. Because athletes are leaders on and off the court, I always encourage my team to get involved with the issues that affect the world around us. I am proud when my team stands up for the lives of blacks, fights wage disparities in women’s sports, and celebrates our LGBTQ fans. And today, I am proud to speak in support of the right of transgender women and non-binary athletes to compete in women’s sports.
When we welcome all athletes, including transgender athletes, to bring their full authenticity to the game, we are stronger as individual players and as a team. I have dedicated my life to women’s basketball long enough to know that the real threats to women’s sports lie in obstacles such as severe pay disparities, underinvestment in female coaches, and a general lack of resources dedicated to women’s sports from school competition to the elite level. Transgender exclusion pits female athletes against each other, reinforces the damaging notion that there is only one right way to be a woman, and distracts us from the real threats to women’s sports.
I am proud that my team’s home state of Minnesota protects transgender athletes from discrimination. In fact, Minnesota was the first in the nation to protect transgender, gender non-conforming, and non-binary people in a state human rights law. And the Minnesota State High School League, like the Internal Olympic Committee, the NCAA, and other professional sports leagues, has an inclusive policy that allows athletes to play on the team according to their gender identity. However, too many transgender athletes still face discriminatory obstacles constructed by those who want to unfairly ban them in women’s sports.
JayCee Cooper, a weightlifter in our home state of Minnesota, is suing USA Powerlifting, with the help of Gender Justice and Nichols Kaster, over USAPL’s discriminatory ban that prevents transgender women from participating in sport. In addition to violating Minnesota state law, this prohibition also goes directly against Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter, which states that any form of discrimination has no place in Olympic sports. This ban simply cannot be sustained and we are confident that it will not be maintained.
I am following this case closely and am proud of JayCee for leading the fight to ensure that our teams and leagues live up to the values inherent in sport: respect, dignity, perseverance, equality and inclusion. JayCee is an exceptional athlete who walks the path when it comes to upholding our shared values, and she’s not afraid to fight to be able to play the sport she loves and provide that opportunity for others.
In women’s sport there is no room for division and discrimination. Fairness and basic justice are not “zero sum.” Everyone wins when we expand sporting opportunities to more women and when we treat each other fairly. I have seen firsthand the power of inclusion to improve sports, and we all win as a global sports community when access is expanded, not diminished. I hope you will join me in supporting athletes like JayCee and defending the right of all female athletes to be our true authentic selves on and off the court.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.