Some Day, None Of This Will Matter, But For Now It Does

Interesting story in The Seattle Times about Portland State women’s coach Sherri Murrell, who after a rocky time at Washington State has found success at PSU and comfort with her sexual orientation.

In the interest of full disclosure, Sherri has been a friend of mine since we attended high school together. But I would find the article interesting regardless.

Murrell went 27-114 in five years as the coach at Washington State. She then resigned despite having three years remaining on her contract. Now she’s 63-33 in three years at Portland State, and has the Vikings in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history. Murrell didn’t suddenly become a good coach; she suddenly landed in a situation more conducive to success.

More importantly for her own peace of mind, she became open about being a lesbian. According to the Times’ story, she’s the only openly gay coach in women’s basketball.

Murrell altered her coaching style and decided she’d be open about her sexuality, proudly placing a picture of herself, partner and twins in the media guide. She remains the only out Division I head women’s basketball coach, saying the honesty is easier on her partner, boosters and players.

“It’s not like I had a team meeting and said, ‘Hey, I’m a lesbian,’ ” Murrell said. “But if the kids ask, ‘Coach, do you have a family?’ I tell them. I made a conscious decision this was how it was going to be.

“A lot won’t do it because of a fear of the unknown — people not wanting to send their kids to play for you. I did not know how it was going to play out, but it didn’t keep me from being authentic and being myself. And it became a nonissue.”

The story reminded me of a recent item about Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel. In an e-mail interview with Outlook Columbus, a gay advocacy publication, Tressel wrote that the Buckeyes would welcome an openly gay player. “We try to tell our guys that an authentic you is the best you,” he said. “That’s truly what freedom means, and the beauty of living in America. People can live their beliefs.”

That doesn’t have anything to do with Sherri Murrell, except for the fact that they both deal with the still-taboo subject of homosexuality in sports. Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports wrote a column containing extensive quotes from Tressel’s interview, and the coach comes across as caring, thoughtful and insightful.

Some day, it won’t matter whether Sherri Murrell is openly gay or whether Jim Tressel does an interview with a gay publication. But consider this: There still have been no openly gay active athletes in professional team sports, and there were no openly gay athletes in college football last year. Because of that, for now, the openness and thoughtfulness of Murrell and Tressel is significant and meaningful.

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