If the NCAA weren't so utterly gutless, it could save transgender lives | Opinion

Mike Freeman
USA TODAY

We know the Republican party has been waging a vicious and ugly war against transgender athletes for some time. Former President Donald Trump lied about a transgender athlete to make the point he'd ban transgender women from participating in women’s sports nationwide if he were re-elected. In 2021, dozens of states, mostly behind Republican efforts, contemplated bills that would ban transgender athletes from playing on sports teams that align with their gender identity. Some of those bills became laws. All of them are despicable. All of them represent the human capacity for cruelty and oppressing the minority.

But no anti-trans action is as foul as what's happening in Texas, which has become a rogue state. This is where trans children need help, and there's one organization that can: the NCAA.

If the NCAA weren't so utterly gutless, it could save transgender lives. It could do it now. It could use its considerable power to act like a protective force field in the face of bigotry. It could bring more attention to this issue. It could make the politicians who traffic in anti-trans muck pay a price. It could do so much good.

The NCAA can stop tournaments from being played in these states. It can ask if any athletes want to speak out against anti-trans discrimination and do public service announcements. It can be a supersized thorn in the side of the bigots. It can make them pay. 

Will it? Probably not. It's not exactly well-known for handling issues of gender well. The NCAA did not respond to USA TODAY Sports' inquiries about the issue.

But maybe somewhere in the bowels of the dying carcass that is the NCAA, it could spend a moment looking toward the state of Texas and engaging in one of the great civil rights battles of our time. I know you're busy, NCAA. Consider it if you get a moment.

You may have missed this news (and it's understandable since the world is on fire) but Texas Gov. Greg Abbott recently backed a move from his co-performative attorney general that essentially states gender-affirming care should be treated as child abuse. This would include things such as hormone treatments or surgical procedures.

Texas has basically made it illegal to be transgender.

It gets worse. Anyone who assists a transgender child, and this can include doctors, teachers or almost any general member of the public, can be reported to the state for what Abbott called “so-called ‘sex change’ procedures.”

According to a March 1 joint statement from Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Texas, a Texas state court was asked to block the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services from investigating parents who work with medical professionals to provide their children with medically necessary, gender-affirming care.

"For Governor Abbott and Attorney General [Ken] Paxton, it seems the cruelty is the point,” Lambda Legal senior counsel Paul Castillo said in the statement. “They are joining a politically motivated misinformation campaign with no consideration of medical science and seem determined to criminalize parents seeking to care and provide for their kids, and medical professionals abiding by accepted standards of care for transgender youth.

"Gender-affirming care for the treatment of gender dysphoria is medically necessary care, full stop. Criminalizing that care and threatening to tear children from their families is unconscionable and terrifying, and cannot stand.”

The lawsuit states that Texas officials have actually started investigating parents of transgender adolescents for potential child abuse. So according to the lawsuit, the monsters who have created this moment have moved beyond the theoretical. 

MORE:NCAA Tournament bracketology: Duke keeps its slim No. 1 seed chances alive

MORE:NCAA Tournament countdown: Five March Madness bubble teams sweating the most

MORE:Conservatives want to ban transgender athletes from girls sports. Their evidence is shaky.

“No family should have to fear being torn apart because they are supporting their trans child,” said Adri Pérez, policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas, in the statement. “... Gov. Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a partisan political attack that isn’t rooted in the needs of families, the evidence from doctors and the expertise from child welfare professionals.

"Families with trans kids in Texas have been under attack for too long. Gender-affirming health care saved my life, and other trans Texans should be able to access medically necessary, lifesaving care.”

Late Wednesday a Texas judge temporarily blocked the state’s investigation into the couple for child abuse because of their gender-affirming medical care. It’s a positive development but still much more needs to be done and that’s where the NCAA could make a huge difference. The opponents of transgender children will keep pushing their ugliness and civil society must keep pushing back.

One thing that's certain is that gender-affirming care saves lives. This is a fact. Thus, the NCAA can do something more than make money for schools; it can save people.

"What's happening in Texas will lead to higher rates of abuse, harassment, and ultimately suicides of trans children," tweeted trans writer and activist Charlotte Clymer. "Greg Abbott is attempting to completely erase trans children from the public square, and trans kids will die because of it. Those are the stakes here."

Stopping these actions through the courts is important, of course. But fighting in court, because of appeals, can take years. The NCAA can do something more immediate. It can impact the financial bottom line of Texas and other states that engage in this type of performative bigotry.

There's precedent for this. In 2016, North Carolina Republicans passed HB2, commonly called "the bathroom bill," which restricted which public restrooms transgender people could use. The NCAA banned its championship events in the state following the passage of HB2. An Associated Press analysis found that the state could have lost $3.76 billion in revenue over a dozen years.

The NBA also moved its All-Star game from Charlotte due to the bill.

The issue was resolved after HB2 was repealed, and subsequently replaced with a compromise bill (that some LGBTQ groups also rejected). The NCAA lifted its ban.  

The NCAA won't do this, but imagine the statement it could make by moving the men's basketball tournament first- and second-round games on March 17 and 19 in Fort Worth, and men's Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games, March 24 and 26, in San Antonio, to a state that doesn't discriminate against transgendered children.

If the NCAA says logistically there's not enough time to make a switch, it can say now it won't hold tournaments in states next year, and in the future, that attack children.

If the NCAA's belief now is that it shouldn't address every state's weirdo or ignorant actions, well, this is no ordinary weirdo or ignorant action. This is discriminating against an entire class of people.

An entire class of people who are basically defenseless and constantly under attack.

What Texas is doing is the worst of the worst. The NCAA can make the state pay a price for it.

Will they? Probably not.

And that's infuriating.