Could NAIA trans ban end men’s basketball tournament in KC? City leaders won’t say | Opinion

Days after the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics all but banned transgender women from competing in women’s sports, Kansas City leaders were awfully quiet. I reached out to Mayor Quinton Lucas and City Manager Brian Platt for comment about the city’s long-standing financial support of the organization.

This week, in a phone interview with NAIA President and CEO Jim Carr, I was told that the association’s multiyear contract to host its annual men’s basketball championship tournament at the city-owned Municipal Auditorium ends this year.

Kansas City provided the NAIA with roughly $100,000 per year, according to Carr. He anticipated conversations about extending the deal would continue.

“This is the last year of the agreement and payment is due now (April),” Carr wrote in a follow-up email.

Late Wednesday, a spokeswoman for Platt’s office replied to my inquiries about this issue. I haven’t heard from Lucas’ office.

“The Neighborhood Tourist Development Fund did not approve funds for the NAIA this year or the previous fiscal year,” Sherae Honeycutt, the city manager’s press secretary, wrote in an email.

A follow-up question about the current funding source was not answered.

The NAIA Men’s Basketball National Championship tournament has been held in Kansas City 78 times since 1937. If the tournament were to leave, I’m sure Kansas City’s tourism department would miss the impact the tournament has on the local economy. Teams and their fans dine, shop and book area hotels while here.

But the city shouldn’t contribute another dime of taxpayer money to an organization that discriminates against a marginalized group of people.

Policy defies city antidiscrimination ordinance

It’s important to note the NAIA’s new policy flies in the face of the city’s antidiscrimination ordinance. A good argument could be made as to why the organization’s contract talks with the city should be a topic of discussion.

Any directive that prevents someone from competing in sports based on their gender identity must be scrutinized. Not only is the NAIA’s new policy discriminatory — it’s inhumane, according to human rights officials who spoke on the issue.

In a statement released April 8, Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the ban sends a chilling message to other sanctioning bodies such as the NCAA and youth sports leagues across the country.

“Every student, including transgender student athletes, deserve the opportunity to be a part of a team and to learn about sportsmanship, self-discipline, perseverance and more,” Robinson said.

There’s a section on the NAIA’s website labeled RISE. The acronym stands for respect, inclusivity, support and education and highlights the Kansas City-based organization’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.

Under a heading titled “Belonging,” text reads: “Making sure our student-athletes feel like they belong, is at the forefront of NAIA athletics.”

I’m not quite sure the new policy adopted by the governing body aligns with its stated mission.

Just this week, the NAIA’s Council of Presidents voted unanimously (20-0) to restrict transgender women from competing in women’s sports except for cheer and dance.

“Only NAIA student-athletes whose biological sex is female may participate in NAIA-sponsored female sports,” the policy states.

On the men’s side, anyone can suit up, the policy states. The irony of this new development isn’t lost on me or other allies in the LGBTQ community such as Justice Horn, chair for Kansas City’s LGBTQ commission.

The commission receives city funding for some projects but not all, Horn told me.

“The NAIA has implemented an anti-trans policy that bars an entire group of people from competing while also upholding the misogynistic view that women hold a disadvantage in athletic competition,” Horn said.

He continued: “If the NAIA’s intent was truly for fairness, their policy would reflect both sides of competition, not just women’s athletics. This policy is anti-trans and upholds age-old ideas that women are inherently weaker than men.”

As father of female athletes, I oppose ban

Transgender athletes should be afforded the same opportunities as their cisgender counterparts. As the father of two young female athletes, I make no apologies for my stance and it’s one I don’t take lightly.

I’m all for fair competition and a level playing field. One would think the relatively small number of transgender athletes competing in intercollegiate sports would quiet any talk that biological men are trying to overtake women athletics. That fallacy is simply not true.

Last year, a researcher, Joanna Harper, told Newsweek the number of trans women competing in sports at the NCAA level was less than 100. And that total is but a small fraction of an estimated 480,000-plus student-athletes the NCAA says competes in its three divisions.

At the NAIA level, the 83,000 student-athletes competing in more than 25 sports is comparably smaller. No transgender athlete has competed in postseason play, Carr told me Tuesday. That doesn’t mean down the road they wouldn’t unless rules were put in place to protect women’s sports, he said.

“You need to have a policy,” Carr said. “We’re not looking to punish transgender students.” I beg to differ. The ban does just that.

The NAIA is home to about 240 collegiate programs. Most are small private schools. The organization likes to tout its history as the first intercollegiate athletics association to welcome as members Historically Black Colleges or Universities — HBCUs, they’re called — and the first to sponsor national championships for both men’s and women’s sports.

But I cannot in good conscience pretend its policy change on transgender women athletes is OK.

Neither should you.