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Student athletes press NCAA to push back on state transgender competition bills

Student athletes press NCAA to push back on state transgender competition bills

Hundreds of student athletes pressed the NCAA on Wednesday to push back against states that have enacted or are considering legislation banning transgender athletes from teams associated with their gender identity.

Almost 550 college athletes signed a letter calling on NCAA President Mark Emmert and the NCAA Board of Governors to refrain from holding championships and events in states that pass or are considering bills that limit transgender athlete participation.

The athletes said they were “extremely frustrated and disappointed by the lack of action taken by the NCAA to recognize the dangers of hosting events in states that create a hostile environment for student-athletes.”

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“You have been silent in the face of hateful legislation in states that are slated to host championships, even though those states are close to passing anti-transgender legislation,” the letter reads.

“Put simply: the NCAA must speak out against bills that directly affect their student athlete population if they want to uphold their self-professed ideals of keeping college sports safe and promoting the excellence of physical and mental well being for student-athletes."

The effort was launched by two runners at Washington University in St. Louis — Aliya Schenck and Alana Bojar — with help from LGBTQ organizations GLAAD and Athlete Ally. Athletes from at least 85 schools signed the letter, with their associated sports including football, basketball, soccer, cross-country, gymnastics and rowing.

When asked for comment, the NCAA cited a statement from January saying it would "closely monitor" any state legislation that affects "transgender student-athlete participation."

"The NCAA believes in fair and respectful student-athlete participation at all levels of sport," the statement reads. "The Association’s transgender student-athlete participation policy and other diversity policies are designed to facilitate and support inclusion. The NCAA believes diversity and inclusion improve the learning environment and it encourages its member colleges and universities to support the well-being of all student-athletes."

At least 25 states this year have proposed legislation that would prevent transgender athletes, mainly women, from competing on teams aligned with their gender identity, according to Sports Illustrated. So far, only Idaho and Mississippi have enacted legislation, though a measure in South Dakota is awaiting the governor's signature.

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The bills generally mandate that athletes have to provide proof of a genital exam, a genetics test or a hormone test if their gender is challenged.

Proponents argue the legislation is needed to protect women and girls in sports, saying transgender women have an unfair genetic advantage. Opponents have called the efforts discriminatory against transgender people.

The athletes’ letter comes as some NCAA men's basketball tournament games initially slated for competition in Idaho were moved to the Indianapolis area because of the coronavirus pandemic.

South Dakota is scheduled to hold regionals or finals in Division II men’s basketball, wrestling and women’s volleyball, as well as Division I men’s ice hockey, in the upcoming years, Sports Illustrated reported. Mississippi is not slated to host any NCAA championship competitions.

In 2016, the NCAA boycotted North Carolina after it passed the “bathroom bill” preventing transgender individuals in schools and public from using bathrooms aligned with their gender identity.

Updated at 12:30 p.m.