An Open Letter to Outsports: Response to the Athletic Equality Index

In response to your article “As Athlete Ally releases ‘equality index’ colleges question accuracy and validity,” Athlete Ally hopes to address a number of points within the piece we found to be misleading to your readership. We hope the below provides the necessary insight needed for a balanced and truthful assessment of the report and the approach taken. Three overall themes seemed to take root in the piece, which we address here:

Accessible Policies and Practices & Out LGBTQ Representatives

We were heartened at the numerous stories and anecdotes shared as part of your article. It’s clear that LGBTQ people certainly are having positive experiences coming out and living their authentic lives — and we’ll never seek to diminish their experiences and the importance their stories play.

But we must ask the question. Without accessible and codified policies and practices that truly protect LGBTQ players, fans, coaches, officials and administrators, do we leave the LGBTQ community vulnerable and open to numerous forms of potential discrimination?

Through this argument, states and cities should solely focus on electing LGBTQ representatives, and forgo the critically important work of passing policies such as non-discrimination ordinances.

Surely we don’t believe the two are mutually exclusive.

If you’re a LGBTQ fan traveling to a contest, shouldn’t you be able to access an inclusive fan code of conduct that explicitly shows you’ll be protected and respected?

If you’re a high school trans athlete looking at collegiate athletics, wouldn’t an accessible, explicit commitment to adhering to the NCAA’s guidance on trans competition help assure your dignity and safety will be held up with the utmost regard?

The examples go on. We agree that the presence of out (and accepted) LGBTQ student-athletes and staff are important, but we’ll always stand by the need for accessible and inclusive policies and practices. This was a priority of this report, and follows the guidance outlined by the NCAA’s resources on best practices.

The “Failing” scores of colleges and universities

When opening the article, you cite that almost all schools received a failing score as they scored below a 70.  The methodology agreed upon by a number of experts in the LGBTQ and athletic spaces deliberately did not use letter grading as they weren’t an accurate representation of the efforts of the schools. This invented scale is misleading, was not a part of our scoring process, and doesn’t take into account the context of the rest of the data. The average in the report, of raw school scores, without increases made by rounding — is 64.0. The standard deviation is 20.7, putting any school that scores between 43.3 and 84.7 within one standard deviation of the mean, which is hardly a ‘failing’ score. Additionally, the upper quartile is at 77.5, which identifies any school above that score as highly regarded for their LGBTQ efforts. Your interpretation of the scale paints an inaccurate picture of the commitments made by athletic programs, and contributes to the fear that LGBTQ student-athletes, staff, and fans experience far more than our efforts.

When assessing “academic standards,” we’re not sure which tests of reliability and validity you’d like to see addressed. In fact, we applied the only test directly relevant to our data set. We calculated inter-rater reliability between independent scorers at .9, which suggests that our scoring mechanism was consistent and reliable.

As Helen Carroll outlined  — the scores must be read in the appropriate context, and can’t be assigned an arbitrary grade based on a different scale.

Independent of Athlete Ally

There appears to a number of implicit (and at times explicit) notions that institutions must “work with” Athlete Ally to enhance their scores in the report. Let us be clear. There was no business pitch, call for partnerships, etc. We simply asked for any policies and practices that were in fact in place and accessible to be shared in case researchers were unable to locate them (or missed, as was truthfully the case with Ohio State). We’ve since updated that score, reflective of our commitment to be transparent and authentic with an institution’s score.

Additionally, you’ll notice that the resources listed within the report and on the website for schools to consider don’t once list Athlete Ally. But rather, resources include organizations like You Can Play and LGBT SportSafe, organizations that some would say are direct competitors within the space. This isn’t about business. It’s about creating a resource and benchmark that puts the best interest of an institution’s LGBTQ constituents at the forefront.

We’d be remiss not to mention our appreciation of the time and effort spent on this piece. We closely read and considered every perspective presented, and while we hope this response clears up some confusion — there is certainly room for further conversations about how to best maximize the impact of this index moving forward. As is standard with any inaugural report of this magnitude, there may be disagreements with the methodology and approach, but we think we can all rally around a shared desire for creating more inclusive athletic environments. We look forward to continuing to use the index to help make and inform positive change in sports, and continue to welcome feedback that assists us in this pursuit.