basketball net with rainbowWhy women’s college basketball is a step behind when it comes to sexuality.

Derrick Gordon, a shooting guard for the University of Massachusetts, recently came out to his family, his team, his coaches, and the world of Division I college basketball. By doing so, he may have inadvertently set a wave of change in motion—one that has been so desperately needed in the landscape of women’s basketball.

College recruiting is a lot like getting peer pressured by a close group of friends. Everyone in the group wants you to do something you’re not quite sure you want to do but, with a little prodding, you just might. It’s hard to find a more vicious, salacious and underhanded process of college recruiting than women’s basketball. Women can be catty. Women can undermine each other. And some women will do almost anything to win a top-tier recruit—even if it means implying that a competing school’s roster is full of lesbians. The tactic of using homophobia as a recruiting tool has been going on for decades and even though things have changed socially, the world of women’s college basketball is slow to catch up.

Sure, there are a lot of openly gay players in the WNBA. They have grown women, professionals who are free to be true to themselves. But when you are playing basketball at a university, you have to play by the school’s rules. Brittney Griner was forced to keep her sexuality a secret when she played at Baylor University. Her coach, Kim Mulkey advised her to keep it out of the public eye. “It was a recruiting thing,” Griner told ESPN. This means that other parents of talented players might have thought twice about sending their kids to Baylor if they knew there were lesbians on the team.

It’s ironic because a large percentage of women’s basketball fans are lesbians. There’s also a high probability that at least one coach and one player from every women’s college basketball team throughout the nation is gay.  So why does everyone on the college level pretend that lesbians don’t exist? Or that playing for a lesbian coach is a bad thing? Or that joining a team that has (dare I say) lesbians on it is a no-no?

Even after Griner came out and shed light on Baylor’s gag order, nothing has changed. A lot of college recruiting programs continue to operate the same way. It’s a black eye on women’s basketball that has become so visible, it’s impossible to pretend it isn’t there anymore. If the men’s basketball team at UMASS supports Gordon fully and without prejudice, then why can’t women’s basketball follow suit?

It’s time for women’s college basketball to take a hard look in the mirror and admit what we’ve all known for so long—lesbians play basketball, coach basketball, and successfully run basketball programs at some of the most prestigious schools in the country. It doesn’t lessen the sport. It doesn’t harm the program. And it certainly doesn’t negatively affect the players. Women’s basketball desperately needs a player to step forward the same way Derrick Gordon did. Then maybe a shift will occur. Just maybe.