Author: John Schumacher

Faculty Focus: Dr. Laura Burton – ‘Playing it Out’: LGBT Issues in Sport

Faculty Focus: Dr. Laura Burton – ‘Playing it Out’: LGBT Issues in Sport

Article written by Abigail Mace, Courtesy of NEAG School of Education Spotlight

Whether it’s the MLB, NFL, or NHL, the world of sports has been cast as a hypermasculine, hypercompetitive environment. While this atmosphere may build toughness and encourage physical fitness, its acceptance toward athletes who identify with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community is still in need of practice.

Neag School faculty member Laura Burton is working to change the athletic world’s perception of LGBT athletes – starting with her own students. The sport management associate professor says change must be implemented in every level of sport. LGBT issues in sport is a key topic in her Introduction to Sport Management and Management of Sport Services courses.

From the time children begin playing sports, Burton says, they are often exposed to language that is negatively charged toward LGBT individuals, but unfortunately commonplace in athletics. For example, parents and coaches may find it acceptable to call kids “fags.”

“We need to educate parents and coaches to watch their language to make the environment more supportive and welcoming, so it’s safer for kids to come out,” Burton says.

A supportive environment is what Burton discovered to be the winning recipe in the coming out of LGBT athletes. One of her research studies, titled “Playing it Out: Female Intercollegiate Athletes’ Experiences in Revealing their Sexual Identities,” studied “out” lesbian or bisexual female intercollegiate athletes. The qualitative study, which comprised in-depth interviews with 14 athletes, found it was easier for athletes to come out if other teammates had previously done so. It also discovered that once athletes were out, female teammates were generally accepting – a reaction that took many of the “out” athletes by surprise, but led to greater happiness afterward.

Similar research was conducted at Texas A&M University surrounding workplace culture and LGBT employees in college athletics. In alignment with Burton’s study, a 2015 research paper titled “Creating and Sustaining Workplace Cultures Supportive of LGBT employees in College Athletics” concluded athletic departments with more diverse and welcoming climates were more successful. LGBT employees who could express their true identities and had employees who celebrated those identities had a positive and successful work experience.

‘Lean into the discomfort’

As essential as acceptance is to creating a pro-LGBT environment, Milagros Castillo-Montoya, a Neag School assistant professor of higher education and student affairs, says mere acceptance of LGBT individuals is not enough. In her Leading Toward a Multicultural Educational Environment course, she and her graduate students discuss issues of difference in higher education, including sexual orientation. An early component of the course is analyzing the effect a campus’ culture has on LGBT students.

“Colleges need programming that not only celebrate differences, but foster dialogue across differences,” Castillo-Montoya says.
This means individuals should not only be accepting of LGBT peers, but also able to discuss their identity differences in an honest but noncombative manner. Castillo-Montoya encourages students to first become self-aware and consider their own multiple identities – both the privileged and the marginalized. She uses what is called the LARA Method to teach students the process of effective dialogue: listen, affirm, respond, and ask more questions. With this approach, students can engage in more truthful and meaningful conversations about different identities, such as sexual orientation, race, religion, and ability.

“I ask students to lean in to the discomfort of having conversations across differences,” she says. “They learn to confront the idea, not the person. By doing this in a classroom setting, they build the capacity to talk about and through differences.”

Coming Out in Professional Sports

Transitioning from the classroom to sport, Burton says publicizing one’s LGBT identity can be easier once professional athletes get the ball rolling. When Bryant University men’s basketball coach Chris Burns this fall revealed to USA Today he was gay, the news was welcomed by the public. As he was already well-regarded, Burns’ image did not change.

“People say, ‘Oh, I like him, he’s a good guy; I know him,’” Burton says. “When athletes or coaches at the professional level [come out], it trickles down to the youth level.”

Burton says this trickle-down effect makes the process of coming out seem more attainable and acceptable to college, high school, and youth athletes. She also referenced the U.S. women’s soccer team, which had three players and one coach publicly out at the 2015 World Cup.

Such an inclusive environment has been found in UConn women’s athletics, too. Jenny Gobin ’14 (ED), a graduate of the Neag School’s sport management program who now works for ESPN, has experienced firsthand the power of supportive teammates in making LGBT athletes feel not only accepted, but normal. As an “out” lesbian, Gobin says she was treated just like any other student while at UConn, where she was a student manager of the women’s basketball team and a founder of the ultimate Frisbee club. Today, as the coach for the UConn women’s ultimate Frisbee team – a national contender on the club sports scene – Gobin continues to work closely with lesbian and bisexual athletes.

“We just have to be aware of [differences] and make them seem normal,” she says. “Differences make us stronger as a team.”

However, publicizing one’s sexual identity is at times met with varying reactions based on gender. In an environment where a “macho” mentality is the norm, the process of coming out for male athletes is associated with a legitimate, physical fear of being perceived as incapable or weak. Female athletes don’t face this same fear of ostracization because being lesbian isn’t seen contradictory to being a successful athlete.

LGBT in Sports at UConn

Although Burton says most athletes wait until after college to come out, she’s found UConn to be a safe, supportive environment for those who choose to do so.

“UConn has become a more welcoming place for LGBT athletes and those who are LGBT in the athletic department,” Burton says. “I haven’t heard of negative responses.”

There are resources on campus for LGBT student-athletes, as well as those who aren’t athletes, including athletics support groups, the Rainbow Center, and various cultural centers. UConn’s cultural centers, Castillo-Montoya notes, frequently engage with University faculty regarding all forms of marginalized identities, including the LGBT and student-athlete populations, and are intended to better prepare faculty to lead effective dialogues with their students.

However, Gobin says many athletes prefer to look for support from those they trust most – their teammates and coaches.

“I had an athlete who told me the reason she came out was because of the ultimate [Frisbee] community,” she says. “It’s welcoming, open, and progressive.”

An area that requires more focus, however, is that of bisexual and transgender athletes. Research regarding these identities is less developed than that of gay and lesbian identities. Burton says bisexual individuals experience a sense of invisibility, as they are caught between heterosexual and homosexual identities.

For transgender athletes, questions regarding athletic eligibility are at the forefront of discussion – within the past five years, the NCAA has implemented policies regarding these athletes. Current NCAA policy allows trans male (FTM) athletes to compete for men’s teams, but not women’s teams. Trans female (MTF) must continue to compete on a men’s team.

Gobin recalls an ultimate game in which UConn was playing Smith, an all-women’s college. Smith’s team had one trans male player; because the game was at the club level, the transgender athlete was eligible to play.

“It was interesting and enlightening for my players,” Gobin says. “We had never had that experience before, so it was good to expose that to them.”

Tackling LGBT issues that occur both on and off the playing field has allowed Burton and Castillo-Montoya’s students to become more aware of themselves and of others. Castillo-Montoya’s students write reflections throughout the semester, a “satisfying” indicator of their transforming ability to discuss sensitive subjects regarding diversity.

Meanwhile, Burton reminds her students they must keep in mind that the LGBT community is one of many groups impacting decision-making when it comes to implementing policies in sport and sport management. By representing this community on a level playing field with other groups, more equitable policies will be made.

UConn Hosts Women’s Olympic Basketball Training Camp

2016 U.S. Olympic Team to Train at Storrs Campus

Article Courtesy of UConn Today and UConn Communications

The USA Basketball Women’s National Team training camp on Feb. 21-23 will be held at the Werth Family UConn Basketball Champions Center on the Storrs campus. Athletes taking part in the camp, which is expected to be the final training before the 2016 U.S. Olympic Women’s Basketball Team is selected, will be chosen from a pool of 25 of the nation’s top women’s basketball players, including six former or current Huskies.

Former UConn players among the finalists are WNBA players Sue Bird (Seattle Storm), Tina Charles (New York Liberty), Stefanie Dolson (Washington Mystics), Maya Moore (Minnesota Lynx), and Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury). Breanna Stewart of the current UConn women’s basketball team is the only collegiate athlete among the finalists for this year’s official 12-member U.S. Olympic team.

“Because of the quality and talent in the USA National Team pool, every time we pare the list it is a difficult task,” said Carol Callan, USA Basketball Women’s National Team Director and chair of the USA Basketball Women’s National Team Player Selection Committee. “… This list of finalists is a mix of veterans, youth, international savvy, and USA Basketball experience.”

U.S. Olympic women’s basketball teams have earned a record seven gold medals, one silver medal, and one bronze medal, and are 58-3 all-time in Olympic competition. Former Huskies on the roster who are also among this year’s finalists hold a total of eight Olympic gold medals, including Bird and Taurasi (three each), Charles and Moore (one each).

USA and Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma, who previously directed the USA National Team to an overall 23-0 record and to gold medals at the 2012 Olympic Games and the 2010 and 2014 FIBA World Championships, said the committee will have a tough time choosing the team. “When I look at this list of athletes, we could split them down the middle and have two very competitive teams,” he said. “We have a great mix of gold medalists and players who are hungry to play in their first Olympics. … I’m just happy I don’t have to make the decision as to who will be playing in Rio.”

Feb. 18 SMP Virtual Open House Archived and Available to View!

Feb. 18 SMP Virtual Open House Archived and Available to View!

The UConn Sport Management Program (SMP) is pleased to announce that today’s Virtual Open House for graduate studies in UConn’s SMP has been archived for anyone who missed it or the February 15 edition of the Virtual Open House.

The online archive of the presentation and Q&A session featuring UConn SMP faculty and prospective master’s program students can be accessed by clicking the following link:

Archive of UConn SMP Virtual Open House – Feb. 18, 2016

Thank you to all who participated!

UConn SMP Alumni SportPath – Michael McGuire, Coordinator, VIP Services with MLB’s Washington Nationals


UConn SMP Alumni SportPath – Michael McGuire, Coordinator, VIP Services with MLB’s Washington Nationals

Michael McGuire (2013)

As a part of a continuing series, we turn the spotlight on members of the UConn Sport Management Program (SMP) Alumni Community, focusing on the diversity of experience and breadth of knowledge they have gained within the industry. Designed to help current and future SMP students learn to navigate and understand the real-world intricacies of sport management, we thank SMP alumni for their valuable contributions and insight. Today, the focus is on UConn alumnus Michael McGuire (UConn Sport Management Program, 2013).

UConn’s Sport Management Program is among the nation’s elite, offering an array of classes that give a comprehensive look at all areas of the industry. It was this wide-range focus that helped set me on my current career path.

Entering college, I intended to become a coach. I got involved early as an Equipment Manager for the Football Team. But as I spent more time in the athletic department and the SMP, I realized I had as much passion for team and event operations as I did for coaching. The perfect marriage of all three came in the form of an opportunity to volunteer at the NFL Scouting Combine. Gaining a contact through my network and with a little patience and persistence, I found myself in Indianapolis the February of my Senior Year. While I preformed various duties over the course of the camp, the crux of my position was ensuring that the event ran as smooth as possible and fostering the best interview environment for all participants.

The Combine helped prepare me for my next role as an Event Coordinator with Red Frog Events. Serving as my internship required for graduation, I wouldn’t have known about the organization had it not been for a report I’d done in one of my SMP classes. Red Frog is the parent company of events such as the Warrior Dash, a 5K Obstacle Mud Run Series and Firefly Music Festival. A smaller organization, this position gave me the opportunity to work on everything from customer service to event operations logistics. I would highly recommend that anyone looking for internships or apprenticeships spend time somewhere similar in size. There are more opportunities to learn all facets of the business. Should you capitalize, it will make you a more versatile candidate moving forward.

Following Red Frog and a brief stint volunteering with the Game Entertainment Team of the Delaware 87ers (Philadelphia 76ers D-League Affiliate), I became the seasonal intern for the Community Relations Department of the Washington Nationals. Through the Alumni Association, I made a connection in the organization. I can’t say if this helped, but it most certainly didn’t hurt. Coupled with lifelong experience directing volunteer service opportunities, the industry skills I developed working events helped me in my role as a face for the Nats in the community. My main responsibilities included managing the in-game military salute program and coordinating the distribution and fulfillment of donations. Through the course of the season, I met many extraordinary people, had amazing experiences and gained a lot of responsibility in the department. By the time the internship was over, much of the staff asked that I keep in touch.

Currently, I am Coordinator of VIP Services with the Nationals. Through checking in every-so-often and updating former colleagues on my career search, my intern manager informed me of the opening and suggested I apply. I now oversee the visit of all VIP Guests to the ballpark and ensure their experience is second to none. And to think; if it weren’t for an SMP class report, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I’m still involved at the Combine too, for those wondering.

No two “SportsPaths” are the same. For every person who had to intern with five organizations before landing their first full time job, there’s someone out there who gained a manager position all from a chance meeting. It’s the nature of the beast. But the similarities between those who are successful regardless of career stops lie in the process. From listening to the paths of others and reflecting on my own, here’s what I would suggest: Get involved early and volunteer as much as you can. When you get those chances, really invest yourself. Stay late. Ask questions. Introduce yourself and talk to as many people as you can (for those frightened by the term, this is all networking is. Everyone in the industry knows how hard it is to break in. Most would be happy to speak with you). Be a little selfish when it comes to your professional development. Step outside of your comfort zone regularly. Most importantly, the only one who can make anything happen is you. There may be great contacts in your network who can put you in phenomenal places; you still have to be the one to follow through on the opportunity. Believe in yourself, dedicate yourself to what you want to achieve, and there’s no stopping you.

And don’t forget to pay attention in class.

Mike McGuire
SMP Class of 2013, Husky Forever

SMP Virtual Open House – LIVE from 6:45pm EST – Click here for the online link!

UConn SMP Virtual Open House Events – LIVE tonight from 6:45pm EST

The UConn SMP is pleased to announce that the link to the first Virtual Open House for graduate studies in UConn’s SMP will be LIVE as of 6:45pm EST tonight!

This is a great opportunity to learn in detail about what the UConn SMP is all about, hear updated information about the application process, and ask anything you would like to know directly from the UConn SMP team!

We suggest that interested participants view and download the WebEx connection information sheet, which can be accessed online.

Not available to attend? Not to worry! A second UConn SMP Virtual Open House will hosted on Thursday, February 18, 2016 at 9:00am EST.

Not available for that one either? No problem! Both events will be archived as a video file that will be posted here on the UConn SMP website.

We look forward to welcoming potential UConn SMP students at one of our upcoming Virtual Open House events!

UConn SMP Virtual Open House Events – Feb 15 and Feb 18

UConn SMP Virtual Open House Events – Feb 15 and Feb 18

With potential students living all across the country and around the world, is not always practical for those interested in graduate studies in the Sport Management Department at the University of Connecticut to travel out to Storrs, Connecticut for a first-hand look at campus and to speak directly with faculty and students currently in the Sport Management Program (SMP) here at the University of Connecticut. However, the SMP strongly believes that no matter where they live, it is very important for potential students to have the opportunity to interact directly with members of the Program to help decide if the culture of the UConn SMP is the right fit for their educational/professional interests and passion for sport.

Thus, the UConn SMP is pleased to invite all interested students to a Virtual Open House for graduate studies in UConn’s SMP – a live and interactive online presentation featuring UConn SMP faculty and students that you can experience via WebEx on your computer, tablet or smartphone from anywhere in the world! This is a great opportunity to learn in detail about what the UConn SMP is all about, hear updated information about the application process, and ask anything you would like to know directly from the UConn SMP team!

In order to accommodate applicants in different time zones around the world, the UConn SMP will offer two Virtual Open House events this month:

Monday, February 15, 2016 at 7:00pm EST


Thursday, February 18, 2016 at 9:00am EST

Don’t miss out on this opportunity! To participate, simply e-mail Dr. Jennifer McGarry, Professor and Department Head, Department of Educational Leadership, to indicate which event you would like to join in and she will send you the necessary WebEx link and meeting number.

Not available to attend either event? Not to worry! Each UConn SMP Virtual Open House will be archived as a video file that will be posted here on the UConn SMP website.

We look forward to welcoming potential UConn SMP students at one of our upcoming Virtual Open House events!

Student Focus: Max Klein receives IDEA Grant Award

Student Focus: Max Klein receives IDEA Grant Award

As a Sport Management major in my junior year, I have found my career goal to be a professor quite different than the career goals of most of my undergraduate peers in the UConn Sport Management program. Nonetheless, I have found that the UConn Sport Management faculty is extremely supportive when it comes to helping students reach their careers aspirations, regardless of the capacity. At the suggestion of Dr. Joseph Cooper, I applied for the UConn IDEA Grant, an undergraduate research grant that allows students to pursue an original idea or other project. I was approved for the grant earlier this month and will begin conducting research this coming summer.

My IDEA Grant will seek to determine the social interactions and other socioeconomic factors that contribute to a high school baseball player going to college or signing a professional contract. I first became interested in this process while interning for a baseball agency in Florida last summer. Most of my time as an intern was spent attending high school travel baseball tournaments, allowing me to see some of the top high school baseball players in the country. The guidance of Dr. Cooper and UConn Sport Management graduate student Charles Macaulay helped me to materialize my narratives as an intern into a feasible research question.

I would like to thank the UConn Sport Management faculty and students along with the UConn IDEA Grant program for giving me the chance to pursue my career interests in sport management research. As my career progresses, I will be able to trace back any success I have directly to UConn and more specifically the Sport Management program. My experience as a member of the UConn Sport Management community and as a student manager of the UConn baseball team has allowed me to expand my passion for and knowledge of sport. The educational value of the coursework, the positive classroom environment created by each faculty member, and the various possibilities for sport-related work experience provide any student in the UConn Sport Management program with a truly unique opportunity.

SMP student receives Honorable Mention in 2015 UConn Intern of the Year Awards

SMP student receives Honorable Mention in 2015 UConn Intern of the Year Awards

The UConn Sport Management Program would like to congratulate undergraduate student Theus McBee on receiving Honorable Mention in the 2015 UConn Intern of the Year Awards!

McBee, a senior in UConn’s Sport Management Program, interned with the National Basketball Association at their headquarters in New York City in the summer of 2015. Click here for more details on his ten week experience with the NBA!

Dr. Cooper attends 2nd Annual Black Student-Athlete Conference

Dr. Cooper attends 2nd Annual Black Student-Athlete Conference

Dr. Joseph Cooper, Assistant Professor of UConn’s Sport Management Program, recently attended the second annual Black Student-Athlete Conference, a three-day summit from January 6-8, 2016, hosted by the African American Male Research Initiative and the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin. The summit was a three-day gathering that openly examined and candidly discussed the numerous and complex issues surrounding the black student-athlete.

Joined by scholars, coaches, conference commissioners, athletic directors, academic advisors, student affairs professionals, principals, present and former student-athletes, journalists, and others, this was a “must-attend” event which constituted the most comprehensive national forum on issues related to the black experience within amateur athletics.

The conference was streamed live on the internet and can be experienced by anyone who missed it by checking out the three days of video archive links by clicking here.

To watch Dr. Cooper’s presentation directly, click to the day 3 link and scroll to 2:33:17-2:36:00 and 2:40:00-2:50:00 of the video link.