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The NCAA has gone out of its way to prove itself LGBTQ-friendly in recent years.
Big-time college sports’ governing body clashed with the government of Indiana, where its headquarters are located, in 2014 over a law aimed at protecting religious business owners. The organization also pulled several championship events out of North Carolina two years later due to that state’s since-repealed “bathroom bill,” which required people to use restrooms associated with their biological sex.
The NCAA’s decision to allow a lesbian Division I athlete to accept money from a GoFundMe campaign without forfeiting her eligibility is the latest example of the organization’s kowtowing to the powerful LGBTQ lobby.
Emily Scheck runs cross country and track for Canisius College in western New York. She had just moved back to campus in August when her parents, having discovered her lesbian relationship with a teammate via social media, disowned her.
At the time, Scheck, 19, had a net worth of $20, and her partial athletic scholarship was nowhere near enough to cover her books, housing, and other expenses during the fall semester.
Scheck’s roommate started a fundraising campaign on the crowdfunding website GoFundMe.com. The campaign raised $25,000 in a matter of days—more than enough to cover Scheck’s needs for the fall semester and her tuition for the spring. By Thanksgiving, the campaign had raised more than $100,000.
The NCAA has concerns about agents and boosters providing money to athletes through crowdfunding websites. However, the NCAA lets student-athletes raise money via crowdfunding under certain circumstances: One is that, for individual athletes, the money raised must cover actual and necessary expenses related to an athletic event and practice immediately preceding it. A student-athlete may also participate in a crowdfunding campaign unrelated to sports so long as the campaign doesn’t mention athletics.
Scheck’s GoFundMe page violated both rules: It prominently mentioned that Scheck runs for Canisius, and it aimed to cover funding for the runner’s general college expenses as opposed to a particular athletic event.
When word of the campaign reached the NCAA, the organization gave Scheck a choice: Return the money, or forfeit her eligibility to compete. Unable to stay in school or even afford food without the money, Scheck chose the latter option.
In November, the NCAA backtracked, deciding Scheck could keep the money and maintain her eligibility. The NCAA never stated its reasons for doing so, but a line from the LGBTQ website Outsports.com provides a clue: “Headlines like ‘NCAA and Catholic college force disowned gay athlete to return donations for food and books’ don’t bode well for either,” Cyd Zeigler wrote.
The NCAA changed its tune on the same day Outsports ran the story.
The willingness to accommodate Scheck highlights major hypocrisy on the NCAA’s part: College football and men’s basketball players, African-Americans in particular, often come from poor families who cannot afford to assist with the expenses that college scholarships don’t cover—among them transportation, laundry money, and clothing. To meet these needs, or even to help provide for their families, athletes often take money under the table from agents or boosters or try to make money via other means, like selling autographed memorabilia online.
Such actions, of course, violate NCAA rules, and once they come to light, the athletes’ schools become embroiled in scandal. Many have to forfeit victories or even championships and get slapped with postseason bans due to the violations.
Occasionally, the NCAA grants exemptions, as it did with Clemson football player Ray Ray McElrathbey in 2006 when he took custody of his 11-year-old brother while their mother battled addiction. But such exemptions are rare.
Scheck certainly comes across as a sympathetic figure due to her disownment and subsequent financial struggles. However, the NCAA’s willingness to bend its rules for her and not for other athletes in need is an equally poor look.