I caught up with lesbian college coaches Sherri Murrell (Portland State) and Sandra Botham (University of Wisconsin) at the Time Out for Equality Brunch benefiting NCLR in Denver last month. It was an amazing event celebrating the 40th anniversary of Title IX. Hosted by Dede Frain of Babes around Denver and Silke Reuthlinger of Hip Chicks Out, and sponsored by Kelly McMurray from Morgan Stanley Smith Barney.
E: You are both pioneers in Women’s Division 1 College Basketball as the first out lesbian coaches and she-roes to many. Did you encounter any bad reactions when you first came out?
Sandy: I did not make a big announcement that I was a lesbian. It was a gradual process throughout my coaching career in letting players, staff and administrators know about my preference. Thus, I did not receive any bad reactions – just complete support.
Sherri: No I didn’t encounter any bad reactions personally. I got the exact opposite from boosters, team, administration and fans. Everyone just wants an honest and hard working coach. I check my politics and opinions at the door when I walk into my office every day. However, I don’t deny who I am or who my family is. People like honesty and that’s basically what I have been through in this process. I do believe the more honest I am about who I am it makes it not such a big deal.
E: Tell us about what it was like having to be closeted as a player and coach.
Sandy: It was nerve wracking. I never felt I could be my true self and always had to be careful communicating where I was going, who I was with, etc. Yet I continued to stay closeted for fear of how I would be received and if it would adversely affect me as a player and as a coach.
Sherri: It’s a dark and lonely place. Whenever I would go to a function as a coach I would not bring my partner or we would be considered “friends” and that is just not a fair thing to do to her and it’s not comfortable for me. As a player, I don’t think my teammates cared but at the same time it was scary to be out. There were not a lot of role models to look to who were out, and you just felt that stayng in the closet was what you were supposed to do.
E: I‘m just so psyched to have you out there as role models. How have you affected the lives of your players and their families?
Sandy: The players do not communicate how I have affected them by being an out coach. I do feel there is a level of respect in that regards and that whether they say anything or not – I am helping them feel more comfortable in their own skin!
Sherri: Like I mentioned earlier, people just want you to be honest. My players and their families value me as a person and coach. If I am doing my job by providing a positive environment, being the best coach I can be and remaining honest, then they are happy.
E: What do you think the future is for LGBT people in college sports?
Sandy: I think the future is bright. There are LGBT Communities everywhere to provide needed support for the athletes. There is also much greater awareness of LGBT’s in athletics than ever before. This provides them with the confidence to live in the open!
Sherri: I am a positive thinker so I would have to say I see a very bright future in inclusion and acceptance. It’s taking a lot longer than I thought but change is happening on a daily basis. It’s going to be a great day when I don’t have the “only out Division I coach” tag on me. I hope other coaches are able to be themselves and support talking about it.
Note from Sandy Botham: Within one week of returning back from the Final Four, our Chancellor asked if I would be interested in joining the Alumni Relations team to help it grow. I decided to leave coaching and help our University on a larger scale. Thus, I am no longer an OUT Coach, just an OUT Administrator in Alumni Relations.
Read another interesting article about this event by Robyn Vie-Carpenter on Out Front Colorado.