Anti-LGBTQIA+ hiring policies clash with upcoming sports festival

Athletes and management discuss thoughts on SPU hosting the 2022 NCAA Division II Festival

Mahad Abdulqadir and Dante Buell

Illustration by Shianne Heeraman

In October of 2020, the NCAA announced that Seattle Pacific University would be hosting the 2022 Division II Sports Festival. This festival will host finals for men’s and women’s cross-country, men’s and women’s soccer, field hockey and women’s volleyball.

Since the initial hosting announcement in 2020, SPU has been under scrutiny over its anti-LGBTQA+ hiring practices. Athletes, coaches and management staff across the country have concerns about the university being selected and allowed to host the festival.

At the local level, SPU cross-country and track and Field athlete Gabe Endresen has fears about how SPU will frame the event in the face of real issues on campus.

“For the past year, I have participated in many of the LGBTQ activities such as the sit-ins. When I was on break for track, that is when they made their decision to uphold the policies, which I was mad about,” Endresen said. “A concern [of mine] is that SPU may use the fall festival to just hide people’s perspective on the whole situation. There have been times where even I felt uncomfortable wearing the SPU jersey. Some people look and see the jersey and give me weird looks because they know about the things going on here. The athletes should show that not all of us are like the board, and we are against them.”

Some of the best athletes in NCAA Division II object to SPU hosting the festival. Loic Scomparin – who ran the 11th fastest 5,000-meter time in the nation last track season and finished second at cross-country pre-nationals on Oct. 22 – objects to SPU being allowed to host the festival.

“I think it’s pretty disappointing. SPU is clearly not aligned with the NCAA’s anti-discrimination policy, including the basis of sexual orientation, so I think clearly this was not the right choice,” Scomparin said. “I think the most helpful thing is to be respectful of everyone’s identity regardless of how you think that impacts their sports eligibility. There will likely always be debate on sports participation, and sports is a huge part of an athlete’s life, hence why it is super important to not extend that debate even further to avoid infringing on one’s right to identify how they want to. Athletes need to stand up and show that everyone can be included and loved in our community.”

SPU Athletic Director Jackson Stava wants every athlete coming to the Division II festival to know that they will be treated with the utmost respect regardless of their sexual identity.

“We recognize what the narrative is; we recognize the dialogue. I have not spoken to any student-athletes from other institutions, but I have spoken to a lot of coaches, coaches associations and coach organizations. What I tell them is myself, my staff and everyone who works this event is 100% committed to creating an environment for the fall festival that is free of discrimination at all times,” Stava said.

Stava intends to set a high standard of inclusion during the festival, regardless of university policy and emphasizes the importance of making sure that all involved in the festival feel welcomed.

“We will meet, and we will exceed the standards the NCAA has on their anti-discrimination policy to ensure that there is not a student-athlete, fan, coach, spectator, official [and] anyone that comes to our event, to ensure that they don’t have a negative experience. That’s what I can control, that’s what our staff can control, and that’s what our volunteers can control,” Stava said.

The associate director of communications for the NCAA, Greg Johnson, explained how an institution with controversial hiring policies like SPU can still be allowed to host major events like the Division II festival.

“It is important to note that a school’s hiring policy falls outside of NCAA purview. NCAA bylaws, rules and policies are set by the membership and not by the national office staff,” Johnson said.

Johnson explained that SPU will still be held to very high standards of anti-discrimination while the festival is going on.

“The NCAA Board of Governors anti-discrimination policy requires sites hosting NCAA championship events to provide an environment that is safe, healthy and safeguards the dignity of everyone involved within the venues of competition,” Johnson said.

Regardless of public opinion, the NCAA stands by its choice of SPU to host the 2022 Division II Sports Festival, as hiring policies are not a part of the review process.

“Seattle Pacific University has reconfirmed its commitment to hosting the 2022 Division II Fall Festival championship events consistent with the NCAA Board of Governors anti-discrimination policy within the venues of competition,” Johnson said.