With Villanova University’s win secure for the 2016 men’s college basketball championship, and the women’s championship game scheduled this evening, March Madness is coming to a close for the year. The tournaments are ending, though, with some positive news for LGBT issues in Catholic higher education.
The women’s basketball coach at University of San Francisco (USF), a Jesuit institution, has come out as gay and married.
Jennifer Azzi came out while speaking at an Anti-Defamation League event last Thursday, reported San Jose Mercury News. She announced her marriage to USF assistant coach Blair Hardiek before introducing Rick Welts, president of the Golden State Warriors and the first openly gay executive in the NBA. Azzi said:
” ‘I, too, lived a long time not being 100 percent honest. . .Kind of the don’t-ask-don’t-tell kinda of thing. And it’s so stupid. I don’t know why we do that, but we do that. . .What I realized in watching Rick in his path and his journey is that there is nothing more powerful than living the truth. And the best thing I can do for my team is be authentic and true to myself.’ “
The couple married last August. They have been warmly received by USF players whom they informed, according to San Jose Mercury News.
Azzi has coached at USF for six years. Her players speak well of their coach, who signed a five-year contract extension last summer. Questioned about employing a married gay woman at the Catholic college, USF athletic director Scott Sidwell said:
” ‘We have a commitment to Jennifer. . .We’re going to respect the dignity of each person’. . .
“But Sidwell, who took over after Azzi was hired in 2010, declined to answer specific questions about the announcement and about a coach being married to one of her employees. He described the Jesuit school as an inclusive campus ‘committed to the workplace.’ “
Azzi’s coming out is significant, too, because she is the only openly gay head coach of a Division I basketball program. Her former teammates at Stanford University and from the 1996 Olympic team expressed support, as did other women leaders in college athletics.
For the first time since 1997, USF women’s basketball, under Azzi’s leadership, made it into the NCAA Division I tournament. She is a talented coach and, so far, it seems USF officials are focusing on that quality rather than her newly-announced sexual orientation and marital status. That is good news–especially when more than 60 church employees have lost their jobs since 2008 in LGBT-related employment disputes.
This post is part of our “Campus Chronicles” series on Catholic higher education. You can read more stories by clicking “Campus Chronicles” in the Categories section to the right or by clicking here. For the latest updates on Catholic LGBT issues, subscribe to our blog in the upper right hand corner of this page.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry