Sherri Murrell is the head coach of the Portland State Women’s basketball team. They just concluded a successful season winning the Big Sky tournament and scoring a spot in the NCAA tournament. Facing number 2 seed, Texas A&M;, the 15th seeded Vikings held their own for a half before losing to A&M;84-53. But there is way more to this success story. When Sherri took the job at Portland State she decided that it would be a new era in her coaching and personal life. She decided she would be completely open about being a lesbian. She is the only Division 1 women’s basketball coach to do so. Think about that. The only Division 1 women’s basketball coach to come out publicly. For those who think it is easy for lesbians in sport, this should give you pause.
Sherri includes her partner and children in the Viking media guide. This is a refreshing change from the complete absence of personal information characteristic of most closeted lesbian coaches’ media guide descriptions. This, of course, is a dead giveaway since most heterosexual coaches use the privilege they have to blab about their families all they want in the team media guide.
She told the PSU athletic director and upper administration of her decision to be out and received their full support. Her players are supportive (they babysit for her children). Coaches in her conference are supportive. It seems like a complete success story and one that more coaches, parents and athletes need to know about.
I’ve had a couple of opportunities to talk to Sherri. I interviewed her for the It Takes A Team newsletter, but did not get it published before the newsletter ended. Here is another great interview she did which covers much of the same territory ours did.
Sherri seems little surprised to be called a trail blazer. Yet she is that and a role model for younger coaches. What I most admire is that, in addition to being a successful coach AND being open about being a lesbian, Sherri has taken on the opportunity to speak out against homophobia in sport. Many athletes and coaches who come out do not want to be seen as a “flag waver.” They just want to do what they do as athletes and coaches and do it without the hiding, deception and secrecy. Fair enough, but it sure is wonderful to have coaches like Sherri who is willing and committed to using her visibility to fight homophobia in sport and make it easier for the next generation of coaches and athletes to come out.
She calls her coming out as a lesbian coach a “non-issue” to her team, her school administration, opposing coaches, and the parents of her players. I know what she means by this. It means that her lesbian identity is received by those she works with as a part of her in the same way any heterosexual coach’s personal relationships and family are a part of them. That’s great.
At the same time, Sherri’s coming out publicly is definitely NOT a non-issue. It is an important step toward a future when a coach’s sexual orientation will not be news of any kind. When a coach’s professionalism, integrity, coaching knowledge, teaching ability and winning record will be what matters. Until that time comes, it sure is great to have a coach like Sherri Murrell who is all of these things and an out lesbian too.