As head coach and president of basketball operations of the Minnesota Lynx, I've seen firsthand the immense amount of work and skill it takes to be a professional athlete. The players I coach work hard every single day to perform at the highest level. But it takes more than signing individual talent to make a winning team.
I look for players who know when the moment calls for them to lead — and when it's time to let their teammates shine — because athletes are leaders on and off the court. That's why I encourage my team to engage with the issues that affect the world around us. I am proud when they show up for Black lives, fight against pay disparities in women's sports and celebrate our LGBTQ fans.
In recent years, there has been increasing discrimination against the LGBTQ community, particularly transgender people. The false claim that transgender women are a threat to women's sports has been used to justify discriminatory legislation in states across the country, often targeting young children. As someone who has spent their entire career in women's sports, let me be clear: The true threats to women's sports lie in obstacles like severe pay disparities, racism, lack of investment in women coaches, sexual assault, and an overall lack of resources dedicated to women's sports from scholastic competition through to the elite level.
Transgender exclusion pits women athletes against one another, reinforces the harmful notion that there is only one right way to be a woman and distracts us from the real threats to women's sports.
That's why I've been closely following JayCee Cooper, a powerlifter here in Minnesota, who sued USA Powerlifting (USAPL) over a discriminatory ban that prevented transgender women from participating in the sport. In addition to violating Minnesota state law, this ban also goes directly against Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter, which states that any form of discrimination has no place in Olympic sports.
Today, I am excited to celebrate JayCee's victory in her case. A court found that USAPL's ban on trans participation violates the Minnesota Human Rights Act. The ruling will ensure transgender women can compete in powerlifting, and sends a clear message that banning trans women from women's sport is unlawful discrimination in our state. The work of the nonprofit group Gender Justice and co-counsel Nichols Kaster leading to this victory has made it possible for more women to compete in sports they love.
Women of all different backgrounds know that the right to play is hard fought and hard won. From Katherine Switzer fighting to run the Boston Marathon in 1967 to Florence Griffith Joyner breaking records as a Black woman in the 1980s to the Title IX battles for equal sports teams in the 2000s, the story of women's sports has been one of surmounting barriers placed in front of us simply because of our gender. And JayCee's story is no different.
As an elite female athlete she has faced undue burdens on her ability to compete simply based on her status as a trans woman. It is fitting that this victory would come in Women's History Month, pushing down yet another historical barrier preventing women from full participation in the public square.
I'm proud to live in a state that protects the rights of transgender people from discrimination. From the youth sports level to the elite professional level, trans women, trans men and nonbinary athletes have a right to compete in the sports they love. Minnesota enshrined protections for transgender, gender-nonconforming and nonbinary people into law in 1993, and I'm happy that those rights have been upheld by the court.
Sports bring people together in a way few other things can, and should be a place where everyone who has done the work should be welcome on the field of play. In years to come, we will look back on this moment as a historic victory in the long fight for everyone in sport to be seen, respected and valued exactly as they are.
Cheryl Reeve is head coach and president of basketball operations of the Minnesota Lynx.