The perception that many women athletes are lesbians is undermining women's sports.
And the message to lesbian athletes is clear: You are not wanted.
Christine Grant, former University of Iowa's women's athletic director, said, "Homophobia in women's sports is like the McCarthyism of the 1950s. The fear is paralyzing."
Basketball superstar Sheryl Swoopes of the WNBA's Houston Comets recently came "out," though she is the exception. (To date, only three female athletes have come out while active players.)
Many people view women athletes as masculine merely because they play a sport. But achieving physical superiority over your competition is the goal, no matter what the gender of the athletes. It is the equation of physical superiority with masculinity that we must challenge.
And it doesn't help when, at the 2004 Summer Olympics, female athletes in beach volleyball competitions were required by the sport's governing federation to wear bikinis. The design of these skimpy uniforms had no practical purpose. Male beach volleyball players, on the other hand, wore shorts and tank tops.
Even in 2006, allegations of outright discrimination persist.
Penn State's women's basketball coach Rene Portland was quoted in the Chicago Sun Times saying back in 1986 that she does not allow lesbians on her team.
And though Penn State officially added sexual orientation to the school's non-discrimination policy in 1991, Portland is accused of violating that policy.
Jennifer Harris was a star athlete for Coach Portland's Lady Lions and was given a full scholarship in 2003. But in 2005, she was abruptly asked to leave the program.
According to a federal lawsuit recently filed by the National Center for Lesbian Rights on behalf of Harris, Portland repeatedly questioned her about her sexual orientation, and threatened to kick her off the team if she found out Harris was a lesbian.
Harris is not a lesbian but she says her former coach perceived she was. In the filing, Harris says Portland repeatedly asked her to look more "feminine," which included a demand for her to remove her cornrow hairstyle.
Portland says the charges are "completely and utterly untrue" and that it was Harris' playing and behavior that caused her to be dismissed from the team.
Whatever the outcome of the suit, any policies of discrimination should be benched, and we should value women athletes for their skills, talent and competitiveness, not their sexuality or perceived sexual orientation.
Akilah Monifa is a freelance writer living in Oakland, Calif. She can be reached at email@example.com.