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NCAA Common Ground IV at BYU: Asking sincere questions, finding radical hope

BYU hosted the NCAA’s Common Ground IV, a forum to explore how representatives of LGBTQ and faith-based communities can work more cohesively in college sports and higher education, from Oct. 31 to Nov. 1, marking the first time the forum has been held at an NCAA Division I institution.

BYU joined the Common Ground II conversation in 2016, and BYU Senior Associate Athletic Director and Senior Woman Administrator Liz Darger plays an active role on the Common Ground leadership team. Dr. Amy Wilson, managing director of the NCAA’s Inclusion office, also visited campus last year to visit with groups of students and employees.

In his welcome address to Common Ground participants, BYU President Kevin J Worthen explained that as a university sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, BYU upholds the belief that all human beings are created in the image of God and each person has a divine nature and destiny.

“I’m asking for your help in making sure that we are true to the principles that we believe in,” Worthen said. “When we talk about difficult things, sometimes we may perceive that someone may be attacking something that is important to us or maybe mischaracterizing what it is that we believe in. But in those difficult situations, we need to be reminded that each of those people is a beloved son or daughter of heavenly parents. You can call it human dignity, you can call it respect, the value of human beings. It doesn’t have to be a religious term, but that is a very powerful truth that we believe in.”

NCAA Vice President of Inclusion and Human Resources Katrice Albert was also in attendance, joining President Worthen in opening the forum.

“This is powerful work that we’re doing in Common Ground and making a commitment to being a national spotlight related to this effort around LGBTQ issues in faith-based institutions,” Albert said. “Over the next 48 hours, I’m going to invite you to have radical hope. You are going to have to have the courage to be vulnerable... It’s going to be hard, it’s going to be uncomfortable, you are going to push limits... but in the struggle there is hope.”

They also discussed some of the more common challenges when talking about the religious, LGBTQ and other parts of their identity. The coaches discussed creating a safer environment for the student-athletes on their team.

The student-athletes were tasked with writing five different parts of their identity (student, athlete, sibling, church member, etc.) on different index cards, and then the leadership team asked each person to tear up all but one of those identities. The activity helped illustrate that each person is made up of several important identities, and any time one of our identities is threatened or feels invalidated it can be traumatic and hurtful.

Echoing the inspiring discussion from the leadership team’s open meeting, BYU Athletic Director Tom Holmoe encouraged the Common Ground participants to keep the dialogue going.

“If we can come together in our common ground, our athletic departments will be a better place, our schools will be a better place and society will be a better place.”

As is standard practice, the formal Common Ground meetings were only open to participants invited by the NCAA, but the night before the official forum started, the leadership team gathered together to share their stories of understanding their individual identities and joining the Common Ground discussion.

“Sport has been a leader in areas of social justice and can be a vehicle for change,” said Wilson. “To reach at least one person and say ‘you are loved, there is hope for the future’ makes it all worth it. We’ll have Common Ground 1000 if we can keep doing that.”

Throughout the evening meeting, the leadership team centered on a discussion of becoming comfortable in asking sincere questions, in listening to sincere answers and in respecting the ability of others to make their own choices while also asking for the same courtesy in return. 

“Tonight we talked about the importance of loving God and loving others,” Darger said. “Those are the two great commandments, and I think we often feel like those two things come into conflict with each other. We think we can only do one or the other. I have found, in the last two years as part of this team, that we can do both. We must do both.”

BYU student-athletes and coaches met with the leadership team outside of the official forum to share some of the inclusion activities that BYU has facilitated.

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