Los Angeles Team Sports Dragged Down by Sexual Discrimination
Soccer league ignores anti-gay, violent play on the field.
Molly and Karima are domestic partners living in Los Angeles. A successful married couple, they juggle several businesses, five dogs, and a busy season of soccer practice and games. In the interest of full disclosure: I’m their fitness coach, and I’ve come to know them well as we’ve spent dozens of hours in the gym together over the past few years. I know how much they love playing soccer, and how hard each of them trains to become a better player. But last year, these women encountered anti-gay violence where it has no place: on the soccer field. I asked how they dealt with the incidents as players, and as a couple.
So, why do you play soccer?
Karima: We love the idea of exercising as a couple. Not only do we get a great workout together, but we get to increase our skills working as a team.
Molly: She [Karima] actually got me involved in soccer. Although I played as a kid, I never thought about playing as an adult. Playing soccer with my partner is great. We’ve loved the opportunity to support each other on the field as teammates and also enjoy the rewards of that support off the field as well.
So what happened? How did the discrimination start?
Molly: It started long before we were aware of the discrimination. Last season, Karima and another player on our team (Mel, a lesbian) both had incidents with players on their team. Karima was forcibly pushed from behind by one of their players, and a verbal [assault] took place with another. The tensions escalated and finally exploded in the final game where Karima and Mel were verbally ridiculed as “men” by these women.
It’s hard to believe that this physical and verbal violence happens, and is tolerated. Why do you think that lesbians and gay men are ridiculed in sports?
Molly: We’d hoped that this was not the case, especially in women’s soccer. In no other case were we treated differently. Needless to say, it was quite a shock when the events unraveled the way they did and the league didn’t do anything about it. I’m sure it’s reflective of society at large in that any GLBT person will face some type of discrimination. Some of our team were very supportive and were willing to do whatever it took in order to fight for Karima and what was right. Others, were just content to stay out of it.
Don’t the referees have a responsibility to stop this?
Molly: The refs have a job and that job is fair and safe play. If there’s an escalation on the field, it’s their job to alert the team captains and to reign in the players. If necessary, it’s their job to pull out the yellow or red cards and discipline the players for unsportsmanlike conduct or derogatory comments.
How did you respond to these events?
Karima: Molly wrote a letter to the board and demanded their accountability to the situation and the league. Then she contacted the Glendale sports complex to find out what their policy was on such situations. Since this is a private league, the league coordinators can pretty much do what they like, less any gross discrimination.
Would you have handled it any differently?
Molly: I’ve thought and re-thought my involvement in the events that took place after the on-field incident. I wanted to fight for my partner and for what is right and against the discrimination. I think that it’s caused our team captain to distance herself from us and that’s really sad. It’s hard when you do something for what you think is the right reasons and you lose people along the way.
What would you tell other gay athletes who are the target of anti-gay speech?
Karima: Report it. Let the refs know what is going on so they are aware of the discrimination going on.
Molly: Do what you think is right. Stand up for yourself and for the people around you. Never, let it get you down, it’s their problem. And…never let them see you sweat!
Note: This story has been updated from the date of original filing (March 2008).