South Carolina coach Dawn Staley faces backlash for supporting male athletes in women's sports

University of South Carolina women's basketball coach Dawn Staley speaks during a news conference on April 6, 2024.
University of South Carolina women's basketball coach Dawn Staley speaks during a news conference on April 6, 2024. | Screenshot: Twitter/@ClayTravis

NCAA champion University of South Carolina women's basketball coach Dawn Staley sparked criticism on social media after voicing support for male trans-identified athletes who want to compete in women's sports.

Staley, who led the Gamecocks to a championship victory on Sunday and has won three championships since being hired to lead the program in 2008, has made a name for herself as an outspoken Christian not afraid to let others know about her beliefs. 

Despite her open profession of faith, she drew the ire of Christian conservatives and women's sports advocates online Saturday, the day before the NCAA Division I championship game. During a news conference, she was asked for her thoughts on the ongoing debate surrounding the inclusion of male trans-identified athletes in women's sports. 

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In response to the question, Staley, 53, said she believes male trans-identified athletes should be allowed to compete against women if the athletes “consider” themselves to be women.

“If you’re a woman, you should play,” Staley said. “If you consider yourself a woman, … you should be able to play.”

The coach responded to a follow-up question from the same journalist by saying: "That's the question that you want to ask. So, I'll give you that, yes."

"So now, the barnstorm of people are going to flood my [social media] timeline to be a distraction to me on one of the biggest days of our game," she continued. "And I'm OK with that." 

Brandon Showalter, an opinion writer and social commentator for The Christian Post who hosts the documentary podcast series "Generation Indoctrination," said that seeing “athletic coaches repeat gender dogma such as 'consider yourself a woman' goes to show how deeply entrenched this ideology has become throughout all of culture, including sports, is disappointing but not surprising.”  

“In all likelihood, Staley is either afraid she will be fired if she criticizes transgender ideology — which isn't an irrational fear — or she's a true believer that some men are, in fact, women merely because the men say they are,” Showalter, the co-author of Exposing the Gender Lie, said.  

“Whatever her thinking, it's an affront to women to permit males in their sports, and it's dangerous given the competitive advantages men have over women because of the numerous physical differences in strength and speed."

Denny Burk, the associate professor of biblical studies at Boyce College, the undergraduate arm of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, called the coach’s comments “shameful" in a post on X. 

In response to Burk's post, Christian feminist Kaeley Triller Harms, co-founder of Hands Across the Aisle Women's Coalition, noted: "She didn’t say they should be able to play against women, but I agree it was a weak answer."

Journalist and media personality Megyn Kelly, who hosts her own show on SiriusXM, called Staley’s statements on trans athletes “horrific.” 

“Great question. Horrific answer,” Kelly wrote on X. “And this coach makes her dereliction twd the fairness & safety of women all about HER. Oh boo hoo she’ll get criticized. Yeah, we get upset when girls/women are endangered by social justice warriors who are SUPPOSED TO PROTECT THEM.”

South Carolina state Rep. Bill Taylor, a Republican, shared his distaste with Staley's remarks in an X post. Taylor noted how South Carolina passed a law in 2022 prohibiting biological males from playing in female sporting events. 

"Dawn Staley’s controversial answer to a question makes me wonder if she would like to break the law," Taylor wrote. "Asked whether 'transgender women should be able to participate in women's college basketball,' Staley said, 'Yes.' Hey Dawn, the SC legislature banned trans sports 2 years ago!"

South Carolina state Rep. Adam Morgan, who is running for U.S. Congress, called Staley’s comments “embarrassing ideologies.”  

“Our @UofSC Women’s Basketball Coach @dawnstaley says biological males should be allowed to play in women’s sports," Morgan tweeted. "Our tax dollars shouldn’t fund people and programs pushing these embarrassing ideologies that contradict SC values."

Political commentator Robby Starbuck argues that Staley “deserves every bit of criticism" for what he calls "lunacy."

“South Carolina Women’s Basketball Coach Dawn Staley says she supports men playing against women if they identify as a woman," he wrote. "Willing to bet some of the girls on her team disagree."

Nicole VanDyke is a reporter for The Christian Post. 

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