Lin Dunn remembers a time when a college’s athletic director asked her, as a team coach, to remove a player presumed to be gay from her roster. She did what she had to do, she recalls: “I removed myself from that program and went to another job.” Such is Dunn’s no-nonsense approach to coaching and to life, which has carried her this far—to a 1994 NCAA championship with the Purdue University women’s basketball team, to the 2012 WNBA crown with the Indiana Fever, and to her fresh induction into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.
That last part, honoring her before the Fever’s home game Wednesday night, saw Dunn turn lachrymose. She will retire at this WNBA season’s end after 40 years pounding the hardwood as a women’s basketball coach. She remains a prime example of the truism that those who laugh the hardest also cry the same.
On this rainy midweek night, Dunn, her team’s second-year star Layshia Clarendon, and leaders from the Indianapolis LGBT community including Indiana Equality Action‘s Chris Paulsen and Indy Pride‘s Chris Morehead pulled up chairs and spoke on the Bankers Life Fieldhouse floor postgame. The Fever had topped the Seattle Storm 76-68 during the contest itself, that thanks to a late-breaking shootout. The occasion at hand after that: Diversity Night, replete with a courtside meet-and-greet with about 350 people to talk rights, politics, and, more than anything else, being human.
“Sports gave me huge hope for change,” says Clarendon, who played college ball in California before her WNBA rookie season last year and sports a short-cropped blond fauxhawk. She spoke to “a wave of acceptance” permeating society now. Dunn echoed her sentiment, in her chuckle-inducing way: “When I build a team, I want diversity. I imagine a team like a bowl of fruit: apples, peaches, pears, bananas, and some nuts. Different perspectives and different personalities. You can’t have too many nuts, though!” Turning to Clarendon, Dunn delivered her punchline: “This one’s Key lime here.”
Her student laughed. Laughed and cried. Coach and player stuck around to shoot selfies with admirers and then headed back down a hallway to their team’s locker room. The night had been bookended by tears and smiles.
Even Indiana Pacers point guard George Hill got in on that:
— Indianapolis Monthly (@IndyMonthly) June 11, 2014
Notes on the Evening:
» Paulsen noted that Indiana presently has five live legal cases revolving around same-sex marriage, the most of any state in the Union. Chief judge Richard Young of the U.S. District Court based in Evansville, Indiana, is expected to move along a case to the U.S. 7th Circuit Court on appeal, Paulsen said.
» Kyle Megrath, formerly part of the Freedom Indiana campaign, moderated the postgame meet-and-greet. He is marriage coordinator at Hoosiers Unite for Marriage, a nonprofit group seeking to have Indiana’s law banning same-sex marriage overturned. The group is affiliated with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Freedom to Marry, Liberty Indiana, and more LGBT coalitions.
» “I never thought it was going to happen,” says Indy Pride’s Chris Morehead about Diversity Night itself. “We had high hopes. [The Fever] embraced it right from the get-go. It was just working through the WNBA, and all the stipulations that they were going to impose on it. And at the end, they lifted them all. Bringing in Indiana Equality Action and Hoosiers Unite for Marriage, I really believe everything came together for a reason.”
» After record attendance of 85,000 at the 2013 Circle City IN Pride festival, Morehead and his team expect 90,000 to 100,000 comers on Saturday, for which sunny weather is expected.
» WNBA commissioner Laurel J. Richie was also on hand last night, meeting with reporters pregame and interacting with fans afterward.
» About the WNBA’s lead on LGBT issues, Dunn said, “I think the NFL, Major League Baseball, and a lot of the other major [sports] organizations will follow the women.”