ABC's Cuomo Frets Over 'Gender Discrimination' in Private School
"Good Morning America" co-host Chris Cuomo presented a decidedly one-sided segment on Monday about the "gender discrimination" expressed by a private religious school in Kansas that refused to allow a female basketball referee the chance to call a boy's varsity game. Cuomo announced, "many" think that "religious belief does not give the school the right to discriminate."
The ABC host offered almost no consideration to the argument, made by St. Mary's Academy, that men are best equipped to guide boys and prepare them for future life endeavors. (The referee in question, Michelle Campbell, asserted that she was not allowed to call the game because the school believes women shouldn't have authority over men.) Instead, he offered loaded questions to Campbell, who appeared on the show: "Gender discrimination is not something new. We know about it. But were you surprised that something this obvious still confronted you today....Were you surprised?"
And although Cuomo acknowledged that St. Mary's Academy is a private school, he appeared fixated on whether the institution has the "right" to make such choices. He asked fellow referee Darin Putthoff, "So, what do you think this is really about? I mean, how do you explain this?"
The GMA host even seemed to think that this event might somehow damage the school's students. He ominously queried, "Now, Michelle, you're a grown-up... But let's talk about the kids involved here, the message it sends to these young men. You worried about that?"
Cuomo did note that the principal of the school declined to appear on GMA or offer a statement. Even so, the ABC anchor's questions were decidedly one-sided. After repeating that the school thinks that men should train men and women should instruct other females, he asked, "Does that make any difference or sense to you to you, Michelle?"
Expressing complete bafflement at religious institutions that may do things differently is not new for the morning shows. In March of 2006, then-"Today" host Katie Couric looked horrified as she interviewed the creators of a town that would be founded around conservative Catholic values. She lectured, "I think people will see this community as eschewing diversity and promoting intolerance."
A transcript of the segment, which aired at 8:07am on February 18, follows:
CHRIS CUOMO: Now we have a GMA exclusive for you. Just minutes before she was scheduled to referee a varsity basketball game at a private religious boy's school in Kansas, Michelle Campbell was told she would not be refereeing simply because she is a woman. St. Mary's Academy has a policy that women cannot have authority over men because it's contrary to their religious beliefs. Here's the story. For the high school referee Michelle Campbell ensuring that everyone plays by the rules on her court is all in a day's work. But on the night of February 2nd, it was Michelle who found herself unknowingly breaking a surprising rule on the court of St. Mary's Academy, a private religious school outside of Topeka. Just minutes before tip off, she was told she couldn't referee the boys basketball game because she was a woman.
GARY MUSSELMAN (executive director, KSHSAA): The policy of the school was that they do not permit female officials to officiate the boys' athlete contests at their school.
CUOMO: The reason? Putting a women in authority over boys is contrary to beliefs at St. Mary's. And it turns out, this was not the first incident.
MUSSELMAN: Three or four years ago, they were scheduled to play an association members school in a football contest. That particular school had a young lady who was on the football team, and St. Mary's Academy did not elect to play the game at that time and simply chose to forfeit the contest.
CUOMO: St. Mary's Academy is a religious school that follows older Roman Catholic laws but many argue that religious belief does not give the school the right to discriminate.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a little unbelievable for this day and age.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just thought we was done with that kind of crap.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #2: If it's a private school, they have the choice. I just don't think they made the right choice.
CUOMO: A couple of opinions there. We reached out to St. Mary's and were told that the principal, Father Vincente Griego was not available and would not be making any statements. Joining us live now to talk about this controversy is referee are referee Michelle Campbell and fellow referee Darin Putthoff from Topeka, Kansas. Thank you both of us for joining us this morning. Let me tell you what they say at the Society of St. Pius X, which is what this school subscribes to, they say that this is about men training men and women training women. That a woman ref shouldn't be around because it takes men to train these boys how to be men. Does that make any difference or sense to you to you, Michelle?
MICHELLE CAMPBELL (basketball referee): I would say for myself, no, because when I put that shirt on, I don't see a gender. I'm an official. And my responsibility there is to make sure that there is-- that I make all the right calls and that it's a fair game so that the athletes will play and have a great game. That's my main purpose.
CUOMO: Gender discrimination is not something new. We know about it. But were you surprised that something this obvious still confronted you today, after all of your work as a veteran police officer? Now, you're refereeing, you deal with this. Were you surprised?
CAMPBELL: I guess on that day, I was surprised or more dumbfounded when my partner gave me the news that I wasn't going to be allowed to officiate.
CUOMO: That was the surprise for you?
CAMPBELL: Right. Didn't expect it.
CUOMO: I'm sure you didn't. Darin, did you expect it? I mean, when they called you over and started talking about this? The school, so everybody knows, does have a little bit of history and controversy, has been a little controversy with the athletic conference before. But were you surprised when they told you this?
DARIN PUTTHOFF (Dir. Of Basketball, Topeka Officials Assoc): Yeah. I just immediately asked them why. And the response that I got was the response about women having authority over men. And I just came back with a simple question. You know, "So you're telling me you that don't have any female teachers here at the school?" And he responded to me, "No, we do, we do have." And I said, "Well, what's the difference?" And he said, he didn't really know.
CUOMO: And certainly, they are a Catholic organization. But obviously, you have nuns who taught generations of kids. Myself included. And you said, that's right, they have female teacher there. So, what do you think this is really about? I mean, how do you explain this?
PUTTHOFF: What I really think it's about, was the administrator didn't have a full understanding about the policy. So, the information that he offered to us that day was really -- was wrong information. And the authority over, over men was not really the issue. It was more of a gender issue. And they prefer, I think, at their institution, that men referee men and women referee women. And I don't think he really had a full understanding of the policy. I mean, that's what's caused all the controversy, is inaccurate information.
CUOMO: Now, Michelle, you're a grown-up. You'll be able to handle this. You don't seem like you're rattled by it. But let's talk about the kids involved here, the message it sends to these young men. You worried about that? And, also how they may be punished by not being able to play. I mean, how do you deal with that part of this?
CAMPBELL: Well, I'm not sure how they're going to deal with it. I can just speak from the games that I have called and I have called at other schools, public schools, in which I've officiated both boys and girls and I would call them young men and women, and there never seemed to be a problem with that. Because, again, I think, what it is, once I put that shirt on, I'm, I'm just an official out there that's to enforce the rules of the game. And those young athletes recognize that and see it. And how it's going to impact these individuals at St. Mary's Academy, I have no idea. I'm not sure how it will be once they're older and they are out there in society. I wouldn't be able to tell you how that's going to affect them.
CUOMO: So, good point. I appreciate you both coming here. If they changed the rule and women can referee, will you referee at that school?
CAMPBELL: If they change the rule and allow me to owe officiate their young men?
CAMPBELL: Sure. Because like I said, I'm an official first. And, so, if the rules are changed, and they want me to come out to officiate, certainly, I'd go out there--
CUOMO: Then you'll do it.
CAMPBELL: --because it is about the kids.
CUOMO: Michelle Campbell, thank you very much. Darin Putthoff, thank you for being here this morning. And to all of you, what do you think. Please go to ABCNews.com and let us know if you agree or disagree and why.