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Posted on Fri, May 3, 2013 : 2:58 p.m.

Sixteen years before Jason Collins' revelation, UM alum was one of first openly gay NCAA coaches

By Pete Cunningham

On Monday, NBA veteran Jason Collins announced to the world that he is gay in a Sports Illustrated article. Collins is the first active player in the history of the three major American sports to publicly admit as much.

Sixteen years ago, former Michigan softball player Jenny Allard - then in her third year as the head coach of the Harvard softball team - told her team she is gay in an email.

The email wasn’t on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and - in the days before Twitter or Facebook - it took some time before Allard’s in-house announcement was public knowledge. But she is widely recognized as one of the first openly gay coaches in NCAA Division I athletics.

When Allard learned of Collins’ announcement on Monday, she could relate in a unique way.


Jenny Allard

Photo courtesy of Harvard Athletic Communications

Allard graduated from Michigan in 1990 and the former All-American was a Michigan Hall of Honor inductee in 2008. She is now in her 19th season with Harvard and is the longest tenured coach in the Ivy League.

Allard said she’s been impressed with the public’s reaction to Collins’ announcement.

“It’s a great thing, and I think in some ways that for him is validating,” Allard said.

Announcements such as Collins’ are more commonplace in sports outside of the big three, and Allard will never be under the intense spotlight Collins already has in the short time since his announcement. But it’s still far from commonplace. Allard is still one of the only openly gay coaches in Division I.

Allard has been encouraged by the mostly positive public response Collins has experienced and said her experience was similar.

“I think people are generally happy for you when you come to accept a part of yourself," she said.

"For me it was a real step in my maturity, and I think people realized that as such. ... People got on board and were like, ‘good for you for being able to do that,’” Allard said.


A photo of former Michigan All-American Jenny Allard decorates the outside of the University of Michigan's softball stadium.

Pete Cunningham |

“My reaction when I first heard the story was ‘good for him’ Good for him to do that. Good for him to be comfortable enough, to be courageous enough to do that,” said Allard.

“I think he said it well, that he wanted to kind of start the conversation. It takes a lot of courage to do that, and kind of put yourself out there because it’s something that everybody’s going to talk about and to be a person that’s willing to do that, I think it speaks to his character.”

When Allard made her announcement, she was working and living on campus as an academic and residential adviser in addition to her duties with the softball team. She said she didn’t want to hide the fact that her then-partner was moving in to her on-campus apartment, so she explained her situation in an email.

“At that time, people knew, but they didn’t know, you know? I wanted to eliminate that drama. ‘Here’s my partner, we’re living on campus and that’s it. And it became a very normative thing,’” Allard said.

“I didn’t want to have people in my life living in the outfield and not let people on my team know... If I’m expecting them to be honest with me about things, then it was very important to me to just let them know who she was and what the situation was.

“The climate at Harvard was very supportive on campus.”

Allard said as her sexual orientation became more public and she became speaking on panels, she received mostly support, but said there were negative reactions, as well.

"You definitely had people who were totally supportive, happy for me, and you had people that were like, ‘ok it’s no big deal’ and you had people who passed some judgment," Allard said. "I think he’s going to have all of that as well."

Allard said her former teammates and coaches in Ann Arbor were nothing but supportive. It’s not surprising after hearing the reaction of Allard’s former coach - Michigan softball coach Carol “Hutch” Hutchins’ - to Collins’ announcement.

“I thought why is it such a big deal? Coaches, players, superstars, they’re all people and people have a right to live their life as they choose,” Hutchins said. “You don’t owe anybody anything else, you just owe living a good life.”

Pete Cunningham covers sports for He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @petcunningham.



Sat, May 4, 2013 : 2:40 a.m.

My response to this article is the same response to the player saying he is homosexual. I could care less. My opinion of homosexuals and non-homosexuals is the same. You are a person, and you have a right to live your life the way you want. As long as your private live stays private I'm fine with it. I don't want to hear homosexual guys talking about what they did with their boyfriends around the water cooler at work, just like I don't want to her the non-homosexuals talking about "how the banged the hot chick last night. Keep your private life private and let your public life be public. My opinion on gay marriage is different, as I feel marriage is defined as a union between a man and a woman. With that said, I am not opposed to homosexual couples being allowed unions with all the benefits of marriage, but not under the term marriage. A couple, be it homosexual or non-homosexual, should be granted the same rights and privileges once they agree to legally become a partnership, which is what a marriage is. Married couples and couples in civil unions should be allowed to be each others primary decision makers in emergencies, be allowed the same legal rights for tax purposes, and be allowed the same treatment when it comes to work related benefits.


Sat, May 4, 2013 : 1:15 p.m.

I assume that in your second sentence you mean that you could NOT care less, right? I can't quite figure out the sense in your second paragraph. You seem willing to grant all the rights and privileges of marriage to gay couples but you don't want to use the word? You want to set in a law two parallel institutions that are identical except for the word we use to describe them? "Separate but equal" marriages? Are you serious?

Robert E.

Fri, May 3, 2013 : 11:09 p.m.

Um...she came out to the public in the 90s...for someone in a prominent position, that was pretty significant at the time...


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 9:09 p.m.

Who cares? I'm getting pretty sick of everyone making such a big deal out of who is gay and who isn't. Does it really matter?


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 9:41 p.m.

"...In a perfect world, everyone would feel that way..." Unless, of course, you're wrong. Just saying, philosophically.

Pete Cunningham

Fri, May 3, 2013 : 9:32 p.m.

That's an enlightened perspective. In a perfect world, everyone would feel that way. In the world we live in, not everyone is tolerant, so I think it's important to discuss the news of the day (Collins' revelation) with someone with a local connection who had what can be considered a similar experience and has a unique perspective.

Usual Suspect

Fri, May 3, 2013 : 8:20 p.m.

A female softball player admitting she is gay is nowhere near the same thing as a male football player admitting he is gay.


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 8:58 p.m.

@ Dusky, Because it matters. Like it or not athletes are people who have a celebrity life. The REASON people follow sports is a lot pt do with the personalities of the participants. Is the UM/ OSU rivalry as big of a deal with no Woody Hayes or Bo? Do the Lakers and Celtics get as much press if not for Russel and Chamberlin or Magic and Bird? They are just people, but so is Tiger Woods, yet we know about his bevy of women. Anthony Weiner is just a person, but we all had to see his Twitter pics. The fact is, humans are not computers who watch sports for the winner and loser only. They need and want the story line. If the competition were the only thing, they could use a video game instead


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 8:41 p.m.

Gay, Straight, whatever....why in the world is it such important reportable news anymore...and the president even calls to congratulate them.....unbelievable!!! These are just peoplefolks, why can't we just get use to it and not make it a spectacular event it has become. Shame on all of you who have any part in these current so called events.