University of San Francisco basketball coach Jennifer Azzimade a big announcement while introducing Warriors president Rick Welts at the Anti-Defamation League’s Torch of Liberty Award ceremony last Thursday.
Welts became the first senior sports executive to come out as gay in 2011, then president and chief executive of the Phoenix Suns.
“I, too, lived a long time not being 100 percent honest,” Azzi said. “Kind of a don’t-ask-don’t-tell kinda thing. And it’s so stupid. I don’t know why we do that, but we do that. I’m a college coach. Is it going to hurt me with recruiting? What are people going to think? And you are constantly worrying about those things.”
“What I realized in watching Rick in his path and his journey is that there is nothing more powerful than living the truth. And the best thing I can do for my team is be authentic and true to myself,” she said.
Last August, Azzi said she married her assistant coach Blair Hardiek. The two have been coaching for six years together. They told four players last summer over lunch and the news was “overwhelmingly supportive.”
“He’s given me the power to be an authentic leader,” Azzi said of Welts. “And without his leadership, I could not have had the courage to do what I have done with my team and take this leap of faith and be here tonight and be my authentic self. You have no idea the ripple effect that you’re having in our world.”
After the ceremony, Welts said he was proud of Azzi.
“I’ve never been more proud of her that she would take that moment…to choose that time to do what she just did,” he said.
Azzi was a member of the USA Basketball Senior National Team from 1990-91 and 1993-98. A key member of the United States gold medal-winning 1996 Olympic Team that concluded a perfect 60-0 season with an 8-0 record during the Olympic Games in Atlanta, Azzi played on 13 USA National Teams, compiling a mark of 114-14. She also medaled three times at the World Championships, claiming gold in 1998 and 1990, while earning a bronze in 1994.
Currently in her sixth season as head coach at USF, Azzi has transformed the women’s basketball program into a bona fide postseason contender. In the midst of another successful year on the Hilltop, USF upended 11-time defending WCC champions, Gonzaga, in resounding fashion on Jan. 30, 2016. It was the first win over the Bulldogs in 22 tries.
On January 16, 2015, Azzi was presented with the NCAA Silver Anniversary Award which honors an individual’s accomplishments on the court of play as well as their contributions to professional organizations and other civic activities on their 25th anniversary of the conclusion of their collegiate careers.
OutSports co-founder Cyd Zeigler said her coming out has a powerful impact on others.
“We talk about it all the time, the power of one person being out in sports, and that leading to another person coming out, who leads to another…In introducing openly gay Golden State Warriors CEO Rick Welts at an event, University of San Francisco head women’s basketball coach Jennifer Azzi took the opportunity to be the next domino, and an historic one at that.”
Azzi played point guard for the Cardinal from 1987 to 1990, during which Stanford won two conference championships and a national championship in 1990. She was also a two-time All-American, a Naismith Award winner, two-time conference player of the year and a Final Four MVP. She is also a gold-medal winner, a first round WNBA draft pick and a member of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.
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