Leveling the Playing Field

olympicsOver the past year or so, the news has been filled with stories of athletes coming out of the closet. Athletes in two major sports in the United States, Jason Collins in the National Basketball Association and Robbie Rogers in Major League Soccer, have taken the huge step of coming out. Pro boxer Orlando Cruz came out and has since gotten engaged. A number of individual and team Olympic athletes have come out as well, including diver Tom Daley, gymnast Josh Dixon, and women’s soccer star Megan Rapinoe. A total of six out athletes will compete at 2014 Olympics Winter Games, which start today in Sochi, Russia.

But not everything is coming up roses, to say the least. Jason Collins is still without a team. In the National Football League, two straight allies, Chris Kluwe and Brendon Ayanbadejo, spoke out in support of marriage equality, and another player, Kerry Rhodes, was rumored to be gay. All are teamless now. No one in professional baseball, hockey, or (American) football has yet to come out while an active player. (With the exception of Glenn Burke back in the 1970s.)

Google2-6-14And, of course, there’s Sochi. Russia’s new, severe laws against homosexuality have raised alarms worldwide, both for the people who are traveling there for the Games and for those who live there. The International Olympic Committee and a number of Olympics sponsors are under fire for not speaking out against Russia’s attacks—both figurative and literal—on homosexuality and homosexuals. Several world leaders, including President Obama, have declined to attend the Games, and the United States put together an official delegation that includes out former athletes. And yesterday, Google posted a new “doodle” (as shown) that makes its message rainbow-clear.

For every step forward, sports seems to take another step back when it comes to gay athletes. How will this all end? I don’t know. I know a lot of people in and surrounding the LGBT community are torn. Do we ignore Sochi in protest of Russia’s laws? Or do we watch to support the athletes, including those who are gay (openly or not)? It’s ironic to see the rainbow colors of the Olympic Games heralded in a city where waving a full rainbow flag can get you beaten, arrested, or worse.

principle_6_quoteOne rallying point for the Olympics issue has become the Principle 6 campaign, which is based on the part of the Olympic charter that reads: Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement. This new organization is raising funds to support LGBT advocacy groups in Russia, but they’re only one group that’s fighting this fight. A number of organizations have been leading the way in the efforts to make sports at all levels more accepting of athletes of all sexualities.

youcanplayRussianYou Can Play fights homophobia not just among players but also among fans and is “dedicated to ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation.” YCP was co-founded by Patrick Burke (no relation to Glenn Burke), who’s the son of Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke, who serves on the organization’s advisory board. Patrick’s youngest brother (Brian’s son), Brendan, was an openly gay college hockey player who was outspoken against homophobia in sports. He died in a car accident in 2010, and YCP was founded in March 2012 his memory. The version of the organization’s logo shown here reads “you can play” in Russian.

GO! Athletes focuses on student athletes, “educating athletes, coaches, administrators, and fans to foster athletic communities that are accepting of ALL, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.” Founded in January 2008 by seven current and former LGBT athletes, GO! offers peer support, training and workshops for staff and athletes, and educational materials to help fight homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of LGBTQA discrimination.

You Belong was founded by former NFL player Wade Davis, who came out last year and has just taken over as executive director of You Can Play. This initiative will be offering sports instruction and leadership development clinics for LGBTQ youth and straight allies nationwide. The first clinic was held in July 2013.

The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network’s Changing the Game project focuses on the kindergarten through grade 12 school levels. The program aims to help “in creating and maintaining an athletic and physical education climate that is based on the core principles of respect, safety and equal access for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.” Board members include Patrick and Brian Burke.

Each of these organizations has a lot to offer to LGBT athletes and their straight allies. I encourage you to check them out and donate your time or money if you can. Working together, we can help make it easier for talented athletes to play the games they love without losing out simply because of who they are.

World colors image courtesy of njaj / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

2 responses to “Leveling the Playing Field

  1. Vicktor "Vic" Alexander

    Love that you wrote this.

  2. Great post, Shae. Hopefully the baby steps will get us somewhere…the sooner the better!