Jock Talk: A new beginning
by Roger Brigham
By all accounts, the inaugural Nike LGBT Sports Summit in Oregon last weekend was a smashing success. Thirty participants from 20 some organizations ranging from the National Collegiate Athletic Association to the National Center for Lesbian Rights gathered at Nike headquarters in Beaverton to share meals and drinks and talk about how to coordinate efforts to curb homophobia in sports. But ultimately the summit will not be judged by how great it felt for the folks to be there, but by what happens next.
Cyd Zeigler, co-founder of http://www.Outsports.com, said he got the idea for the summit last fall during a visit by out Oregon State softball coach Kirk Walker.
"I had the idea of having a meeting to get people together and Kirk mentioned Nike," Zeigler told the Bay Area Reporter . "The idea was that organizations would start working together instead of working as separate entities, instead of looking at each other as competition."
Indeed. Over the past couple of years, a bonanza of organizations and initiatives have sprung into being to join the sports branches of LGBT rights organizations that were already working in the field. Where once we had no advocates, now we have the You Can Play project, the Stand Up Foundation, Equality Coaching Alliance, Changing the Game, the NCLR Sports Project, Athlete Ally, and Kye Allums's Transition Tour.
Those were some of the groups meeting with representatives from heavyweights such as ESPN, NCAA, Nike, and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
"The most amazing and positive thing began on the first night at the first social, when the networking and the conversations were being had between groups that had never previously communicated," said Walker. "That was unprecedented."
The Friday, June 15, socializing was followed by daylong talks and presentations.
"We definitely addressed the establishing of a core mission for a coalition – not an organization, but a coalition of organizations," Walker said. "There was discussion about funding models and trying to figure out some opportunities to accomplish some of the mission and the goals. But the majority of the time was about getting greater clarity about how to align better to work together more than doing the same work as each other."
Walker said the summit ended with "our clearly stated mission as a coalition to end bullying and LGBT bias and discrimination in sport." He added that a core goal of the coalition was "Redefining the Champion."
A summary of the coalition goals said the image of what a champion is "has been a declining criteria for years in sport. The character and what defines our athletic champions has been is sharp decline due to the factors of media, finances, marketing, winning-at-all-cost mentality and the all mighty dollar in sport. So the characteristics that we used to look for and value in our athletic leaders has been lost and champions have been used to describe someone that has won. Being a champion is more than winning, it is succeeding at leading, unifying, overcoming challenges, excelling. ... Just as being a champion is more than just winning or should be more than just winning. So Redefining the Champion is about raising the standards beyond outcome and stressing far more about how we choose to be inclusive and valuing of qualities regardless of sex, race, religion, socio-economic status, sexuality, or gender identities on the pursuit to athletic excellence."
"I think one of the things I learned at the summit is you can't just expect people to play like a team unless they have trust," Zeigler said. "I think being in the room together, while they came in thinking that some of these people might be competition, they walked away with an understanding of each other. When you have your meals together and take cocktails, I think a trust starts to build. I think that's one of the big takeaways."
I have often written that sports seems to be the forgotten ugly stepchild of LGBT politics and culture – the invaluable but neglected aspect of our lives which, when we neglect it, makes homophobic stereotypes self-reinforcing. It's been nearly 40 years since David Kopay became the first American major professional athlete to come out, yet we still have not had a single major male pro player in the country come out during his career, and homophobic slurs remain far too commonplace in locker rooms and on playing fields all the way down to the neighborhood pick-up games.
"There's been so little communication, so little collaboration in sports," Walker said. "I think there was definitely a strong belief at the summit that the gains in sports that happened over the past 40 years have been so minimal because of the lack of unified efforts – a lack of concerted focus and all the organizations being on the same page."
And that makes this the perfect time to turn the page and start a new chapter, with new definitions.
This week, two of the groups that were at the summit, Athlete Ally and GLAAD, announced that they would partner to offer proactive training sessions for all major professional teams in the United States "to empower pro sports organizations to stand against homophobia and transphobia."
"Athletes are leaders," Hudson Taylor, the wrestler who founded Athlete Ally, said. "Today more than ever, professional players have the power to affirm, connect and inspire people around the world. By taking small steps based on simple ideas at the heart of sportsmanship – like treating others as you want to be treated – professional sports can unite communities and create a better and more inclusive tomorrow."