Finding Allies in Athletics - Start-up Week


By Matthew DeMello

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

“There has never been a successful social justice movement for a minority group without the support of the majority,” says Hudson Taylor on this week’s episode of the Third Eye Weekly podcast on BreakThru Radio.

The one time All-American NCAA Division 1 wrestler and current coach at Columbia is also the founder of Athlete Ally, an organization promoting support and equality of LGBT individuals in sports among heterosexual athletes.

“I believe that we have until we have a critical mass of allies speaking out, there may still be athletes who still don’t feel comfortable coming out,” he continues.

Jason Collins, Michael Sam, Brittney Griner–more and more accomplished young names are entering the major leagues with a whole new set of values on athletic integrity and character both on and off the field. Unfortunately, their straight colleagues haven’t exactly matched their courage in stepping up to the plate to promote an open and safe culture for LGBT players.

In the recent case of Sam, if support came at all from any straight NFL players, they were most likely retired. One such example includes the outspoken Donte’ Stallworth who was quick to point out the flawed logic of considering Sam’s open homosexuality a PR liability for a national football team.

“The only thing that will be a distraction is the unexpected,” says Taylor on Stallworth’s observation. “It’s when something blindsides a team or a PR director, that’s when a team has a distraction. But in the case of an athlete coming out, it’s not a distraction because every team knows what they’re getting themselves into. They know what questions are going to be asked of them. If you look at any interview around LGBT issues at the intersection of sports over the last five years, generally the questions that are going to be asked are the same ten questions just worded differently.”

Critics inevitably chided Stallworth’s willingness to pass judgment on others despite his own fall from graces in the NFL, but his argument was logical—a homosexual player shouldn’t be considered a publicity obstacle during times when the league regularly works with murder convicts and other less than wholesome personalities.

Enter Athlete Ally, an organization that stood beside numerous foreign leaders in abstaining their attendance at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, in direct response to the host nation’s much publicized attempts to further marginalize their own LGBT community. But for a nation that so prizes individualism and self-expression, it’s surprisingly easier to get foreign heads of state to hop on board of a civil rights movement than it is for NFL team owners.

“Even within the US, we have states where there are laws that have passed and trying to be passed that aren’t all that different from Russia,” Taylor astutely points out.

Coming from a background as an accomplished college wrestler, Taylor knows what it means to be misunderstood. For many who find their talents in wrestling, there’s enough confusion (and adolescent bigotry) in regards to sexual preference and stereotypes in high school locker rooms as it is.

“Everywhere I went growing up people would ask me, ‘What are you wearing? What’s that spandex thing that you’re wearing?’” he remembers from his own youth. “And two, ‘Are you grabbing one another?’”

Like many young athletes trying to assert their own sexuality, Taylor doesn’t look back fondly on responding to these questions with homophobic and sexist language. Which is why, as immature or ignorant as other viewpoints on the issue might appear, Taylor insists that the best course of action for advocates is to provide a welcoming environment for the persecuted, as well as those who may harbor persecutive attitudes.

“It’s important that we facilitate a discussion, that we enable people to freely express where they stand on it,” he tells Third Eye co-host Matthew DeMello. “Because if we’re not having a dialogue then we’re never going to [see] that day where a gay athlete will really feel comfortable.”

For more, check out Hudson Taylor on today’s episode of the Third Eye Weekly podcast on BreakThru Radio.