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As Jock Talk has been reporting lo these many months, an unprecedented number of initiatives to support young LGBT athletes have been launched within the last year. Just about the only thing that has been missing has been a hotline.
Athlete Buddy System is a volunteer initiative launched by Denver-based nonprofit GForce Sports, the same folks who have fielded a national gay hockey team for several years and announced the start of a national gay lacrosse team a month ago. Mike Smith, director of ABS, said the organization is recruiting and interviewing potential mentors to handle calls from LGBT athletes and coaches who need someone to listen.
"We're just getting it started over the last six months or so," Smith told the Bay Area Reporter. "We're actively interviewing athletes who are interested in being mentors for us. We're trying to diversify. We don't want just a bunch of male hockey players. We want to get some lesbians and some other sports. All told we'll probably have about 10 or 12 people."
Smith, 45, who is gay, is not an athlete but became involved with GForce when he was researching a play he was writing about a gay hockey player. A hotline for troubled LGBT athletes seemed like a natural progression for the rest of GForce's work, which includes Invisible Athlete forums, in which gay athletes speak before groups at high schools or colleges. Â
"It seems with all of the suicides happening there must be a way we can reach out to athletes," he said.
"The hotline is open to any age group," Smith said. "We have heard from athletes in their 40s, so we're not targeting any specific age demographic. People come out at all ages, and play sports at all ages, so we're available to all of them. We expect to hear mostly from high school and college kids. Interestingly enough, young people today have been more exposed to gay people so it's not as much of an issue for them. One closeted high school hockey player called us and wasn't at all troubled or scared â€" he was ticked off at the locker room discourse and wanted to know what to do to change it."
Many times, Smith said, the key is to get athletes to calm their fears.
"Most of the calls are, 'What if I do come out and something terrible happens to me, or my parents throw me out, or my team rejects me?' Inevitably you make the problem bigger in your head than it is. The biggest thing is getting them over the fear of what may happen: take it slow, find some allies and lean on them, and work your way through it."
As a non-athlete, Smith said he was intrigued to see how much sports function as family and sanctuary for athletes.
"I think sports are tremendously important to them," he said. "I get the sense that very often athletes pin their self-worth on their athletic prowess. Facing the possibility of their rejection from the entire sport that they're really good at athletically for these kids is really huge. And I've heard that some gay people go into athletics because it's a good way to hide who they are. 'It's great: I can focus on being an athlete and I can focus on getting bigger and stronger and I don't have to focus on being gay."
Right now Smith said ABS is focused on getting out word on its hotline and interviewing mentors.
"We are looking for men and women who have played a sport, either individual or team, on a competitive level, not just the recreational level," Smith said. "Experience at the high school, college or pro level is expected; athletes who have experience in a 'tour school' system, like tennis or golf, or within a farm or development system like junior hockey, may also apply. Coaches who fit these categories are also welcome to apply. Our goal is to develop mentors who have lived the experiences of competitive sports as closeted athletes, and who have grown through those experiences to become successful out men and women. Their experiences can be either positive or negative â€" we're talking to one guy who had a horrific coming out situation â€" but they need to have grown from them and be able to use those experiences to help others."
Information for potential mentors may be found at http://www.athletebuddysystem.org. The hotline number is 1-855-646-1227.
Amaechi awarded OBE
Former NBA basketball player John Amaechi, who has been a strong gay rights advocate since coming out four years ago, has been awarded the Order of the British Empire.
"I see this honor as a chance to reach out and do more to create an equality of opportunity for all people, but especially to inspire young people," Amaechi told http://www.PinkPaper.com. "I was once an overweight bookworm who hid in the corner of my school library and wished I was invisible. My mother told me that I could do better than just disappear â€" she convinced me that the most unlikely of people, in the most improbable of situations can become extraordinary. I hope to use this platform to convince other young people just how true this can be for them, too."
Amaechi was an ambassador for Amnesty International at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. He serves on the diversity board for the London 2012 Olympics, and is an ambassador for the Gay Games.
Movie on Glenn Burke to air during Pride
Comcast SportsNet Bay Area will rebroadcast Out: The Glenn Burke Story three times this month: Monday, June 20 at 8 p.m.; Sunday, June 26 at 9 p.m.; and Thursday, June 30, at 2:30 p.m.
Glenn Burke, a former Oakland Athletic from Berkeley, was the first Major League Baseball player to come out. He died in 1995. [See Â November 4 Jock Talk].