Jock Talk: I-N-C-L-U-S-I-O-N: Find out what it means to sports

  • by Roger Brigham
  • Wednesday December 7, 2011
Share this Post:
GLSEN's Pat Griffin
GLSEN's Pat Griffin

It was already apparent six months ago that 2011 would prove to be the "gayest" year in sports. It seemed not a week went by that another coach, athlete, administrator, or executive was coming out in a very public and vocal way in the sports pages and on blogs. Team after team made It Gets Better anti-bullying videos, and the list of teams holding LGBT events continued to grow.

In the sports world, out was the new black.

But in the Internet age, that is so last spring. The new theme dominating sports as we get ready to put a close on the year is inclusion. More and more, the love that once dared not speak its name is being entered into policies and discussions from elementary schools to professional sports. As the barriers of homophobia come tumbling down, we are being welcomed to playing fields across the country, with our right to be there increasingly affirmed.


- In September, the Women's Sports Foundation issued a well-researched and well-reasoned position paper calling for sports organizations to allow intersex athletes to compete under the gender identity they have lived their lives, rather than having to be subjected to invasive examination and dignity-shredding accusations.

- Last month, a lawsuit with the Gay Softball World Series was settled with an agreement to drop inherently racist restrictions against the inclusion of bisexual players participating in the annual event.

- This year alone, Major League Baseball and the National Football League added sexual orientation to their collective bargaining agreement protections for players, joining the National Hockey League (2005) and Major League Soccer (2004). As of this writing, the details of the new CBA for the National Basketball Association were not yet available, but even before the CBA was settled a public request was sent to Commissioner David Stern by the LGBT advocacy group Resource Center Dallas asking for sexual orientation to be protected in it. Dollars to donuts we will learn that orientation is indeed now protected. If not, you can be sure a public campaign to push for its adoption will be launched within the week.

Which is all very well and good for queer athletes, assuming they have survived the scholastic sports world and entered the pro leagues. But with reports of student suicides and bullying seemingly more prevalent than the coming out of elite athletes, is it a safer and more inviting sports world for LGBT youth athletes?

That topic was a central theme for workshops held in San Francisco last week for public school coaches and physical education teachers, and will be explored this weekend in a panel discussion at a Gay Straight Alliance Network summit in the city.

Professional development workshops were presented on December 1 and 3 by the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network and San Francisco Unified School District's Student Support Services focused on utilizing "student-athletes' leadership potential as role models for respect and inclusion in schools; countering gender and sexual orientation stereotypes in athletics and physical education; addressing anti-gay name calling and bullying among athletes, coaches and spectators; and inclusion of transgender students on sports teams and in physical education classes."

As wrestling coach at Mission High School, I attended the first workshop. SFUSD's Ilsa Bertolini and Kevin Gogin presented an alarming battery of statistics from surveys of middle school and high school students, showing the greater risks LGBT students are exposed to than their straight classmates. Statistics such as transgender students being three or four times more likely to be threatened or injured with weapons, or LGB students being four times more likely to attempt suicide.

Pat Griffin, director of GLSEN's Changing the Game program, then led discussions with the coaches and teachers about proactive steps they can take to help LGBT students feel safe in gym classes and on sports teams, and how to address situations as they arise. For four hours we exchanged anecdotes about how bullying incidents were handled, how teaching moments are identified and capitalized upon, and how things such as signage and setting positive examples can help encourage respectful behavior and greater self-acceptance.

Throughout the day, as we discussed the issues faced by adolescent and pre-adolescent athletes, I kept thinking back more decades than I care to admit to my days as a blossoming gay teen athlete. I was blissfully unaware at the time of my sexuality, but like so many others I was keenly aware that I was "different," and everything around me signaled that I should not speak up about ways in which I might be different.

But the one place where I always felt at one with those around me was on the soccer field or on the wrestling mat. It wasn't so much a sense of family as a sense of tribe I had there. Ultimately, it was realizing that I not only could survive and thrive in athletic combat but that I could find friends and a sense of belonging that over the course of the years gave me the courage to come out.

The opportunity for strength and belonging are two of the concepts we hope to bring home at the Youth Empowerment Summit Saturday, December 10, at Horace Mann Community School. Equality Coaching Alliance will present a panel discussion on "Opening the Locker Room Closet." I will moderate a panel that will include Helen Carroll of the National Center for Lesbian Rights; San Francisco Gay Softball Commissioner Vincent Fuqua; Team San Francisco delegate Martha Ehrenfeld; and Jaime Loo, who came out at Mission High through wrestling. We hope to share our stories about what sports have meant to us, raise LGBT student awareness of sports opportunities, and answer fears students may have about entering sports. [For more, see News Briefs, page 5.]

Thirty years ago, AIDS hit home the message that silence equals death. In 2011, that message is finally taking hold in the sports world. It does get better, but only if we speak up and make it so.

Information and resources for coaches, parents and youth athletes are available from GLSEN at Information and registration for YES are available at

Play safe, Alex

It took just half a dozen years for top draft pick Alex Smith to become an overnight sensation with the San Francisco 49ers. If the new NFC West division champs are to make a run deep into the postseason, they'll need to do a better job of protecting their quarterback than they did in the Turkey Day loss in Baltimore, where the Ravens devoured the Niners (their only loss in the past 10 games) and Smith was sacked seven times.

That sad sack performance made Smith the winner of the weekly NuVo Protection Plan " the third time Smith has been so "honored." NuVo announced last week it would send a pack of 48 NuVo condoms to Smith as his "prize." NuVo said it was sending a one "week supply of condoms to the quarterback that gets sacked the most every week of the NFL season."

One week, 48 condoms? We should all have such weeks.

Santas to run in the Castro

The annual Santa Skivvies Run, a fundraiser for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, will be held Sunday, December 11. The fun run of a mile or so on a loosely defined route through the Castro District will start at 1 p.m. at 16th and Market streets and end at the Lookout bar, 3600 16th Street.

Registration is $35. Information on registering, volunteering, or donating is at