U of S first school in Canada to join Athlete Ally campaign

The University of Saskatchewan will take a positive step this fall in terms of celebrating Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender rights within sport. It will be the first school in Canada to take part in the international Athlete Ally campaign.

Athlete Ally is a pledge that encourages members of the athletic community to support diversity in sport. Anyone who signs the pledge becomes an athlete ally, which is “any person — regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity — who takes a stand against homophobia and transphobia in sports and brings the message of respect, inclusion and equality to their athletic community,” according to the campaign’s website.

By displaying an Athlete Ally button on their jackets, travel bags or in their lockers, athletes, coaches, fans and trainers can show that they are accepting of diversity.

The campaign was started earlier this year by then-NCAA wrestler Hudson Taylor.

In his senior year competing for the University of Maryland, Taylor wore a Human Rights Campaign sticker on his headgear to show his solidarity for LGBT rights. As one of the top wrestlers in his weight class at the division one level, he found that when he brought up his passion for LGBT rights it made many people in the athletic community uncomfortable.

He created Athlete Ally to eliminate that stigma.

For many athletes, it is the perception that sport is an unsafe space unless they fit heterosexist norms that leads to early retirements or a negative sporting experience.

Sport and diversity have a contentious history. Sport often reflects and maintains social norms, which traditionally have limited diversity.

For example, the modern Olympics has a history of refusing and limiting the athletic participation of women.

Yet sport has also been a battleground for human rights. African American Jesse Owens winning gold in Nazi Germany, Jackie Robinson breaking into the all-white domain of professional baseball, or Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists in a “Black Power” salute on the podium at the 1968 Olympics all show the prominent role the politics of race and human rights have played on the sports stage.

While Taylor’s campaign may not be the direct cause of the changing tide in the world of sports surrounding LGBT issues, it is part of the larger movement to promote diversity within the athletic community.

For example, Kobe Bryant was fined $100,000 earlier this year for using a homophobic slur during a game — the largest financial penalty ever issued in professional sport for a homophobic slur.

Rick Welts, the CEO of the Phoenix Suns, came out after years of working in the NBA as a closeted gay man, and New York Ranger Sean Avery spoke publicly in support of marriage equality. Also, eight MLB teams, including the San Francisco Giants and the Boston Red Sox, have contributed videos to the popular It Gets Better campaign over the summer.

For many athletes, it is the perception that sport is an unsafe space unless they fit heterosexist norms that leads to early retirements or a negative sporting experience.

Athlete Ally works to break the perception that athletics is not an accepting place by giving those who are accepting an opportunity to say so.

The USSU Pride Centre will welcome Athlete Ally to campus at the end of September by hosting a series of events.

The first Annual Pride Games will run from Sept. 26 to 28 at 12:30 p.m. in the bowl. Each day, a different event will allow teams to compete and show their support for diversity in athletics.

So Homo — a milk-chugging competition — will take place on Sept. 26. Participants will compete against the clock to swallow a litre of milk.

On Sept. 27, a classic egg toss will test hand-eye coordination and participants’ throwing abilities.

The grand finale will be the Drag Race, a foot race around the Bowl with participants encouraged to don high heels, wigs, fake moustaches, skirts and the like.

To register a team or compete as an individual, stop by the Pride Centre (right above Louis’) or email pride.centre@ussu.ca.

Keegan Epp is the USSU Pride Centre coordinator


graphic: Brianna Whitmore/The Sheaf