Nothing ‘lax’ about this out athlete

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Taylor Tvedt

When Taylor Tvedt made the “no-brainer” decision to come out as a high school sophomore in the Twin Cities suburb of Apple Valley, the response was largely positive. Her “progressive” parents were supportive; her friends, and lacrosse and ice hockey teammates, were “awesome.”

Tvedt was relieved. She could be herself … even in the locker room, where she’d worried about what everyone might think.

The only ones who seemed to have an issue were parents of teammates. There was gossip in the stands. One mother did not want Tvedt driving her daughter to practice. Taylor’s mother fought those battles. By senior year, Tvedt says proudly, “No one messed with my mom.”

When Lehigh University recruited her for lacrosse, Tcedt was “pretty sure they knew” her sexual orientation. Visiting the Division I school, she asked about the gay scene. Her tour guide was surprised, but said, “I’m sure you’ll be happy here.”

In her first week as a Mountain Hawk, her coaches met separately with all the new players. They’d never had an openly gay athlete before. Their main concern, Tvedt says, was what they should be saying, and how to say it. Her sexuality was never an issue.

Though most of her teammates come from similar Northeastern U.S. backgrounds, Tvedt says they are accepting of each other’s “little differences.” The women are best friends. They live near each other, and share a tight team culture. “We’re all open-minded, and willing to have conversations about anything,” she notes. “Our coach is good at recognizing that we have personalities beyond our lacrosse skills.”

of1128162Tvedt says that while her sexuality “does not make me the athlete I am,” she also refuses to live a “don’t ask, don’t tell” life. The more people talk, the more they learn about her. And, just as crucially, the more other LGBT athletes will be empowered to come out themselves.

Lehigh had an Athlete Ally chapter. The organization works to end homophobia and transphobia in sports, and educates teams and coaches to stand up against anti-LGBT discrimination.

Last spring, the college’s director of athletic leadership development asked Tvedt to take on an Athlete Ally leadership role. Her goal is to provide awareness and engagement opportunities, and challenge people beyond her own team to have “important dialogues.”

This fall, Tvedt designed and distributed a culture survey to all Lehigh athletes. A sociology major, she knows the importance of data in making a case for change.

She received 410 responses — a very high, 60-percent response rate. Only 3 percent of those athletes identified themselves as “non-heterosexual.”

The surveys showed that male Lehigh athletes are much less likely than their female counterparts to take a “very” or “somewhat” accepting view of LGBT athletes. The open-ended questions elicited a few “jerk” responses from men, she adds.

Athlete Ally sponsored a “lunch and learn” session about homophobia. Thirty-four athletes came. All were women. Tvedt was disappointed. “I’ve got plenty of male athlete friends,” she notes.

At the meeting, she spoke about the importance of being an ally. So far, six teams have signed the Athlete Ally pledge.

Armed with data, she approached Lehigh administrators. She pointed out gaps in the schools written inclusion policies, especially compared with similar institutions. Their response — that it’s “just one of many issues” — surprised her. It also impelled her to keep pushing on.

As she works with Athlete Ally, Tvedt realizes that she wants to continue her efforts after graduation this spring. The connections she’s made — and her awareness of the power of allies — drive her forward.

“I want to leave Lehigh with a legacy,” she says. “And not only on the field. I want to build something that is lasting, and impactful.”

She’s already done that. In advance of National Coming Out Day last October, Lehigh’s sports communications office interviewed Taylor. The resulting story — focusing on her Athlete Ally efforts, but also highlighting her sexual orientation — was wide-ranging, positive and powerful. It included insights from teammate Lauren Beausoleil: “When individuals feel they cannot be themselves, they can start to doubt who they are and feel distant from others. Open communication and having teammates that are both accepting and approachable is one of the greatest things a program can provide.”

To Taylor’s surprise, the story was distributed widely. Thanks to Lehigh’s online presence, and social media, it went far beyond the Pennsylvania campus. It was even included in Lehigh’s football program. As a result, Tvedt has heard from LGBT athletes and allies all over the country.

Lehigh still has a way to go on LGBT issues. Every institution does. But, Tvedt says, “People need to see what’s going on here. We’re doing some good things.”

So is she.

— Dan Woog

 

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

F-ing Kobe

The Mavs schooled the Lakers this week, but there’s one lesson L.A.’s star player still needs to learn

DAN WOOG  | Contributing Sports Writer
outfield@qsyndicate.com

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ANOTHER REASON TO ROOT FOR THE MAVS Bryant needs to behave like the role model he is.

I’m pretty sure Bennie Adams is straight. So what’s the big deal with Kobe Bryant calling him a “fucking faggot” during a nationally televised game? After all, that’s common parlance in locker rooms and on basketball courts around the country — not to mention countless school hallways, playgrounds and everywhere else.

Precisely.

Bryant’s outburst (for those of you who somehow missed it) came last month, after receiving a technical foul. Bryant (for those of you who somehow don’t know that his team, the Lakers, got schooled by the Dallas Mavericks in the playoffs) is one of the NBA’s true superstars, making about $25 million a year. In other words, he’s not some kid playing “horse” in an empty gym. He’s not a boy who doesn’t know any better, or a closeted kid trying to fit in by hurling anti-slurs.

Kobe is one of the most recognized athletes in the world. His purple  No. 24 jersey is worn by admiring fans around the globe. Millions of people look up to Kobe, admire everything he does.

And listen to every word he says.

When it became clear that his F-bomb detonated loudly, Bryant went into damage control. Through the Lakers, he issued one of those non-apology apologies: “What I said last night should not be taken literally. My actions were out of frustration during the heat of the game, period. The words expressed do not reflect my feelings toward the gay and lesbian communities and were not meant to offend anyone.”

So what are Bryant’s “feelings toward the gay and lesbian communities?” He didn’t say. If he did not mean to offend anyone, why did he call Adams a “fucking faggot?” Why not “a horrible official?” Or simply “you asshole?”

The NBA acted swiftly, with Commissioner David Stern calling Bryant’s outburst “offensive and inexcusable … such a distasteful term should never be tolerated … and [has] no place in our game.” He then fined Bryant $100,000.

Seem like a lot? Not when compared with some NBA fines: In 2007, the league fined Vladimir Radmanovic (also a Laker — and another reason to root for the Mavs) $500,000 for violating his contract by snowboarding.

Despite his “apology,” Bryant said he would fight the fine, a step he called “standard protocol,” whatever that means.

Come to think of it, “standard protocol” could mean standing up, admitting to a mistake, recognizing the power of role models and issuing a strong statement explaining exactly why words like “faggot” hurt. Describing how they hurt straight kids as well as gay ones, by reinforcing stereotypes. Then Bryant could lead a campaign to eliminate, once and for all, the use of anti-gay words in basketball.

In other words, he could do something like what NBA players Grant Hill and Jared Dudley are already doing. The Phoenix Suns teammates recently filmed a public service announcement for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network and the Ad Council’s “Think Before You Speak Campaign” that airs during the NBA playoffs! The ads are striking; they reach an important audience during a high-powered event, and the NBA’s commitment to the campaign underscores Stern’s statement about language.

Ironically, Hall and Dudley taped their PSA just hours before Bryant demonstrated his own inability to think before he spoke.

Words aren’t the only weapons; images hurt, too. For years, the Washington Wizards have shown a “Kiss Cam” where two people appear on the JumboTron and are urged to kiss. The crowd goes crazy (hey, it’s better than watching the Wizards play). Then the camera cuts to two players from the visiting team. Now the fans really howl. The players make faces, hide under towels or pretend to ignore each other.

But what would happen if the “Kiss Cam” showed two male fans and they did kiss, because they had gone to the game as a couple? Maybe it could happen when the Wizards play the Lakers. Maybe after the game, Kobe Bryant could head into the stands, high-five the couple and pose for a picture.

That would speak far louder than his “fucking faggot” words. Or the half-hearted “heat of the moment” apology that followed.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 13, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas