OK, kids, it’s almost summertime. Days are sunny and warm so, for most of you, there are no excuses to be inside or on the couch instead of up, out and about. This month’s message is: You Can Play! These three small, but important, words carry a big impact for everyone’s health and happiness. “You” means YOU! “Can” means you have the power and the capability. Physical activity and fitness are a choice each person makes, for their own well-being and even longevity. “Play” means fitness can, and ought to be, fun, so find what you enjoy and just do it!
You Can Play is also the name of a wonderful project supporting equal participation of LGBT people in sports. In recent columns, I’ve hoped to encourage greater awareness of the extent of homophobia and sexism in the sports world, as well as the often deeply limiting effects these have had on our psyches and lives. There are, however, powerful ways we are changing stereotypes and opening up false gender boundaries every time we come out to play athletically.
The “Can” in You Can Play is aimed toward ensuring that LGBT people are actually allowed to play sports and have equal access to athletic opportunities, while being able to be truthful about who they are, including their sexuality. As things still stand, adults as well as kids face homophobic and sexist name-calling as a typical part of sports banter.
Coaches, teammates, commentators and fans are not sufficiently aware of the slurs, degradation and outright bullying that go on, and that they too often perpetuate. Just as consciousness has been rising to stop racism, anti-gay language and behaviors can no longer be tolerated. Locker rooms and playing fields need to become safer, more respectful places for gay people. Scholarships, jobs and pay need to be equally available regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
From its founding several years ago, You Can Play has been a joint effort of gay and straight allies who realize that homophobia in sports affects everyone. Growing up, Patrick Burke had noticed how difficult it was for his gay brother, Brendan, to feel comfortable or receive fair treatment as they both pursued their love of sports. The brothers knew this wasn’t only a gay issue. Everyone suffers when anyone fails to realize their potential, or worse yet, when young gay athletes even commit suicide due to bullying, exclusion and despair. In a welcome statement on the project’s website, Patrick writes:
“We hope to provide a means for athletes, coaches, and fans to stand up and create an atmosphere of inclusion…Freed from the burdens of fear and shame, LGBT athletes will be free to play to their full potential, making our teams, our leagues, and the sports themselves better, stronger, and more entertaining. It’s time to change the way the world thinks about athletes—both straight and gay. Talent, work ethic, and character are all that matter when evaluating a player. If you can play, You Can Play!”
The project is an initiative of GForce Sports, which focuses on what they’ve aptly termed “The Invisible Athlete”: lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender players who have had to grow up, practice and compete in fear and in silence. Through educational forums and special LGBT and gay/straight friendship sporting events, these non-profits are catalyzing change “to create a sports landscape where athletes and coaches are judged solely on the strength of their talent, effort and potential regardless of their sexual orientation.”
If you like baseball, gay or profoundly moving stories, Rounding Third by Walter Meyer is a must read. While fictional, the book is all too rooted in the harrowing realities of life in Ohio for two isolated teenage boys who make their high school baseball team and find themselves falling in love. Meyer is an excellent author who probes the awful irony of love inviting hate crimes simply because it’s gay, and whose message as a speaker is: “Ending bullying, or coping with it, really comes down to two things: Accept and respect, yourself and others.”
If you’re a woman and like golf, don’t miss the upcoming Golf Fore Good tournament on June 13 at Chardonnay Golf Club in Napa. It’s a very fun fundraiser supporting the community-building work of the Horizons Foundation. Everyone can be a sponsor or contribute to the cause, and there’s still time to sign up. Contact Jenna Heath at Horizons: 415-398-2333 ext. 115. Women: If you can golf even a little, You Can Play on June 13!
Jamie Leno Zimron is an LPGA Pro, Aikido 5th Degree Black Belt, and Corporate Speaker-Trainer. She’ll be at Chardonnay on June 13, and is happy to help women get ready with special pre-tourney golf lessons! Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org