The opening matches of the Six Nations rugby championship this week offered the latest occasion to see our athletic heroes compete at sport’s highest level. It also heralded the start of another major sport competition without open LGBT athletes.
By even the most conservative estimates, there could be close to a dozen LGBT athletes in this competition – a small percentage still of the total number of LGBT athletes in sport – yet they remain invisible heroes on the field of play. This lack of visibility and acceptance are problems across sport where discrimination lingers and perpetuates an environment out of step with the mores of our broader culture.
Despite the increasing acceptance of the LGBT community, LGBT athletes and fans are still cruelly distanced from the full embrace of the community around sport. While other elements of society are beginning to realise the tangible and intangible benefits of LGBT inclusion, sport is far from an inclusive industry where all LGBT individuals are accepted and free to bring their whole selves to work. Everyone loses in this arrangement.
Still, in light of the advancements throughout society, I remain optimistic and believe with continued effort we’re nearing a tipping point for LGBT acceptance in sport. What is needed now is a strong and high profile push by the businesses around sport to end LGBT discrimination once and for all.
This week, I joined an unprecedented coalition of athletes, sponsors, rights holders and LGBT allies at the Team Pride conference to work within sport to foster an LGBT inclusive environment. The group includes some of the biggest sponsors and professional clubs in sport, which maintain real influence over the practices of the teams they support.
The global sport sponsorship market is estimated to be valued at $45billion, with sponsors of international rugby union, for example, spending more than £125million on the sport last year. These sponsorship agreements may provide the sponsors with special access to unique assets and highly desirable audiences, but they also present the risk of aligning their people, business and brand with organisations that do not reflect their corporate principles.
The corporate world has seen that LGBT inclusivity enables them to attract and retain top talent and win the business and loyalty of discerning consumers. Inclusive organisations also innovate and adapt more quickly in changing times. It is time that the experiences of corporate sponsors inside their own organisations on LGBT issues translate into more inclusive sponsorship agreements and for good reason.
It is in the best interest of sponsors to get out in front of this issue. Attitudes toward inclusivity and acceptance are shifting quickly and sponsors that do not lead on LGBT inclusivity risk finding themselves left behind with the very clients and consumers they are trying to reach through their sport sponsorships.
Creating an environment that is safe and empowering for LGBT athletes should be a top priority for all stakeholders involved in sport. We must commit to levelling the playing field. Only once all athletes can bring their full selves to the field of play will we be able to see our sport heroes for who they really are.
Campus Pride and Athlete Ally announced Wednesday the launch of the Sports Inclusion Project, (SportsInclusion.org), a first-of-its-kind effort that will work toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) inclusion in college athletics and recreational sports on college campuses.
The multi-year project will focus on all levels of college athletics and participation within recreational sports, setting a national standard of LGBT-inclusion in sports policies, programs, and practices. Throughout 2016, Campus Pride and Athlete Ally will work with college athletic and sports recreation programs to survey their internal policies, programs, and climate. In 2017, the project will culminate in a groundbreaking report and benchmarking measurements that will enable college athletic and recreation administrators to evaluate their sporting environments for LGBT-inclusivity.
“As the leading experts in LGBT student life on college campuses, we know that research and resources are critical on the path to inclusion,” said Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride. “The Sports Inclusion Project will provide that foundation of understanding and also provide greater exposure for key resources like the Campus Pride Sports Index to assist with these necessary improvements in sports. From admissions to team and rec sports, from classes to graduation, all students should feel included and be accepted.”
“The Sports Inclusion Project will have an enormous impact on college athletics, as it will be a powerful tool in Athlete Ally’s ongoing LGBT inclusion work,” said Ashland Johnson, director of policy at Athlete Ally. “For the first time, campus administrators will be armed with the tools they need to make measurable improvements to the sports diversity and inclusion environment, whether it’s LGBT inclusion trainings, our groundbreaking LGBT climate survey, or tailored policy updates.”
To participate, campus athletic community members should visit SportsInclusion.org and complete the two components:
1) The Athlete Ally Climate Survey, a qualitative assessment that will analyze the LGBT-inclusion climate in your Athletic Department from the perspective of student-athletes, coaches, and administrators. This 15-minute voluntary survey will make it possible to shape future inclusion goals and strategies more accurately.
2) The Campus Pride Sports Index, a quantitative assessment for colleges and universities to assess LGBT-inclusive policies, programs, and practices related to intercollegiate athletics and collegiate recreation. This 45-minute assessment will pinpoint both the best LGBT-inclusive sports policies and practices as well as key gaps for improvement in policy and programs.
Mack, 35, released a statement on Monday where he retracted previous allegations of being drugged when he made a film with two other men called “Holiday Hump’n.”
In the statement, which was initially posted by gossip site TheShadeRoom.com, Mack explains why he claimed to be drugged when he made the film last June.
I want to address a few situations with the first being the false claims I made about being drugged during the Dog Pound adult film. I have never spoke negatively about the company that produced the film although the claim to have been given a drug by someone during set was a lie. I was completely aware and fully conscious during the film.
The second situation, which further explain the first, concerns my lifestyle. I did participate in the adult film because at the time I needed money but also because I am a bisexual man. Meaning I enjoy safely being intimate with whomever I choose.
Lastly I would like to address the reason I lied. My life was completely destroyed once it had been outed that I participated in a gay film. I selfishly tried to cover the truth and remain in denial, rather than accept the fact that I was leading a double life secretly.
Previously, Mack claimed he had agreed to appear in a heterosexual porn film last June because he was short on cash.
Just before the film shoot, he said, producers gave him a pill and a shot of vodka to relax him. Mack claimed he didn’t remember what happened next, but woke up on a train with $4,500 in cash.
DawgPoundUSA, the company that released “Holiday Hump’n,” denied Mack’s allegations and threatened legal action against him on Friday.
Mack released the statement declaring his bisexuality on Monday, but he wasn’t very forthcoming about it during an interview with TMZ.com.
Former New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Lenny Dykstra said that he hired private investigators to dig up dirt on umpires in order to pressure the umpires to call a smaller strike zone and consequently give him more walks.
In an interview Tuesday with Fox’s Colin Cowherd on “The Herd,” Dykstra revealed that in 1993, investigators were given a budget of $500,000 to turn up information on umpires that he could then use to strong-arm the umps into calling a more favorable strike zone for him.
“Their blood’s just as red as ours,” Dykstra said, as quoted in The New York Daily News. “Some of them like women, some of them like men, some of them gamble, some of them do whatever.”
He claimed in the interview that his blackmail attempts correlated closely with the fact that he led the National League in walks, hits and runs that season, in addition to finishing second to Barry Bonds for most valuable player and leading Philadelphia to the World Series.
“It wasn’t a coincidence, you think, [that] I led the league in walks the next few years, was it?” asked Dykstra, who signed a multiyear contract worth almost $25 million after the season. That deal made him baseball’s highest-paid leadoff batter.
“Fear does a lot to a man. … I had to do what I had to do to win and to support my family,” he said.
An MLB spokesman told the Daily News the sport will look into Dykstra’s claims.
Dykstra filed for bankruptcy six years ago, claiming he owed more than $31 million and had only $50,000 in assets. After the filing, Dykstra hid, sold or destroyed at least $200,000 worth of items without the permission of a bankruptcy trustee, prosecutors said.
Dykstra, 52, who had a 12-year career with the Mets and Phillies, was sentenced in 2012 to six-and-a-half months in prison for hiding baseball gloves and other heirlooms from his playing days, which were supposed to be part of his bankruptcy filing. He already had served seven months in custody awaiting sentencing. The prison term ran concurrently with a three-year sentence for pleading no contest to grand theft auto and providing a false financial statement.
He pleaded guilty in 2012 to one count each of bankruptcy fraud, concealment of assets and money laundering.
For so long, David Denson desperately wanted to reveal to his baseball teammates that he is gay. He just never envisioned it happening in such impromptu and unstructured fashion.
A first baseman for the Milwaukee Brewers’ rookie affiliate in Helena, Mont., Denson had just entered the clubhouse a month or so ago when a teammate jokingly referred to him using a derogatory term for a gay male. It was the kind of profane, politically incorrect banter heard in that environment since team sports have been around.
That teammate had no way of knowing Denson actually is gay, but the 20-year-old slugger of African-American and Hispanic descent quickly seized the opportunity.
“Be careful what you say. You never know,” Denson cautioned the player with a smile.
Before he knew it, Denson was making the emotional announcement he yearned to share, and the group around him expanded to the point that he soon was speaking to most of the team. Much to Denson’s relief, when the conversation ended he was greeted with outward support and understanding instead of condemnation.
“Talking with my teammates, they gave me the confidence I needed, coming out to them,” recalled Denson. “They said, ‘You’re still our teammate. You’re still our brother. We kind of had an idea, but your sexuality has nothing to do with your ability. You’re still a ballplayer at the end of the day. We don’t treat you any different. We’ve got your back.’
“That was a giant relief for me,” Denson said. “I never wanted to feel like I was forcing it on them. It just happened. The outcome was amazing. It was nice to know my teammates see me for who I am, not my sexuality.”
The more Denson thought about it, though, the more he came to realize that a clubhouse confession wasn’t going to be enough. Until he came out publicly as gay and released that burden, Denson didn’t think he could truly blossom and realize his potential on the field.
With the help of former major-leaguer Billy Bean, who last year was named Major League Baseball’s first Ambassador for Inclusion, Denson reached out to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to tell his story in a telephone interview. In doing so, he becomes the first active player in affiliated professional baseball to reveal he is gay.
Sean Conroy, a pitcher for the Sonoma Stompers of the independent Pacific Association, revealed in June that he is gay, becoming the first active pro baseball player to do so. That league is not affiliated with MLB. In the history of the game, only two major-leaguers revealed they were gay — Glenn Burke and Bean — and both did so after leaving the game.
Former NBA player Jason Collins announced that he is gay after the 2013 season when he was a free agent. Collins played in 22 games with the Brooklyn Nets in 2014 before retiring, and therefore was the first active player in one of the major team sports to reveal he is gay.
When Denson learned of Bean and his new role with MLB, he reached out for advice and counsel, and the two have become like brothers. Bean long has rued not revealing his sexuality during his modest big-league career from 1987-’95 with Detroit, the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego, and said he is immensely proud of Denson for having the courage to come forward.
“He is definitely cognizant of how it might affect his team,” said Bean, who eventually quit baseball over the personal conflict of hiding his sexuality. “I just wanted to make sure his parents were part of the conversation. David has two loving parents who obviously are very concerned. They’re worried about how this will affect him.
“Any player who happens to be gay and is a professional and has kept that secret, they just want to be judged for their baseball or football or basketball ability. David would not be playing professional baseball if he wasn’t an excellent baseball player.
“The beauty of what could come from this is he can be an example that can help change that perception and change the stereotype that there would never be a gay person on a men’s professional sports team. That was something I struggled with.”
Before revealing his secret to teammates, Denson figured it was time to finally tell his family, and did so in the spring. First, he told his sister, Celestine, a professional dancer married to former Brewers farmhand Jose Sermo.
“She said, ‘I’ve known since you were little,'” said Denson. “I said, ‘How did you know?’ She said, ‘You’re my little brother. I’m around you all the time.'”
Telling his parents, Lamont and Felisa, was not as easy. His father, a former athlete, needed some time to come to grips with the news.
“It took some stress off me, but it kind of built up a wall at the same time,” said Denson. “They weren’t too happy about it at first, though I think they sort of knew since I was little. They were afraid I’d be judged. They jumped right into the stereotype. No parents want to see their child discriminated against and talked about and put down.
“I don’t question that they love me. They never said they were upset about me being gay. It was harder on my dad than my mom. He’s a very hard-core Christian and he goes off the Bible and all that, which I completely understand, growing up in the church. I’m a Christian myself.
“It was an eye-opener for him. He finally came to terms with it. Coming out to my father was even harder than coming out to my teammates, because I knew how he felt about it. He grew up in sports, and I heard him talk (in derogatory fashion) about gay guys. That was hard for me to hear at the time.
“But I’m his son and he said, ‘It’s your life and it’s who you are. I love you.’ There’s a difference between accepting it, and supporting it and respecting it. I know he loves me and supports me and has my back.”
Denson had concealed the fact he is gay since being taken by the Brewers in the 15th round of the 2013 draft out of South Hills High School in West Covina, Calif. But the secret began to weigh more heavily on him, to the point he felt on the verge of a mental breakdown — or worse — at the outset of spring training this year.
“It became a depression level,” he revealed. “I wasn’t being myself. It was visible in my body language. I didn’t know if I should still stay in the sport.”
Denson sought advice from Becky Schnakenberg, a professional counselor contracted at that time by the Brewers to provide mental health assistance to players in need. He said those consultations convinced him it was necessary to let the Brewers know he is gay or risk a further downward spiral.
Denson requested a meeting at the Brewers minor-league complex with farm director Reid Nichols, who was accompanied by Class A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers manager Matt Erickson and hitting coordinator Jeremy Reed.
“I was shaking and crying, and just very scared,” recalled Denson. “I didn’t know if it would go good or bad, or if they’d look at me any different.
“When I finally told them about my sexuality, Reid said, ‘To me, it doesn’t matter. You’re still a ballplayer. My goal for you, as well as anybody else in the organization, is to get you to the big leagues. You are who you are. That doesn’t make a difference. Just go out and play the game. This is a very brave thing for you to do.’
“I wasn’t doing it to be brave. I just couldn’t hide it anymore. For them to be so accepting and want the best for me, it showed they are looking at me for my ability, not my sexuality. They don’t treat me any different. They said if there was anything they could do to help, let them know. It was a huge relief.”
Nichols said his message to Denson at the time was simple: Concentrate on developing as a player with the knowledge that the organization was behind him.
“I told him we supported him and would continue to support him,” said Nichols. “I thought the meeting went well. We told him that was his personal business and we would judge him only on his career in baseball, as we do with every player.”
Denson was assigned to the Timber Rattlers, for whom he had played 68 games in 2014, batting .243 with four home runs and 29 runs batted in. The second time around, he struggled mightily at the plate, hitting only .195 with a .569 OPS in 24 games before being sent to Helena to regroup.
Denson was convinced the personal torment over concealing his sexuality from teammates contributed to his struggles on the field.
“There was that stereotype stuck in my head that there would never be a gay player on a team,” he said. “I was thinking that once they found out, they would shut me out or treat me different.
“That was one of the things that was holding me back. I was always saying, ‘Just keep it quiet. You don’t need to tell them. You don’t want them to see you different. You don’t want them to judge you.’
“It started to affect my game because I was so caught up in trying to hide it. I was so concerned about how they would feel. I was pushing my feelings aside. Finally, I came to terms with this is who I am and not everybody is going to accept it. Once you do that, it’s a blessing in itself.”
Since coming out to his Helena teammates, Denson said he has felt like a different person and player. He was selected for the Pioneer League All-Star Game in August and was named most valuable player, displaying his prodigious power with a home run.
As for Denson’s teammates living and playing with a gay player, Helena manager Tony Diggs said: “I don’t think there have been any problems whatsoever with the team. I’m pretty sure everybody on our team has an understanding of it.
“We are professional baseball players first, and I think that’s the way they’ve taken it. They’ve handled it well. David has always gone about his business professionally. He has shared with me that (keeping the secret for so long) was a burden for him and he feels more freedom after coming out.
“This is a new chapter as he decides to say it publicly. Now, there will be more people that know and they’ll have their opinions as to what they feel about it. At least, he’s being himself.”
With growing confidence and peace of mind, Denson hopes for understanding from those now learning about his sexuality. Rather than holding him back in any way, he believes coming out will help him reach his full potential.
“Growing up trying to hide it, knowing I’m an athlete, I was always nervous that my sexuality would get in the way of me ever having an opportunity, that people would judge me on my sexuality and not my ability,” he said.
“I wasn’t able to give fully of myself because I was living in fear. What if this person finds out? What if somebody else finds out? Instead of going out and just playing, I was trying to hide myself.
“I didn’t get drafted because of my sexuality. I didn’t start playing this game because of my sexuality. I started playing this game and got drafted because I have a love for this game. It’s a release for me to finally be able to give all of myself to the game, without having to be afraid or hide or worry about the next person who might find out.”
If Denson can serve as a role model for other gay professional athletes hiding their sexuality, he welcomes the opportunity to help others as Bean has helped him. He’s not sure what public reaction will be or how his story will be treated by the media going forward. If the folks at “60 Minutes” come calling, so be it. But there are no hidden agendas with Denson or Bean.
“David is not doing this for celebrity or publicity,” said Bean, who has remained in constant contact with Denson, using his own experiences as a compass. “David is very humble. It’s really about being his best self. He’s a great baseball player, but he needs to be his best self to get to the big leagues.
“I was just starting to understand how to play and when everything started to unravel, I just gave up on myself. I was consumed with the part I hated about my life.
“I’m excited to see David not have to worry about all of that. He can just tell the truth all the time. That’s a huge relief. When your life is a secret, you have to navigate on what levels of truth you’re allowed to share. And that becomes exhausting.”
What if this revelation in some way prevents Denson from attaining his goal of making the major leagues? He is not considered an elite prospect in the Brewers’ organization, but any player with his kind of power has a chance. During a showcase at Marlins Park in Miami before the 2013 draft, Denson crushed several home runs, including a 515-foot blast that scouts still talk about.
Football player Michael Sam, who revealed he is gay after his college career at Missouri, was drafted by the St. Louis Rams in 2014 but didn’t make the roster and recently cited mental health issues for leaving the Montreal team of the Canadian Football League. Did coming out prevent Sam from securing an NFL roster spot, or was he just not good enough?
“I don’t have any expectations of what might happen,” said Denson, who is batting .253 with four homers and 17 RBI in 41 games with Helena. “I’m hoping it will open the eyes of people in general that we’re all people, we’re human, we’re brothers in the sport. We’re all here trying to get to the big leagues. I’m excited to see where it goes from here, now that I don’t have that wall holding me back anymore.
“It has crossed my mind (that his revelation could be an obstacle). Baseball has taught me a lot of life lessons. One is to worry about what you can control and not worry about what you can’t control. I’m going to go out and do the best I can do, and hopefully make it one day.
“I think what I do on the field will matter more than my sexuality. At the end of the day, if I’m playing well, why should I not get the same opportunity as anyone else?”
Arizona State football player Edward “Chip” Sarafin has publicly come out as gay. The redshirt senior made his announcement in an interview with Compete magazine. The 6’6″, 320-pound backup offensive lineman is believed to be the first active college football player at a Division I program to publicly come out as gay, according to Outsports.
Like openly gay NFL rookie Michael Sam, Sarafin came out to his teammates before the public. Sarafin revealed to the magazine that he began telling his teammates that he was gay last spring. Unlike Sam, who came out publicly after finishing his final season at the University of Missouri, Sarafin has a full college football season ahead of him after his announcement.
“It was really personal for me and it benefited my peace of mind greatly,” Sarafin told Joshua Wyrick of Compete, an Arizona-based gay sports magazine, for the article that appeared in its August issue.
A non-scholarship athlete, Sarafin has been a member of the Sun Devils football team for four years but yet to appear in a game, reports AZCentral.com. He has already received his undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering and is pursuing a master’s degree.
“We are a brotherhood that is not defined by cultural and personal differences, but rather an individual’s commitment to the Sun Devil Way,” Arizona State coach Todd Graham said in a statement obtained by CBS Sports. “Chip is a fifth-year senior and a Scholar Baller, a graduate and a master’s student. His commitment to service is unmatched and it is clear he is on his way to leading a successful life after his playing career, a goal that I have for every student-athlete. Diversity and acceptance are two of the pillars of our program, and his has full support from his teammates and the coaching staff.”
Sam, who became the first openly gay player selected in the NFL draft in May and is trying to earn a roster spot with St. Louis Rams, was prominent among those expressing support for Sarafin’s decision to come out:
In April, Derrick Gordon, then a sophomore starter for the University of Massachusetts men’s basketball team, publicly announced that he was gay. Gordon became the first active openly gay male NCAA Division 1 basketball player.
“He was a pioneer, and should be recognized,” Pat Courtney, an MLB spokesman told the publication.
Burke, who got his start with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1976 before being traded to the Oakland A’s, became the first professional baseball player to come out, discussing his sexuality in an interview with Inside Sports in 1982. At the time, Burke was not playing professionally; he had quit the majors at 27, primarily because of animosity in the locker room.