As I was writing The Hustle, I grappled with the question of whether sports can be an effective vehicle for social change. In some cases, such as with Jackie Robinson’s integration of baseball, changes on the field presage greater shifts in society. In other areas, though, sports lag behind. One case where this seems to be true is that of acceptance of gays and lesbians – the issue is so taboo that there are no “out” players in all of professional basketball, baseball and football. In addition to that, homophobic language is common in locker rooms across the country.
All of this plays a part in what makes Hudson Taylor exceptional. In March 2010, while wrestling at the Atlantic Coast Conference championships for the University of Maryland, Taylor gained national attention after he placed a sticker for the Human Rights Campaign – an organization that lobbies for LGBT rights – on his wrestling headgear. It’s extremely rare for athletes to speak out for LGBT rights. The action was even more noteworthy because Taylor is straight.
That stand was just a start. Taylor, who is now a wrestling coach at Columbia University, has just launched Athlete Ally, an organization that aims to get straight athletes to pledge to stand against homophobia. “Members of the sports community have the power to affirm, connect and inspire people around the country. By taking small steps based on simple ideas at the heart of sportsmanship – like treating others as you want to be treated – athletes, coaches, parents, fans and administrators can unite a team where each player has unique talents, traits and preferences,” Taylor writes. After a terrible wave of suicides by LGBT teens last year, Taylor’s message is especially urgent.