Memorial Day weekend marks the beginning of the “high season” of summer professional and college sports. One person is leading the way to challenge homophobia in the sports industry, which many say is still rampant.Hudson Taylor, 24, a Division 1 wrestling coach at Columbia University and one of the Top Five “pinners” in NCAA history who will compete shortly to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Team, founded Athlete Ally earlier this year to encourage other athletes, coaches, parents, fans and other members of the sports community to respect every individual involved in sports.
Last Sunday, TNT cameras – covering Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals – caught Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noaher calling a heckling fan a “f***ing f***ot” after receiving his second foul of the night.
A quick Google search of the most common gay slur with the phrase “in sports” retrieved more than 5,770,000 citations –some comments by today’s most well-known sports stars – Hudson has a lot of important work ahead of him.
I spoke with this heterosexual hottie – who says he is “very, very not single” - and unexpected civil rights activist last week about his cause and upcoming fundraiser at Watermark.
TBP: You say you founded Athlete Ally with the “simple goal to empower straight allies in the sports industry.” Why is this issue important to you?
Hudson: The GLBT community is a great asset to the sports community and every team and even the smallest amount of homophobia divides a team – it creates a team of individuals, not a real team.
I think back to Jackie Robinson and how before African Americans were allowed to play in Major League Baseball. The sport was worse off because of that segregation. Creating an athletic culture that welcomes and includes the GLBT community is very much the same scenario as Jackie Robinson to me.
One of the best wrestling coaches I had in college, I later learned, was a homosexual. But he had to be in the closet – and that’s wrong.
If we are going to compete best, we all have to be comfortable and confident. My hope is to encourage all members of the sports community to live with a new integrity and ensure every athlete who is a member of the GLBT community feels safe, welcome and respected.
TBP: How do people in the sports industry help make this happen?
Hudson: The first thing is to become a word-conscious warrior. When I speak to students or athletes I tell them to be conscious of how they speak to each other. Even if it’s a phrase like “that’s so gay” – it needs to be corrected and the responsibility falls to the athlete and coach.
TBP: You are a respected star in the sports world – specifically wrestling – and grew up in an Evangelical Christian family. What has the response been to your crusade?
Hudson: I get emails every day from parents and siblings of the GLBT community and GLBT athletes who all thank me for what I am doing. The emails are so encouraging.
Some people think I am a closeted homosexual, which I am not. And of course, I have also gotten nasty emails, too. I think some people have written me off but that would never deter me from making a difference in people’s lives.
For more about Hudson’s organization visit AthleteAlly.com.
Meet him at a Watermark reception Thursday, June 2, 6 to 9 pm. Hosts Russell Lewis and Fred Raffetto have collected the area’s glitterati for the event. Tickets $65. Sponsored by Ansell Grimm & Aaron, Watermark and Falco’s Catering.