In 2010 Sports Illustrated published an interview with Welsh rugby player Gareth Thomas titled The Only Openly Gay Male Athlete. As of this past Monday, almost exactly three years later, Thomas is no longer alone; pro basketball player Jason Collins wrote an article for the same magazine that begins with the statement “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.”.
Collins made history this week as the first current player in a major American sport to come out. Speculation has been developing in recent years, not about Collins specifically, but over who would be the first and when they would decide to come forward. In 2011 a Gallup poll proved that a majority of Americans (53%) were in favor of legalizing gay marriage; attitudes on the issue of sexual orientation have been changing rapidly in recent years, and support for the gay community has grown along with rising disapproval of homophobic attitudes.
Earlier this year San Francisco 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver made several anti-gay comments during a media session for the Super Bowl. His statement and discriminatory attitude were disappointing and hurtful; both the public and other professional athletes reacted by overwhelmingly condemning his remarks, and a day later Culliver issued an apology.
While preparing for the Sport in Society discussion course Out of Bounds, another intern and I contacted Aaron McQuade, the Director of News & Field Media at GLAAD, and had the opportunity to interview him about gay athletes and their portrayal in various sports media. We talked about the Culliver incident, and McQuade felt that it was actually a chance for a dialogue, especially when so many other athletes countered his homophobia. The support shown by various current and former athletes in pro American sports proves how attitudes about the LBGTQ community are shifting.
Ideally, Collins’ statement will only further this shift, and hence further the conversation about masculinity and homosexuality in sports. Except this time, the discussion won’t be ABOUT the gay professional athlete, and will instead be WITH one. Three years ago, Gareth Thomas asked Sports Illustrated “All the diversity in America, and no one there has done this?” Jason Collins can now answer that question as America’s first out pro athlete, but certainly not the last.
A couple weeks ago, I was at my little 7th grade brother’s AAU basketball tournament. He plays for one of the top teams in New England, so I was very excited to finally see his team play.
They dominated. My little brother’s team absolutely creamed the competition, winning each game by at least 20 points. Everybody in the stands was in absolute awe at how great they were playing, but I was a little disappointed at some of what I saw.
Sure, the team played fantastically. There wasn’t much I could critique about them from a basketball standpoint. But, not one of the kids was smiling. When one of them hit a good shot or made a nice play on defense, no one would smile. When they ultimately won the tournament, and they posed for pictures with the trophy, no one was smiling. How could this be?
I found out, through talking to parents of the players, that the coach is extremely hard on the kids in practice and in games. Because he is so hard on the kids, the kids are afraid of him. The kids are even afraid to smile because they think they will get yelled at for doing so. This whole experience of watching my brother’s team and talking to the parents has caused me to do a lot of thinking about what makes a good coach. Furthermore, I have come up with four characteristics that make a good coach. I will call them the Four P’s:
Passionate: A good coach is happy to be coaching. A good coach has a ton of passion for the sport he or she coaches, and he or she instills this passion in the players.
Patient: A good coach is patient with his or her players. If someone doesn’t do something correctly, then they should be dealt with patiently. A good coach doesn’t just yell at the players when they do something wrong because most players won’t respond well to that.
Prepared: A good coach is prepared for anything that could happen. A good coach expects the unexpected. The best player could get injured at any point in time, and it is up to the coach to keep everyone focused and believing that they can still win.
Productive: A good coach keeps the players on task and focused on the goal. A good coach makes sure that what is done in practice is going to help the team in the games.
Rivalries forgotten, camaraderie heightened…
Never would I imagine hearing that Yankee Stadium would be playing Sweet Caroline in the middle of the eighth inning nor that the Montreal Canadiens would take a moment to honor Boston before a game. If someone asked me to sum up Boston in one short phrase, I would say it’s a sports town. Whether you’re a diehard fan or not, most would agree that this was unexpected, completely out of left field.
Monday April 15th was a day I had been looking forward to for weeks. Patriots Day- a day I look forward to every year, and a day that I have loved for as long as I can remember. Between the reenactments of Paul Revere’s famous ride, the Boston Marathon, the annual Red Sox early morning game, and a Monday off from school, while the rest of the country starts their week as usual, this is a very special day for the city of Boston and the state of Massachusetts. Having been born and raised in Massachusetts, for me it’s a day full of bragging rights, and I take full advantage of this. My freshmen year of college, I remember all the surprised and confused faces of my friends from other states, wondering what Patriots Day was. I remember my Massachusetts pride coming out in full force, slightly angered that they didn’t know.
On Monday April 15th, I got ready to cheer on friends running in the marathon, as well as strangers traveling from all over the world to take part in this special day. I put on my favorite Red Sox cap, got my Dunkin Donuts iced coffee, and headed to Copley with my friends. The weather was perfect, we found a great viewing spot, and we made our friend a poster as we tracked his progress. I remember being frustrated with tourists who were unable to maneuver the crowds as skillfully as I have come to learn.
It had been a great day but in a matter of minutes everything changed. Happiness turned into sadness, smiles into frowns and tears, excitement into panic. Less than 20 minutes after celebrating a friend’s amazing accomplishment, our worlds had been turned upside down. You never expect something like Monday’s tragic events to happen, especially not in your hometown.
In the moments after the explosions it did not matter if you had traveled 5 miles or 5000 to watch the marathon. Strangers came together to help one another. For some Boston has become a second home, whether it’s because of the sports team they play for, the school they go to… even if it’s just home for a week long vacation. For others Boston will always be home but they have also moved away for work or school. They too feel the heartache of Monday’s tragedy. Then there are those who have been here their entire lives, all too close to the tragedy. And then there are those who have never been to Boston, but have an overwhelming sense of compassion, yearning to show their support for this shaken city.
In the days that have followed Monday April 15, 2013 rivalries have been put on pause, and the Yankees, Canadiens, Dodgers, and Sabres among countless others sports teams and cities worldwide have taken the time to show their support for Boston. The Red Sox have come out in full force and have won every game since Monday, taking a “Boston Strong” jersey on the road with them. The Boston Celtics cancelled a game – making it the first time in NBA history all teams will not have played the same number of games. The Boston Bruins held a powerful pregame tribute and moment of silence prior to their game on Wednesday. At the conclusion of the game both the Bruins and the visiting Buffalo Sabres saluted the crowd. Participants in the upcoming London Marathon will wear black ribbons to honor the victims of Monday’s tragedies. These are only a few of the efforts made to help the city of Boston heal. Will Middlebrooks of the Boston Red Sox asked what he could do to help and fans encouraged him to keep doing what they’ve been doing – to play a good game and to make their city proud and so far the Red Sox have done nothing but win for their city, at a time where it is needed the most.
Today if you asked me to describe Boston in one short phrase, I would say surreal. The city is filled with mixed emotion – heartache and sadness but also hope and unity. As President Barack Obama and many others have said, Boston is resilient and we will get through this. We are strong. We may have been shaken but we cannot be broken. As Mayor Menino said no thing can defeat the heart of this city. Nothing. Nothing will take us down because we take care of one another. We will rebuild. And we will run again.
As we headed down to Copley a friend of mine asked me what the unicorn on the marathon jackets symbolized. At the time I did not know but later learned that it symbolizes the strive for excellence, even if it can never be reached.
The city of Boston will come back from this week’s tragic events. Boston is a city that will never give up on its people, and its people will never give up on their beloved city. This has been shown now more than ever. Moments after the explosion, strangers risked their lives to help others, rerouted marathoners continued their journeys to hospitals, lining up to donate blood. Kind words of encouragement flooded social media sites. Community members opened up their homes to others in need of a friend or a place to stay. Law enforcement and medical personnel have worked tirelessly to protect others.
This week I have felt sad, afraid, and angry. But I have also felt proud of my city and thankful for all the amazing efforts of the community. I have come to realize that it will take time for things to feel normal again, but I know that sooner than later the good uplifting emotions will outweigh the bad.
Boston is and will always be my home and Patriot’s Day will always be close to my heart. Boston will run again. Boston will have a 118th Marathon. And I am confident that next year the runners, the supporters, and the entire city of Boston, MA will be one step closer to reaching excellence.
By Safaa Usmani
It has been an active past couple of weeks at, or should I say out of, the office. This is actually my first blog since I have been an intern here at Sport in Society, but I will spare you a detailed account of the last seven months, since the last two weeks represent quite well the work we do here.
I will start with my trip down to the InnerCity Weightlifting gym on Tuesday evening. This trip has been a long time in the making, since I first saw Jon Feinman, Director and Founder of ICW, give a talk at Northeastern University on ‘Crime and Punishment: Safe Streets, Imprisonment and Gun Policy’, back in November. Making the streets of the inner-city safer, and simultaneously reducing the number of youth winding up in prison, has always been a primary concern of mine. Growing up in Hackney, an inner-city borough of London with the city’s fourth highest crime rate, I have experienced my fair share of unsafe streets and, unfortunately, I can think of at least three of my high-school classmates who have served time in prison since, or even before, graduating. What can we do to better this situation? It appears InnerCity Weightlifting is part of the answer. ICW works with young people at the highest risk of violence, getting them off the streets and into the gym where they are “empowered with the confidence and support needed to say ‘no’ to violence and ‘yes’ to opportunity”. My visit to the ICW gym showed me a group of young men and women working as a team in providing an encouraging and positive environment where people can learn to lift weights or simply tone up – I had the impression anyone and everyone was welcome. It reinforced my belief that sport, through its simple values such as teamwork and dedication, can help provide direction and opportunity to the lives of youth, whose lives could otherwise be dictated by gang-violence or prison life. I am now inspired to see something similar available back home in Hackney, where I feel the need is just as great. Wouldn’t it be nice if the Conservative government shared my views and, rather than pocketing public money, spent it on the ICWs of the world? I guess that will also be a long time in the making…
On a precious five hours sleep after my ICW trip, I woke up at 5am on Wednesday morning and set off on a road-trip with Ricardhy, Suzanne and Jarrod to Worcester, MA, to facilitate a Mentors for Violence Prevention (MVP) training at a National Honor Society conference. It was great to work with high school students from across the state on the issue of dating violence – the students were really receptive and full of great contributions to the discussion, in the form of personal stories, advice and opinions on how our society can be improved and made safer for both women and men. I always welcome an opportunity to practice my facilitating skills that I earnt at the MVP institute I attended way back in October – and although I may be delivering the same curriculum, no two trainings are ever the same. With memories of ICW fresh in my mind from the evening before, it was so inspiring seeing young people speaking about reshaping ‘manhood’ so that boys and men don’t feel like they have to fit in the box of ‘violent’ – which I hope will lead them to make intelligent decisions in the course of their lives to reduce, or better still eliminate, violence from women’s and their own lives.
Back in the office, I have had time to reflect on how the work we do at Sport in Society and the other great organizations we support really can make a difference in our society. I may complain about the hours I spend in front of the computer, but it is weeks like these where I can see what all of our hard work equates to that make this internship so worthwhile. Here’s to the next five months – you may even get another blog out of me
Our current group of co-ops and interns is very talkative. At our weekly meeting, check-ins and updates on our lives always lead to great conversations. Besides that, we create agendas and discuss ways to market our student group ‘Huskies for Sport in Society’. I most enjoy conversations on social justice and the experiences each of us has in group dynamics. At the recent JCLC, we saw how a small conversation can make people feel included. Talking to a child sitting alone and wanting to be part of a fun game, turned out to be a small action that made him or her feel recognized.
Lots of talking happened at the Supreme Court this week. It reviewed Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act, two laws on marriage equality. Both cases have been a conversation starter, in America as well as my home country, the Netherlands. It was one of the main items at the ‘Acht uur-journaal,’ the most-watched Dutch news show.
It feels as if more people are starting to care about equality. Fighting for gay rights seemed to be an issue for the LGBT community only. Same-sex couples went out on the streets and propagated for what seemed like ‘their’ right. Lately, we’ve been hearing more people speaking out about the issue. For example, we’ve been hearing from children who’ve been raised by two mothers or two fathers,. They’ve become a valuable source of information for the media. Zack Wahls’ experience of living in an apparently ‘abnormal’ household turned out to be not as different as one might have thought. The 19-year old student said in 2011 that, “the sexual orientation of my parents has had zero effect on the content of [his] character…” It only took a small conversation to learn about this.
Just a few days before the Supreme Court’s review, former NFL linebacker Scott Fujita also reminded us of what a simple conversation can do. He hopes his daughters grow up knowing “love” means the same for homosexual and heterosexual couples. Fujita appeals to another large group in the society: athletes and sports-fans. He is able to raise awareness amongst them by openly supporting gaymarriage. Similar to Scott Fujita, I hope that at some point we no longer have to speak up for out-players, athletes, or homosexuals in society, but can speak with them about issues that matter to us all. All it takes is a conversation.
Let’s continue this conversation and work towards an equal and inclusive society. A great start would be to take Prop 8 out of the state of California, and consider it a law that has an effect on all of us, just like Zach Wahls and Scott Fujita did. Let’s give ourselves authority by not just having the Supreme Court talk about these issues, but also discuss gay rights by the coffee machine, at the dinner table, or in our ‘co-op cave’ at the Sport in Society office. I’m sure we’ll have very interesting discussions.
As the end of March approaches, so does the midpoint of our time here at Sport in Society. These first three months have been exciting and eventful as well as a bit chaotic at times. With all the schedule changes as a result of the harsh winter weather and school breaks, I expected March to be a bit calmer…but I guess they say March comes in like a lion for a reason.
We’ve missed a few days on the bus in March due to the weather and this week was no exception. Boston Public Schools surely had the luck of the Irish on their side with a four-day St. Patrick’s Day/ Evacuation Day weekend. For those out-of-town readers that’s when the British troops were evacuated following the Siege of Boston. We really like to celebrate Revolutionary war victories here – don’t forget Patriot’s Day is just a few weeks away!
Needless to say the atmosphere on the bus was a bit different this week – not as crazy as Harvard beating New Mexico or Mississippi beating Wisconsin for some unexpected first round upsets (but pretty close). On Wednesday the second group we worked with had a 100-minute session on the bus during their last period. Considering the circumstances we decided it might be fun to take a study break. A few of the tutors and students quickly became engrossed in a game of Green Glass Doors. Don’t worry! Engrossed is one of the SAT words on Study Island – we made sure we got in some solid test prep before the fun and games! The observation skills needed to succeed at the game also relate back to the Critical Reading section of the SAT.
Friday’s schedule was somewhat tweaked as well, with only four students coming on to the bus at the first school. While this week was somewhat atypical, it did give us an opportunity to get to know the students better, and see all that we have in common, which is never a bad thing.
And to end the month, next week will be another shortened one. It’s only fitting that the bus is cancelled for the last March session (for Good Friday). It is March Madness after all! At the same time I guess you could look at it as March going out like a lamb with a relaxing long weekend to lead us into April. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which it is…
The question is deceptively simple. What’s your good?
To be honest, I love the question but find it almost uncomfortably self-reflective. I like to believe that we all have that individual ‘good’ to spread, but we also have two jobs, or newborn babies, or graduate schools to apply to, or taxes to file. ‘I would love to nurture my individual good’ you think ‘just after I cure cancer, achieve world people, and make the fantasy hockey playoffs’. Personally, I’m already behind on achieving that last goal, so I don’t have the time to preach about committing your limited free time to rescuing the endangered sea monkeys or adopting neglected office plants.
But your good is different. I don’t know what it is. Maybe you’re the person who willing digs into the company trash to pull out all the plastic cups for recycling. Or you’re the one who’s an active bystander when your roommate starts making racist jokes out at a bar. You might spend an hour every Saturday shooting hoops with a kid from the homeless shelter.
I think there should be a personal pride in your good; it’s not a competition or an accusation or a bargaining chip. Who cares how grandiose your gesture is, or how much time or money you spent on your commitment? Just living your life everyday by thinking that you have some good and you can put it out there should be enough to empower action.
So ask the question. And find your own good…because right after I propose these fantasy trades, I’m going to find mine.
While other Northeastern students embarked on journeys to foreign countries, or took a flight down to the sandy beaches on the Florida coastline, I had the privilege of working an extra day on the Verizon Mobile Learning Lab during my spring break. Instead of receiving a cancerous tan, or joining my roommates on their travels around the country of Spain and seeing the famous Sagrada Família church, I was helping high-school students understand the mind-boggling questions that comprise the SAT. I can now boast that my understanding of math questions involving angles is outstandingly proficient, and the creators of the SAT might want to call me and ask for my insight in helping create new questions. I am not bitter that I did not go somewhere tropical on my spring break, because my IQ level has skyrocketed thanks to all the practice SAT questions I helped go over with the students. Working with high school students is an amazing experience and they are very appreciative and thankful for our help (take that Northeastern students lounging on a sandy beach!)
On Saturday March 2nd I had the privilege of helping out at a Double Dutch tournament. My sister visited from New York and got up early on Saturday morning to volunteer at the event. I thought that the tournament was going to consist of freestyle routines, and some sick beats (Justin Bieber/ One Direction anyone?). Upon my arrival at the Double Dutch tournament I soon realized that it’s not just freestyle routines that teams are judged on; rather schools have singles and doubles teams, and there are multiple rules and regulations teams must follow in order to get the best score (the higher the score the better). The singles portion of the event took place first, the doubles portion was judged next, and then last were the freestyle routines.
In the Double Dutch tournament, a singles team is comprised of three people; one jumper, and two people holding the ropes. A doubles team is comprised of four people; two jumpers and two people holding the ropes (for doubles the ropes are a little bit longer than the singles ropes). The singles and doubles portion consists of two separate tests, the compulsory test and the speed test. Each team is expected to perform certain tasks during the compulsory test; from two right/left turns on one foot, to executing a maximum of ten high-step jumps. Also teams were penalized for multiple things, from poor entry to jumper miss (where the jumper would step on the ropes, and the team would have to start back up again) to poor sportsmanship. After the compulsory test comes the speed test, where teams try and jump as many times as they can under a two-minute period. During the speed test I can honestly say my jaw hit the floor at one point. One team (I forgot the school’s name) was jumping almost faster than the speed of light itself, and not once did they drop the ropes. The referee I was standing next to told me after, that the team with the lighting fast jumping had won at the Double Dutch Worlds Competition last year, where they competed against teams from other countries.
Even though I did not get a spring break, I watched an amazing Double Dutch event where my jaw hit the floor several times, and my IQ is at least seven points higher after going over multiple SAT practice questions on the Verizon Mobile Learning Lab. Instead of sleeping in and watching movies, I attended a Double Dutch Tournament and witnessed some amazing freestyle routines, where teams got to be a little more creative. I saw people jumping on all fours, back flips, and one girl actually was holding onto the ropes while doing the splits (again, my jaw hit the floor). Take that all you Northeastern students who are lounging on some remote beach, traveling in a foreign country, or probably reclining on a couch back at your parents’ house, watching movie after movie! While I did not get a typical spring break, I had an amazing time watching kids jump over ropes, and tested my brain with some thought provoking SAT questions.
Why didn’t they teach me double dutch when I was growing up?
Not only does it seem like tons of fun and a great body workout, but it also teaches kids some skills that cannot be taught in the classroom.
It teaches kids to work together as a team. The person jumping in the middle cannot be successful if the two people swinging the ropes aren’t swinging in unison. The swingers must communicate to the jumper when to jump and the jumper must communicate to the swingers to slow down or speed up the rope-swinging process. If the members of the team don’t trust each other, communicate properly, and work together, then the jumper won’t be able to jump for very long.
It teaches kids patience. Jumping up and down and swinging a rope over and over again can get tiring and boring, but the kids learn to block out those thoughts and to just keep going. If they aren’t patient, then they will let down their teammates and they will let down themselves. Someone can be the best jumper in the world, but if he or she is not a patient person, then he or she will not be successful at double dutch.
It teaches kids the important concept of “mind over matter”. When the jumper thinks he can’t jump any longer, he or she will stop jumping. When the swingers think they can’t swing any longer, they will stop thinking. These kids learn to turn away these feelings of giving up, and they see that they can indeed do more than they originally had thought. They learn that their minds are stronger than they had thought.
I think double dutch should be a major part of the curriculum in elementary and middle schools because it teaches kids teamwork, patience, and perseverance – it’s a lot of fun too!
Last week in Boston Public Schools, and many other MA school districts, was school vacation week. This means that thousands of students across the state had a full week to rest, relax and enjoy this confused Boston winter.
For a group of more dedicated youngsters, last week held the PlayWorks 5th Annual Junior Coach Leadership Convention. SIS and Northeastern played host to 4th and 5th grade students from over 20 Boston Public Schools. The convention served as an opportunity for students, affectionately known as “junior coaches”, to meet JC’s from other schools in the city.
The event was a two-day, fun filled experience for all. The convention was guided by an assortment of PlayWorks coaches along with assistance from SIS staff. The ultimate goal of the convention was to equip the students with tools meant to help them in their bullying prevention efforts as well as their quests to become young leaders. This was all done through unique exercises and simply—PLAY! The JC’s learned about the value in things like teamwork, goal setting and leadership.
As volunteers at the event, we SIS co-ops and interns got the opportunity to jump in the figurative sandbox with the kids and have some fun. I think that I must have given about 1000 high-fives to the JC’s. It felt good to be around their youthful enthusiasm. They were all dedicated to the social responsibility to make their schools a haven for peace and fairness.
For the JC’s, one of the most exciting activities of the convention was the student-athlete panel assembled by SIS. Kicking off the activity was an opening address from our own Dan Lebowtz. During this activity the students had the opportunity to speak with athletes from Northeastern about everything from scholarships to college life. The kids were all thrilled to ask the athletes questions and listened with fascinated ears. The panel had athletes from NeU’s field hockey, volleyball and club lacrosse teams to name a few. It even included SIS’s own ‘Chole and Suze aka “the twin towers”. The athletes definitely stole the show.
All in all, I had a blast and hope to be involved with the program next year.