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November 19, 2013 / Julia Westover

If You Can Play, You Can Play

On Thursday, November 14th, Northeastern student athletes filled the Blackman Auditorium for what they thought was just another boring event that the athletic director made mandatory. They slowly walked in and sat with their teams while looking at their phones and preparing themselves for what they thought would be the longest hour and a half of their life. Little did they know they would sit through an emotional and eye opening panel discussion by three remarkable athletes with three completely different personal stories.

At the beginning of my co-op, we were told to start thinking about a project that we would like to work on for the next 6 months. At first thought, I had absolutely no idea where to even begin. There are so many social justice issue topics that I find myself interested in, that I couldn’t make up my mind on just one to focus on. One day, after reading an interesting article online about the You Can Play Project and what their founder thinks of the current problems leading up to the Winter Olympic games in Russia, I remembered a panel that they had brought to Northeastern in 2011 and how amazing the turn out was. Particularly, I couldn’t help but remember how it helped one of my closest friends. This friend, very near and dear to my heart, had just come out of the closet to their closest friends at college, and things were still pretty new when they had this event. They were personally struggling with accepting that they were gay as well as fearing how to come out to their teammates and family. After hearing three LGBTQ panelists talk about their personal stories of coming out of the closet and the obstacles they had to face, my friend then started to take a step closer to accepting themselves. Now, two years later, they have grown into one of the strongest, determined and overall most remarkable human beings that have ever come into my life, and I am thankful for that every single day.

The You Can Play Project has a part of their organization called The Invisible Athletes Forum. This forum provides the athletic teams with insight and allows them to learn from some of sports’ most accomplished athletes. The Athletes discuss what it’s like to come out to teammates and family, how their sexual orientation as an athlete has affected their physical and emotional ability (if at all) in competitions, and how being gay in sports has impacted their lives. The panelists during this forum were: Caitlin Cahow, a 2-time Olympic medalist on the USA Women’s Nation ice hockey team, Jose Estevez, a former Boston College XC team member, and Tracey Britton, a former D1 soccer player and former Syracuse University assistant coach. Each one of these panelists had such a different story to tell, that it helped the athletes better understand the message that was trying to be relayed across.

As a current social issue in sports, I thought that if this panel could have done that for my friend, then maybe I could do that for another person and help them take that first step toward acceptance of their sexuality. If I could help someone not have that fear of coming out to their teammates and families, and assure them that they are not alone, then this panel discussion would be important to have at Northeastern. Did I know anything about planning an event? Not in the least. But, with the constant support and guidance from the Sport in Society staff, I was able to make this event happen.

So on November 14th, in Blackman Auditorium, Northeastern athletes walked in expecting the worst. But, when I left the event that night, I heard athletes talking about what they had heard and asking their teammates how they can change and not hurt anyone they don’t know is in the closet. This past week, after the event, I have had numerous coaches and athletes thank me for bringing the You Can Play Project to Northeastern. Not only did they take a lot away from it, but, I think it helped the department as a whole to better understand the challenges athletes can be facing even if you don’t know their struggling.

I believe that sport should be a safe haven for every athlete and that by eliminating locker room fear, negative language and identity oppression, we can begin to create an environment that will ensure equality, respect, and safety for all out athletes, and I hope that this forum helps to start this change for the Northeastern Athletic Department.

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