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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Our First SBYD Forum Event

Last Thursday, on September 19th, we held our first of five sport based youth development forum panel discussions here at Northeastern University. This series of panel discussions form a platform to connect research and various tools for collaboration, and encourage inter-organizational learning and support in a developing field. This past forum, Building a Positive Culture in Sport-Based Youth Development Organizations, focused on answering questions about maintaining a positive culture and creating an overall healthy and fun work environment. We had four outstanding panelists from different organizations across the greater Boston area: Amanda Smidt, the National Manager of Alumni and Center Services at City Year, Becky Nyce, the Program Director at Squashbusters, Max Fripp, the Executive Director of Playworks Massachusetts, and finally, Tracey Britton, the Director of Business Development at Edgework Consulting.

Overall, this forum was very successful. We had 20 representatives from organizations such as, Totz Soccer, YES, Sole Train, Courageous Sailing, America Scores, COB Parks Department, CSW/Wheelock College, and Edgework Counseling. The attendees were interested, engaged and asked many questions about improving the culture in their organizations. Everyone enjoyed networking with each other and getting to know what different organizations are about and what they have to offer. In our evaluations, one attendee said that the panelists really could “walk the walk” and that “the panel had a wide range of experience.” To read more about how it went, Ryan Butler, a Northeastern student with The Boston Globe, wrote an amazing article about how the event  went.

Everyone here at Sport in Society worked really hard to make sure that it was so successful, mostly because we had a lot on the line: Senior Associate Director, Deb Jencunas, told us all that if it was a success, she would buy us all cake and party hats. Lo and behold, at our staff meeting on Monday, she walked in with Transformer party hats and a chocolate Oreo cake. It was the most delicious thing I’ve ever eaten! I’m very happy with the way it turned out, and can’t wait for our next forum on November 21st 

Fall Co-op Thus Far

After being here at Sport in Society for about a month know, I already know that the next 5 months of my co-op are going to be full of fun activities and events that I never thought I would have the chance to be a part of. The staff here is always energetic, kind, always makes me laugh and feel comfortable, and I am constantly learning new things from each one of them every day. I haven’t had the opportunity to facilitate a training yet, but I hope that in the upcoming months that will change. I’ve been able to watch a few trainings, and I even took part of the MVP training in June, and I know that I’ll be ready to go when the time comes, or at least I better be!

Over the past few weeks, I have been working on my own project for this semester, and I am so happy that things are finally starting to come together. I had the idea that I would like to begin a conversation about LGBT athletes with the Northeastern Community. With Jason Collins coming out as a gay NBA player and DOMA being declared as unconstitutional, it seems like the perfect time. I personally experienced a time where an athlete was afraid to come out to the rest of their team because they were afraid of what they might say or think of them. With all the research that I have done about this topic, over 95% of all LGBT athletes said that they wished they had someone to look up to that would have told them that the coming out experience isn’t that hard, because then they would have done it sooner. I’m particularly interested in this topic because I am currently a Northeastern athlete and I know how the culture can be and have seen first had how much of a struggle it can be. I hope to start getting deeper in this planning so it can happen very soon!!