Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Athlete Ally and the Crisis in World Sport  

by Eddie Goldman

In a sports world infested with corruption, exploitation, bigotry, chicanery, fraud, and swindling of every type, there are still a few people remaining trying to do something positive, ethical, progressive, and liberatory. Athlete Ally is one of those groups, even though it still believes the mainstream sports organizations are not beyond repair.

Founded in 2011 by Hudson Taylor, who was a three-time All-American wrestler at the University of Maryland, Athlete Ally is a non-profit organization which says its "mission is to educate and activate athletic communities to eliminate homophobia and transphobia in sports and to exercise their leadership to champion LGBTQ equality." Some staff and supporters are from the LGBTQ community, while others, including Hudson Taylor, who is described as its "founder, executive director & board member," are not. Hence, all "stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ community" whether they are part of it or an ally.

On Monday, December 17, Athlete Ally held a public event, a panel discussion entitled the Annual State of Sports Conversation, at The Phluid Project, a gender-free retail clothing store in lower Manhattan.

Moderating the panel was Anne Lieberman, the director of policy and programs at Athlete Ally, and a Muay Thai fighter and coach, again showing how the combat sports, seen by some as the backwater of world sports, are well-represented at Athlete Ally.

The two panelists were Casey Legler, a former Olympic swimmer, model, activist, author, and Toni Smith-Thompson, an organizer with the New York Civil Liberties Union. After their presentations, a few questions from the audience were answered.

The event was live-streamed on Facebook, and can be seen (although the audio is not great) at https://www.facebook.com/AthleteAlly/videos/2290369794570411.

While Athlete Ally has made some gains in the fight against anti-LGBTQ bigotry, discrimination, and repression in mainstream sports, there is still a long way to go. For example, in a video interview just posted December 14 on the web site of the U.K. tabloid The Sun, boxer Amir Khan, a former unified light-welterweight champion, who is trying to get a lucrative fight with former IBF welterweight champ Kell Brook, called Brook "gay" and challenged him to "come out".

This is in a sport, boxing, and a country, the U.K., where there is far more acceptance of LGBTQ people than most places. Two-time Olympic gold medalist Nicola Adams, now 5-0 as a pro, is openly bisexual, highly popular in the U.K., and the recipient of many honors and endorsements. Boxing manager and promoter Kellie Maloney, once known as Frank Maloney, and who had managed then-heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis, announced in 2014 that she was transgender and would be undergoing gender reassignment surgery, which was completed the following year.

More recently, the first openly male trans boxer, Patricio "Pat" Manuel, won his first pro fight December 8 on the undercard of a Golden Boy Promotions card in Indio, California. This received widespread positive media coverage, especially for a fight involving a boxer making his pro debut and an opponent with a 0-5 record. On my Facebook and Twitter accounts I linked to articles about this, with approving reaction through many "likes". One person noted how this reaction was far different from the ones I received from my numerous interviews with Fallon Fox, the first openly female trans MMA fighter who is now retired, a few years back. The MMA world, in the main, is still a sewer of bigotry, ignorance, and hate.

As noted above, Athlete Ally also faces the obstacles of the virulent and sometimes deadly anti-LGBTQ practices and laws in many countries whose prominence in world sport is growing, including Russia and Saudi Arabia, plus other countries in the Middle East. Even in countries where LGBTQ equality is more accepted and more political and legal rights exist, there is a seemingly endless and growing list of scandals and horrors from Olympic, professional, college, and so-called amateur sports organizations. More and more upholders of justice, fairness, and decency in world sport believe the major existing sports organizations cannot be fundamentally reformed, and instead a new, grassroots-based sports movement must be developed.

As the crisis in world sport deepens, how will Athlete Ally respond? Already many LGBTQ athletes and supporters and many women have been playing a critical role in fighting injustice in sport on many fronts. The old sports world is in great disorder, with a new one yearning to be born, so the challenges ahead must be faced head on.

Below are some photos I took at this Athlete Ally event.

Anne Lieberman introducing the panel.

Casey Legler speaking.

Toni Smith-Thompson speaking.

Anne Lieberman and Eddie.

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