In a stretch of 24 hours on Monday June 21, 2021, two of the biggest walls in sports for LGBTQ people fell.
Most people in the U.S. would look at Carl Nassib coming out via Instagram first. For the first time in the history of the National Football League, the nation’s most popular professional league, an active player on a team roster stepped forward and came out.
In actuality, Nassib was the second LGBTQ athlete to break a huge barrier Monday. Earlier that day, New Zealand’s Olympic committee announced that Laurel Hubbard’s quest to make the Olympics was successful. The weightlifter would be part of a five-person contingent of lifters for Tokyo who will all compete in their first Olympic Games.
Hubbard’s selection made sport history because of another part of her identity. She would be the first athlete to make her Olympic team in her corresponding gender category. (Earlier, American BMX freestyle competitor Chelsea Wolfe was named an alternate for the Olympics).
Hubbard’s performances, including a win at the World Cup competition in Rome in 2020, guaranteed that she will step onto a lifting platform for the 87+ kg competition scheduled for Aug. 2.
By the end of this week, both had to scoot over to make room for Canadian soccer standout Quinn. Outsports’ 2020 Non-Binary Athlete of the Year came out as trans last September. On June 24, they were named to Canada’s Olympic squad and could be stepping onto the pitch for their team’s opening match against host Japan on July 21.
In other corners of the sporting world in the last week, the mantra of the San Diego Loyal spread around the world: I will speak. I will act.
Manuel Neuer, the goalkeeper and captain of Germany’s national soccer team, has taken to the pitch donning a rainbow armband as a sign of solidarity. He was also the target of a UEFA probe on the matter that the governing body later withdrew.
Bayern Munich wanted to take things a step further by lighting up their home pitch in rainbows for their Euro 2020 pool play match against Hungary. The action was planned in protest of Hungary’s anti-LGBTQ laws, which have become commonplace under the archaic, authoritarian rule of Viktor Orbán.
Last week, Hungary’s parliament passed a law against providing information on LGBTQ people to persons under 18 years of age.
UEFA denied Bayern Munich’s request citing the governing body’s rules against political demonstrations. The edict didn’t stop the fans who attended the match and didn’t stop thousands more on social media. Rainbows adorned Allianz Stadium in Munich, and Neuer again donned a rainbow armband while leading Die Mannschaft to a draw against Hungary and earning a spot in Euro 2020’s Round of 16.
Herr Neuer, you are proving that a certain young protegé of yours in Seattle — Bobby Jones — has good taste in heroes.
On June 18, FIFA finally cracked down on Mexico for the continuing homophobic chants by their fans in a number of matches this year. In punishment, El Tri’s next two home World Cup qualifying matches will be played in empty stadiums.
Earlier this week, I had the privilege of having two of the co-owners of the Atlanta Dream beamed up to The Trans Sporter Room. Suzanne Abair and former WNBA and UConn standout-turned-owner Renee Montgomery looked back how the Dream and their league spoke up and acted during last summer’s protests and how they plan to keep that positive push going as owners.
I will speak. I will act.
Inclusion won a lot this week, but it didn’t go undefeated. UEFA’s inconsistency in denying a positive message while allowing anti-LGBTQ slogans during Euro 2020 matches played in Hungary are telling. Perhaps UEFA is mimicking the NCAA in the United States, who continue to remain silent on the growing explosion of anti-trans legislation in this country.
Consider what happened in Ohio on Thursday. Republican legislators in the Ohio House cynically attached a trans student-athlete ban to a widely-supported bill that would regulate name, image and likeness benefits for college athletes. The bill passed and will move forward to the Ohio Senate despite loud objections that reach as far as The Ohio State University.
While Nassib was lauded for coming out and making a $100,000 donation to The Trevor Project that the NFL would match, Hubbard was subject to a Bronx cheer of transphobia. Most of the vitriol came from the usual clickbait-shock jock subjects.
A potential breakthrough fizzled at the U.S. Olympic Trials for track and field. The NCAA’s first transgender national champion, Cecé Telfer, was confirmed as an approved competitor in her speciality, the 400-meter hurdles, as the final list was revealed June 17. A few hours later, it was rescinded.
One week later, USA Track and Field announced that “she has not been able to demonstrate her eligibility”, yet neither USATF or World Athletics have publicly revealed where she fell short of specifications.
Telfer said in a statement to Outsports:
“I will respect USA Track & Field’s decision on my eligibility to compete in the 400 meter hurdles at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene. I have turned my focus towards the future and am continuing to train. No doubt I will continue to compete on the national - and world - stage again soon.”
The wave of inclusion continues toward high tide, despite the setbacks, and lot of it will descend on Tokyo Bay next month.
From French judoka Amandine Buchard, considered a gold medal favorite in her weight class, to New Zealand rower Emma Twigg, who will compete in her fourth Olympics but her first competing as an out athlete, inclusion is set to take the podium and perhaps improve on what “Team LGBTQ” did in Rio in 2016.
I have a vision of Glenn Burke and Jerry Smith looking down at all of this with high fives and smiles.
Inclusion was a major theme of two Outsports podcasts this week.
Atlanta Dream co-owners Suzanne Abair and Renee Montgomery talked about how last year’s protests, how the WNBA influenced a contentious election year, and their plans for the future in The Trans Sporter Room. Check out the full interview, plus a preview of an exciting sports-themed project from the innovated Actors Theatre of Louisville on Megaphone, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Apple podcasts, and many other platforms for Outsports podcasts as well.
Also on Five Rings to Rule Them All, check out the full interview with Emma Twigg on her first Olympic competition out and proud. Now available on Megaphone, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Apple podcasts, and many other platforms.