AJ Lonski couldn't wait to arrive at Princeton. Growing up, the LGBTQ wrestler always heard homophobic insults on the mat, especially at his private Catholic high school, where he was the varsity captain of a nationally ranked program.
The Ivy League was supposed to be different. But for Lonski, it was more of the same. He says the juvenile and homophobic culture around the wrestling team forced him to quit the sport he loves.
Lonski writes about his experiences in a harrowing op-ed for the Daily Princeton. In it, he details episodes of bullying about alcohol use — underclassmen were mocked for not drinking — and instances of racism. He says “constant jokes” were made about minority group members of the team, as well as women involved with the program.
Vitriolic insults about gay people were also part of the regular discourse.
“One of the most salient memories I have from my time on the team occurred in the locker room, before practice,” Lonski writes. “When an upperclassman was addressing the wrestling team, the topic of LGBTQ+ athletes came up. Rather than expressing acceptance, he stated, ‘The day that there is a gay person on this team is the day that the wrestling program has gone to shit.’”
When Princeton cancelled in-person classes at the onset of Covid, Lonski went home, and realized just how unhappy he was. He quit the team in July 2021.
“While I gave up the opportunity to compete for an excellent D1 athletic program, my mental health was more important,” he writes.
The essay ends on a happy note. Lonski says he’s found a new group of inclusive friends who care about his mental health. He’s also joined LGBTQ groups on campus.
But his experience with the wrestling program still stings. Years ago, we covered how the Princeton football team embraced gay offensive lineman Mason Darrow. It’s horrible the same culture of inclusion doesn't seem to permeate throughout the athletic department.
By bravely speaking out, Lonski is doing what he can to change that.