Monday, May 16, 2011

What a Man!

The Wild Reed's "What a Man!" series continues with a third profile of a straight male sports celebrity courageously speaking out against homophobia and for LGBT rights. Today's "What a Man!" is wrestler Hudson Taylor.

Taylor, an All-American wrestler and coach at Columbia University, recently launched the website in an effort to combat homophobia in sports and ensure the locker room is a safe space for all.

In January he told The Advocate:

I created the [Athlete Ally] Pledge so that we, as an athletic community, can take proactive steps to end homophobia in sports. When we inspire entire teams and athletic departments to commit to a new standard of athletic integrity, we will change the environment in locker rooms and on playing fields. Adding your name to the growing list of supporters is the first step to make a difference.

Last October, Taylor made headlines when he appeared at a conservative Catholic college to talk about acceptance in sports and marriage equality. That in itself, in my book, makes him worthy of the acclamation "What a man!"

Both Taylor (above left) and previous Wild Reed "What a Man!" Ben Cohen were featured in a May 13 New York Times article entitled "Two Athletes Combat Homophobia." Following are highlights from this article.

Ben Cohen is a world-class English rugby star, and Hudson Taylor is a three-time college all-American wrestler. They live on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean. They barely know each other.

But they have something quite unusual in common. They may be the only two high-profile heterosexual athletes dedicating their lives to the issues of bullying and homophobia in sports.

The question that each one frequently gets — besides “Are you gay?” — is why are they involved in something that does not directly impact them, or so it would seem.

That is just the point, they said. In much the same way that the hockey player Sean Avery’s recent endorsement of gay marriage resonated in large part because it came from an unexpected source, their sexual orientation helps the message cross to broader audiences, Cohen and Taylor said.

“It’s massively important,” Cohen said Friday in New York, a stopover on a cross-country campaign for his fledgling Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation. “Massively. Of course it is. I’m the other side of that bridge.”

Gay slurs have emerged into the public consciousness recently. The Los Angeles Lakers’ star Kobe Bryant used one against an N.B.A. referee and was fined $100,000. The Atlanta Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell was said to have made homophobic gestures and remarks to fans in San Francisco, and was suspended by Major League Baseball for two weeks. Widespread criticism of both men was seen as cultural progress by gay-rights supporters.

But in a world where no active American athletes in a major male team sport has declared his homosexuality, it remains rare for athletes to chime in on the issue of gay rights. Recent exceptions, beyond Avery, include Grant Hill and Jared Dudley of the Phoenix Suns, who recorded a public-service announcement decrying gay slurs in sports. Cohen and Taylor are going much further.

. . . Taylor, 24, finished a decorated wrestling career at Maryland last year and is an assistant coach at Columbia. In college, he said, he was struck by the disparity in how gay students in his theater classes were so warmly accepted and how easily gay slurs were tossed around the wrestling mats.

He attracted national attention when he wore a Human Rights Campaign sticker on his headgear. Earlier this year, he launched Athlete Ally, asking athletes of all ages to sign a pledge to help end homophobia in sports. Several thousand have made the pledge. Taylor suspended plans for law school and spends much of his time speaking at schools, mostly colleges.

He usually asks his audiences if they have recently heard someone or something derided as “gay.” Almost always, everyone raises his or her hand, he said.

Most raise their hands when asked if they have heard the term, used as an insult, in the past day, Taylor said.

“In a lot of people’s minds, it’s not a straight person’s issue,” said Taylor, who will marry his longtime girlfriend in September. “That’s an obstacle that has to be overcome.”

Taylor said that heterosexual athletes rarely get involved in the issue because they do not see how it affects them. He called it a “chicken-or-egg problem.” Most male professional athletes, as far as they know, do not have gay teammates. And people are less likely to fight for a cause when they do not have personal connections to it.

“How do you make it personal?” Taylor said. “That’s the question.”

That is what Cohen and Taylor hope to answer.

On Friday, the two men got together for a quick hello at the West Village apartment where Cohen stayed for a couple of nights. Taylor had just driven from Maine, where he spoke at Bates College and got most of its athletes to sign the pledge on Thursday evening. Cohen was about to leave for the airport and a flight to San Francisco, to be a celebrity presenter.

Their paths crossed, briefly, as they worked separately for the same cause. “I love what he’s doing,” Taylor said over lunch Wednesday. “We need more Ben Cohens in this world. He has a platform that allows the message to carry farther and ring louder than my own. We need more allies in position of power to speak out.”

To read John Branch's article "Two Athletes Combat Homophobia," click here.

Recommended Off-site Links:
Wrestler Hudson Taylor, a Champion for Gay Rights
– Jim Buzinski (, February 22, 2010).
Wrestling: "The Heterosexually Acceptable Form of Homosexual Foreplay" The Leveret (October 14, 2009).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
What a Man! – Ben Cohen
What a Man! – Sean Avery
A Fresh Take on Masculinity
Jesus Was a Sissy
The Trouble with the Male Dancer (Part 2)

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