It’s not uncommon for new high school club lacrosse programs to pop up each year. But in 2014, a new program will arrive on the summer circuit with a bit of a twist. It will still have the goals of playing competitive lacrosse and offering a way for athletes to showcase their ability to college coaches, but the players will also be bound by a commitment to foster a welcoming environment for all athletes – specifically those that may be LGBT.
The program is an extension of Athlete Ally – a non-profit organization with the goal of ending homophobia and transphobia in sports. And next summer they will launch a national club program – one U-17 team and one U-19 team – that will compete in summer lacrosse tournaments across the country. Tryouts will be held to select the team and, outside of showing the skill to make the team in tryouts, players will also have to commit to Athlete Ally’s mission of making sports a more welcoming environment and to the goal of bringing respect and inclusion into their athletic communities.
It will be the first athletic program branded with the Athlete Ally name, an organization that has traditionally done outreach through educational programs and public awareness campaigns. But for a sport that can also claim the nation’s first openly gay professional male athlete (Andrew Goldstein was out when he played goalie for the Long Island Lizards in 2006), maybe lacrosse isn’t a bad place to start.
“If lacrosse really is a more accepting kind of ground then it could create great opportunity to get the message out there and let it reverberate out.” said Athlete Ally lacrosse coach Jonathan Scott. “I think there are sports that internally are more accepting … but there’s not a whole lot of representation on a public podium for that. So this is an opportunity to take that message public. We are going to set the lead, we are going to step out front here and show you how to do it and hope that everyone follows.”
The Athlete Ally Lacrosse program will hold tryouts for the team next June and will travel to several major tournaments during the summer. In addition, Scott hopes to attract college coaches to the tryouts of the team as a way to get additional interest in the program.
While it isn’t common, it also isn’t unheard of for a lacrosse program to develop around a core set of principles or beliefs. The Fellowship of Christian Athletes lacrosse team – bound by common religious beliefs — first competed more than 20 years ago. And this year Sankofa lacrosse was founded to connect the black lacrosse community and to further grow the game.
The idea for the Athlete Ally team came from Sam Knollmeyer, a sophomore goaltender at Plymouth North High School in Plymouth, MA. Already familiar with the work that Athlete Ally did, Sam approached the organization this fall with the idea and received a response the very next day.
“Part of their logo is ‘victory through unity’ and [their mission] is to end homophobia in sports,” said Knollmeyer. “So with Athlete Ally Lacrosse we want to win as a team of people who all have a common interest – which is ending homophobia in sports — and bring it to a national level so it gets that national recognition of how current [homophobia] is in our society that it needs to come to an end.”
Beyond overt discrimination, Knollmeyer also highlighted the need to educate others about casual homophobic comments, like describing something as “gay” or the use of the word “fag” in the locker room.
“The biggest problem is saying ‘oh that’s gay’ or ‘what are you a homo or something’ and they say it without knowing that there could be people around them or even that the person they are talking to could be LGBT,” said Knollmeyer. “They use it as a way to say ‘that’s kind of stupid’ without even thinking about it. But that’s kind of an ignorant way of hurting someone else without knowing.”
Despite progress in the last decade, sport is one area (rightly or wrongly) sometimes seen as more homophobic than the general public – possibly because there has not been a professional athlete in any of the four major sports – football, basketball, hockey and baseball – that has come out in the media while playing.
Founded three years ago by former University of Maryland wrestler Hudson Taylor, Athlete Ally takes a different approach than many organizations that fight homophobia by leveraging straight allies in the athletic community to affect change. Their programs include straight professional athletes as allies that speak out publicly in the media, as well as a college ambassador program, where college athletes can educate people about issues facing gay athletes at their colleges.
Athlete Ally Lacrosse is in its early stages of planning. They are developing a web site and will be releasing more information about tryouts and the team in the coming months. You can follow Athlete Ally Lacrosse on Twitter @AthleteAllyLax.
Due to the financial commitment of running a club program, Athlete Ally is seeking sponsors (financial or equipment) to join the Athlete Ally Lacrosse cause. Anyone interested in more information about the program can contact [email protected].