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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, Peter DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. Former superintendent Michael Nelson is a frequent contributor. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Is Chris Kluwe Changing the Game?

By Peter DeWitt — October 30, 2012 4 min read
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LGBT students who would like to join a sport, or perhaps are already good at one, may learn that sexual orientation doesn’t matter out on the field. What will help them learn that even more is when using derogatory words about sexual orientation isn’t allowed on their field either.

Most of us have attended sporting events. They’re exciting to watch and remind older fans of a time when they were competitive. In high school, sporting events are an important part of the school culture. Friday nights are spent watching football games where students go out to support their teams. Sports bring people together which can be both positive and negative.

There are times when parents with bad behavior, who want their kid to be the next Tiger Woods, scream from the sidelines. Some athletes take cheap shots at each other even though their coaches may talk with them about good sportsmanship. We want students to embody what sportsmanship means. We want them to help out their fellow players or help the opponent up if they fall down. We love those videos where one athlete helps out another by carrying them across the finish line.

Unfortunately, in the LGBT community sports is one of those areas that is not known for their support of gay rights. Perhaps its trash talking that takes place in the locker room or out on the field, sports is a place where competition matters and being politically correct does not. It is a place often known for homophobic remarks more than a place where LGBT students would find support...but that is changing.

Last year, the Gay, Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN) launched the Changing the Game initiative for America’s public schools. “Changing the Game: The GLSEN Sports Project’s mission is to assist K-12 schools in creating and maintaining an athletic and physical education climate that is based on the core principles of respect, safety and equal access for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. The GLSEN Sports Project fills a critical gap and adds a vital new dimension to GLSEN’s work to create a world in which every child learns to accept and respect all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.”

Below is a video that they released.

Chris Kluwe
Recently, Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe went on an eloquent tirade toward Maryland State Delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr (N.Y. Times). Mr. Burns sent Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti a letter urging him to censor Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo from speaking in support of gay marriage. Ayanbadejo has been outspoken about his support over the past few years.

Kluwe defended Ayanbadejo’s openness about gay marriage and he provided Burns with a verbal smack down on the topic. This type of support for the LGBT community does not often take place in professional sports but it should. Not because it is politically correct but because sports has often been a place where homophobia runs rampant. Kluwe and Ayanbadejo are examples of how some of that is changing.

Kluwe came up again in the press when he recently wrote a guest blog for Out of Bounds in response to Matt Birk who plays for the Baltimore Ravens. Birk stated why he doesn’t agree with gay marriage and Kluwe felt compelled to write about it.

The only impact same-sex marriage will have on your children is if one of them turns out to be gay and cannot get married. What will you do (and I ask this honestly) if one or more of your kids ends up being gay? Will you love them any less? What will your actions speak to them, 15 years from now, when they ask you why they can’t enjoy the same relationship that you and your wife have now? And if your response is “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it”, well, for a lot of people that bridge is here right now. They’re trying to cross it, but the way is barred, and I will do my best to tear those barricades down any way I can because I believe that we are infringing on the free will of other human beings by denying them their basic right to live free of oppression.”

Why This is Important for LGBT Students
It doesn’t matter whether people agree with Kluwe because not everyone will. What truly matters is the fact that a well-known sports figure is speaking out on behalf of a population that often goes ignored or gets harassed in the professional sports arena. Everyone, especially in high school, deserves a chance to play the game.

High school athletes who look up to Kluwe, and others who are coming out in their support, will follow their lead and perhaps be a little more open-minded for a disenfranchised group of students who do not always get a fair shot in the public school system. LGBT students who would like to join a sport, or perhaps are already good at one, may learn that sexual orientation doesn’t matter out on the field. What will help them learn that even more is when using derogatory words about sexual orientation isn’t allowed on their field either.

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Peter is the author of Dignity for All: Safeguarding LGBT Students (Corwin Press).

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.