Teaching respect for all should start at a young age.
Recently, I was reading an interview with Wade Davis, a retired NFL player who was in the closet during his career. He was reflecting on Michael Sam, the University of Missouri graduate and early-draft NFL prospect who recently came out as gay
and the progress of society towards gay athletes and said, "Whereas in I had internalized homophobia and crippling doubts about how I would be received, Michael knew 100% that his teammates wouldn't care."
When I was growing up, my dad and mom put me in a cooperative school (kind of like a Montessori) that was very progressive. Hands on learning, emotional intelligence, personal discovery, and social justice were the values that informed the learning. One day we had a guest presenter come in who was a gay athlete. The topic of the discussion was about athletes who were gay. I remember names like: Arthur Ashe, Martina Navratilova, and Greg Louganis come up. In general, the talk was about how great these individuals were as athletes and also how brave they were to face dehumanization and degradation in the public eye Tto practice their profession, and how we all had a part to play to create a society where that wasn't the norm. In fact, some of the athletes we discussed that day like Ashe and Navratilova had faced and surmounted multiple barriers including race and gender as well as sexuality. At home, I would hear similar themes of inclusion, equity, and acceptance from my parents. These discussions served to inform my awareness about diversity and the value of every member of the human family. I was also fortunate enough to hear the message that in a true democracy we are all partners for one another other’s humanity.
This foundation in humanity-for-all would be tested in my teens when my sister came out as a lesbian in high school. She was instantly embraced by my parents. However, my own social conditioning in patriarchy and heterosexism put up a barrier between my sister and me. The social pressure of being a “tough man” had temporarily punctured my loving and justice-for-all upbringing, and as a result my sister did not feel comfortable for some time confiding with me about her sexuality. When she did, it was like wakeup call to my subconscious that I had more work to do in becoming a better person. That wakeup call has reignited my earlier positive conditioning in school and within my family.
As we move forward to a more perfect union of individuals who value equity and opportunity for all, it is important to reinforce humanity for all on and off the playing fields –in our homes, workplaces, school, and government.