Views & Voices

Retired UK rugby star Ben Cohen wants you to ‘stand up’ against homophobia

Ben Cohen

Ben Cohen

Awhile back, I posted a personal wish of mine: that Ben Cohen would tour St. Louis on his Acceptance tour.

Personally, I doubt that Cohen would be able to do this because he is only one person, but my wish may come true. (And besides, would you honestly not want to see this hunk of a man in person?) According to an article published by The Independent, Cohen has decided to retire from his rugby career to pursue an activist role against homophobia.

Ben Cohen

As a survivor of a bigoted and homophobic policy, “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” I proudly will support Ben Cohen’s cause.

I am not alone either.

After Cohen’s acceptance tour in his native U.K., many sports icons are proudly coming out of the closet — most notably Rick Welts, Chief Executive of the Phoenix Suns, and ESPN radio announcer Jared Max.

However, Cohen is correct in his opinion that it is very difficult for an athlete in sports to come out of the closet, as it could potentially ruin his career.

This is true for Australian diver Matthew Mitcham, whose career came to a severe halt after he revealed that he was gay. And John Amaechi wrote an influential book called “Man In The Middle,” in which he professes his own experiences in the NBA, while at the same time hiding his own homosexuality.

After Amaechi came out in February 2007, former Miami Heat guard Tim Hardaway said on a radio show that he would not want a gay player on his team.

“You know, I hate gay people, so I let it be known,” Hardaway said.

In an interview with Good Morning America, Amaechi responded:

“I think, in the reality, is that men have been showering with gay men for years and years, they just don’t know about it. But, his comments really feed the basis of stereotypes. The idea as a gay person, that I couldn’t keep my ‘predatory hands’ off somebody. The idea also what I think inside my head, would have to be expressed. And the idea that I cannot tell the difference between a work environment and a romantic environment.”

As a side note, I find it very odd that John’s comments and experiences parallel so much with the world of sports and climate that I deal with in the military.

But back to the subject: Ben’s Cause.

According to his website, “every person on this planet has a desire to be loved and to be happy.”

Who would honestly want to disagree with this statement, besides the idiots in the Westboro Baptist Church?

However, we need more Ben Cohen’s in this world. Whether we like it or not, athletes are influential and inspiring. What they do and say can and will have an impact on millions of people, both young and old.

Hudson Taylor, a wrestler, was inspired by Cohen to create Athlete Ally, a foundation to combat homophobia in sports.

And Sean Avery of the New York Rangers and Steve Nash of the Phoenix Suns both are campaigning in support of marriage equality.

But what I hope for, is that all of the work these athletes are doing, are not done in vain, as not only homophobia in the major league lessens, so does the homophobia in our schools, churches and neighborhoods.

Below, MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts talks with Cohen about his “Standup Foundation” and his U.S. “Acceptance Tour:”

More: Ben Cohen.

This Story Filed Under