Phys Ed :: Athlete Ally Tackles Homophobia in Sports
For Hudson Taylor, it started with a sticker.
During his senior year at University of Maryland, the three-time NCAA All-American wrestler affixed a blue and yellow Human Rights Campaign sticker to his cherry red headgear before a match.
"I thought it looked cool," he says. "I wasn't trying to make a huge impact."
Afterwards, Taylor spoke with a reporter about the decal and casually voiced his support for the LGBT community.
To his surprise, his inbox flooded with emails from closeted kids across the country. To them, he was a rare beam of light in sports - tangible evidence that athletes who advocated for LGBT inclusion existed.
"They told me, 'Hudson, I see you speaking out as an athlete and for the first time in my life I feel like I can join a sports team,'" Taylor recalled. "It made me realize if a college wrestler can do it, and if I could get a football player [or other major athlete] on board, we can save lives, change lives and make sport better for everyone."
Just a sticker? Hardly.
Three years later, Taylor is founder and executive director of Athlete Ally, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating and cultivating straight allies in sports.
Athlete Ally focuses heavily on collegiate athletics, and Taylor travels to over 40 colleges a year educating athletic departments, coaches and administrators on how to be better allies.
Their athlete roster boasts prominent advocates like former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo and Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe.
Taylor oozes warmth and passion with boyish good looks - he could easily pass off as Twilight star Kellan Lutz's wholesome younger brother. And of course, he bears the signature wrestler's cauliflower ear. But he hasn't lost the competitive edge that earned him that ear, a badge of victory. He takes his sportsman tenacity with him in his fight for LGBT athletes.
"At the end of the day, athletes want to win, want to be the best. Discrimination hurts our ability to be our best," Taylor said. "Before Jackie Robinson, baseball was worse off because of that discrimination. It's no different now."
Taylor has recruited a board of directors that is a slough of heavy-hitters in sports and LGBT activism - including NFL Network's Sam Marchiano.
"Hudson is a rock star," she says. "His ability to connect with people is fantastic."
The 20-year sports media veteran's resume includes MLB Network, FOX Sports, ESPN and the New York Daily News.
Like Taylor, her own personal experience reflects into her LGBT advocacy.
"Sexism and homophobia are very much linked together in the culture of locker rooms," Marchiano told SFGN. "When I started going in the locker room in the mid-80s, I was in the first wave of women."
In fact, Marchiano found an ally of her own while covering the NHL's New York Islanders in the 1980s.
The Islanders selected Pat LaFontaine third overall in the first round of the 1983 draft, and was a decorated player who later became a Hall of Fame inductee in 2003. But for Marchiano, LaFontaine is much more than that.
"[LaFontaine] was phenomenal, a wonderful human being. I instantly connected with him and he said, 'If anybody gives you any trouble, have them talk to me,'" she said. "I found the guys that I knew would accept and respect me. It helps."
For Taylor, Marchiano and the rest of Athlete Ally, they recognize the undertaking of eradicating homophobia in sports - especially in the professional leagues.
"Certainly we are approaching a time in which athletes can and do feel comfortable coming out. There are over 700 open lesbian and gay athletes in college level. The climate is shifting," Taylor says. "But there is still an environment of assumed straightness. You don't have to come out as straight. You still have to come out at LGBT. There's still work to be done so long as that is the case."