On the field, Penn athletes are often hard at work: perfecting their game-winning shot and practicing for the big game. Off the field, however, they are also working hard to create an environment of acceptance.
Last week, Penn Athletes and Allies Tackling Homophobia and Heterosexism introduced the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network Sports Project Challenge Team Respect Pledge to the Student Athlete Advisory Committee.
“As collegiate athletes, we need to start being role models for younger kids and take a stand against homophobia,” 2010 College graduate Anna Aagenes, a former chair of PAATH and captain of the Women’s Track and Cross Country teams, said.
The pledge focuses on LGBT advocacy and education, but also touches upon the importance of accepting those of different religions and races as well as sexual orientation and gender identity.
This is another “baby step in the right direction” of acceptance, College junior Jason Magnes and PAATH chair said.
The pledge will institute a zero-tolerance policy towards bullying, Aagenes explained. She added that teammates will “respect one another regardless of our differences” and acceptance will become a key element of team culture.
Aagenes is a member of the GLSEN Sports Project Advisory Group, which includes members of both the athletic and LGBT community. These include popular ESPN columnist LZ Granderson and Columbia wrestling coach Hudson Taylor, who spoke alongside English Rugby star Ben Cohen at PAATH’s event earlier this month. During Aagenes’ time at Penn, she set school records in the 4 × 1500 and sprint medley relays.
College senior and SAAC president Adrienne Lerner said PAATH’s proposal marks a first step because it has “started the conversation.” Teams are currently in the process of collecting signatures from individual members, she added.
“The entire women’s soccer team has signed it,” she said.
Magnes – a member of the Varsity Men’s Tennis team – said that five varsity teams at Brown University have turned in the Challenge Team Respect pledge and he hopes that Penn can compete with those numbers.
“Anti-bullying has been a hot topic in the past few years and the pledge is a great thing,” College senior and Lambda Alliance Chair Corinne Rich said. “We’re standing up and saying we’re not going to tolerate any of this,” added Rich, who is also a member of the varsity Women’s Track team.
“This is a really exciting time for LGBT athletes because more people are coming out and more teams are visibly showing their support” for them, Aagenes said.
SAAC is planning to check in with its teams during its next general body meeting in Nov. and varsity teams will continue to collect signatures.