On Monday, world-class English rugby player Ben Cohen sat down with The Daily Pennsylvanian to discuss the importance of defeating homophobia on and off the field.
Cohen, 33, visited Penn to speak at the Ally Athletes in Action event alongside Columbia University’s wrestling coach Hudson Taylor.
Before retiring from rugby last year to create the StandUp Foundation, Cohen logged over 600 first-class rugby games throughout his 17-year career. This included a World Cup win and 57 appearances for the English national team.
This fall, Cohen — a heterosexual ally of the LGBT community — is traveling around the United States and Europe to promote his foundation. Cohen works with groups such as the Human Rights Campaign, Campus Pride and the Matthew Shepard Foundation among others.
DP: For people who don’t know, what is the StandUp Foundation?
Ben Cohen: The StandUp Foundation is about building awareness but not competing against any other charity for funds. It’s about having a different angle as well, since I’m a straight guy and a married guy. I’m bridging the gap between the LGBT community to the straight community but also being a successful sportsman. I have a different angle… that’s where we get into schools and talk about sports, responsibilities, inclusion, civility and breaking down stereotypes.
DP: What advice do you have for allies of the LGBT community? For allies on male-dominated teams in the athletic community?
BC: The role of the sportsmen is about being responsible. When you’re in a sports environment, its about being as tough as your weakest link. Within teams there are different systems. Nine times out of ten, if you get those systems working and they work together, you’ll score and you win. When you work together and you’re inclusive, you generally get the best out of this person. If someone’s getting bullied, you don’t have to be their friend, it’s about standing besides them.
DP: What has been your biggest accomplishment with the foundation thus far?
BC: With the foundation, it’s been about creating a brand. We didn’t want to be about hot air; we wanted to be out on the ground and actually making a difference. The brand we’ve created is going to be recognized globally. We want to create something like Livestrong [Lance Armstrong’s cancer foundation]. We’ve engaged three of the biggest companies in the world and that’s fantastic. We’re going to be here for a long time doing some great work.
DP: Do you plan on recruiting other prominent athletes for the cause? Has anyone stepped up and volunteered to help out?
BC: That’s something that is important and something that will happen. We’re four and half months old and probably have done about three years’ worth of work in four months because it’s been very successful and very well-received.
DP: Why did you decide to come speak at Penn this fall?
BC: We’re not hot air. We’re about really educating people, spreading our message and meeting people. We’re not going to do that from afar because that’s see-through, transparent and hollow.
DP: What’s next?
BC: Spread our message. We are creating a movement since it is something so unique. We’re taking applications for grants, we probably have about $150,000 to give away within 12 months of the organization being open. We want to really establish our brand and grow.__