Have you ever heard a word that made you cringe? ReachOut Peer Supporter and college student Nick had that feeling again and again after he joined the school rugby team and repeatedly heard offensive terms casually tossed around by his teammates. This is how he dealt with it.
Before joining my school’s rugby team, I was unaware of some things that happened on and off the field. The sport of rugby is stereotypically considered a hyper masculine arena where any form of weakness is looked down on, but I didn’t think about this when joining up because I love the sport and wanted to be more involved on a team.
Then, I began to notice a lot of stigma around being different, being gay, and for one person who came to practice, being a woman. Many of the guys on the team were using language that is really offensive, but as straight, white males, they seemed to have no idea of the damage they were causing.
For instance, every time they would use a gay slur or a demeaning term for women to demonstrate weakness in someone, they didn’t seem to realize how terribly hurtful and inappropriate their words were. Even the coach would use similar terms until I gave him a disapproving look and he said he was sorry immediately. But I know that if someone like myself was not there, this would never be challenged. It seemed that this type of shorthand was normal in the world of men’s sports.
Instead of giving up because I knew I would never really fit in, I began to let them know why what they were saying was problematic. Every time they would call a woman a “bitch,” I would say, “Gee, do you call your girlfriend a bitch?” in the hopes it would make them think how disrespectful it was. Every time they would say something was gay, I would say “that is so breeder (slang for straight)” in hopes it would make them realize the ridiculousness of what they were saying. The guys would respond to this with faces that expressed discomfort and I think it’s because deep down they knew that they were saying the wrong thing. I truly think I was one of the first people to let them know how damaging their careless way of speaking with one another was to people different from them.
Knowing that they will most likely never have to experience discrimination firsthand, I hope that by being on the team with a gay man, who directly addresses their ignorant actions, they will at least start to evolve, especially as the world of sports becomes more accepting of diversity.
What I would pose to the reader of this blog is this: Think about how you interact with others in your peer group. Are you respectful of difference, and if you don’t think so, think about how you speak to one another. Even if the language you’re using is normal in your circle, would you say it to your mother or a stranger? Hopefully, that self-check will help out a lot!
Lastly, to those out there of all ages, sexualities, cultures, and genders, know that you have every right to be included in sports, under the law and most likely by your school or organization. Be who you are on the field and never hide yourself from your teammates. Have confidence in yourself and your teammates will see it as well.
Nick is a San Francisco State University Psychology Major with a Counseling Minor who plans to pursue a Master's in Counseling Pyschology at SFSU. He loves ReachOut as a Peer Supporter and user of the many resources we provide. In the future he hopes to work with the LGBT young adult population while still playing rugby for an adult team.