As part of an ongoing campaign against homophobia in sports, Paul Tagliabue, former commissioner of the National Football League, will visit campus on Monday. Tagliabue, who has a strong history of supporting gay rights, will deliver the keynote address at the third annual "Anything but Straight in Athletics" event.
Created in 2010, the annual event is aimed at supporting the Bowdoin LGBT athletic community and eliminating homophobia in sports. One of the founders, Ben Chadwick '11, was an openly gay member of the men's lacrosse team.
"Teams are strong organizations, and if we get teams to work against homophobia and homophobic language, it would have a pretty big impact on the campus," said Director of Athletics Jeff Ward.
In the sports world, Tagliabue's name carries significant weight. He was the captain of the men's basketball team at Georgetown University before becoming a prominent lawyer for the NFL. In 1989, he was chosen as the league's new commissioner, a position he held until his retirement in 2006. He is widely recognized for a successful career as commissioner, during which the NFL created four new franchises, built 17 new stadiums, and kept the New Orleans Saints from relocating after Hurricane Katrina.
The former commissioner and his family have consistently been strong advocates for LGBT rights.
The Tagliabues are "people prominent in the world of sports for whom the issue of homophobia is important," explained Ward, who played a major role in bringing the former commissioner to campus.
Tagliabue's son, Drew, is openly gay and serves as an executive director at Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, a national nonprofit organization.
According to The New York Times, Tagliabue beseeched New York state senators to support a same-sex marriage bill in 2009, and has supported LGBT college students as well. This past October, Tagliabue and his wife donated $1 million to Georgetown—where he has served as chairman of the board of directors since 2008—for the creation of a new program to support LGBT students.
This year's event is headed by Ward, Amy Hackett '12, and Kate Stern, director of the Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity. Tagliabue's address in Kresge will be preceded by an invitation-only dinner for select athletes from every team. Coaches will invite two sophomores to attend the dinner in an effort to target up-and-coming leaders of their team, and table discussions will be led by upperclassmen athletes.
"The leadership dinner is an opportunity for students to hear from each other about their experiences on different teams, and to talk about what teams can do to change their environments and be more supportive," said Stern.
Hackett, who plays for the women's basketball and softball teams, became more involved with the program after attending her sophomore year. She explained that it is designed to address the issues of homophobic language or "things that may cause athletes to stop playing the sport they love just because they feel uncomfortable on a team or in the atmosphere of the sport."
Stern agreed that some athletes feel that their ability to be accepted on a sports team at Bowdoin may be in jeopardy due to their sexual orientation.
She noted past examples where Bowdoin athletes "quit their sport if it's too hard to be closeted, or athletes continue with their sport but either lead a straight life or lead unsexual lives. It's hard for students at Bowdoin to do both—to be an athlete and be out."
Anything But Straight is now in its third year, and in terms of recruiting more support from straight teammates, the program has "definitely been successful," said Hackett.
Past keynote speakers have included President and General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs Brian Burke, father of Molly Burke '13 and ESPN journalist LZ Granderson.
But according to Stern, homophobia is still present in Bowdoin sports.
"It's great for me to see how many straight athletes have wanted to take on something they're passionate about in terms of changing the culture, but clearly we're not there yet. There are still a lot of athletes who tell me about less supportive teammates," she said.
Ward agreed and looks forward to continued discussions on campus and future ABSA events.
"There's a lot of work still to be done, and I think we have the opportunity to do it," he said.
Tagliabue is scheduled to speak in Kresge Auditorium on Monday at 8 p.m. as part of the "Anything but Straight in Athletics" series.