The Sports and Society Initiative, in partnership with the Buckeye Equality Group hosted “Equality in Athletics” for a night of conversation, education and support. Over 100 attendees, including Ohio State University students, faculty, staff, and members of the Columbus community, came out for a night that included special guest Harrison Browne as its keynote speaker.
Gene Smith, Ohio State University Senior Vice President & Wolfe Foundation Endowed Athletics Director, started the evening off. “This topic is so important in our society today,” Smith said. “When you look at what’s going on in our country, and in our world, we need to pause and make sure that we’re having these conversations.”
Following Gene Smith’s opening remarks, Browne took the stage for his keynote address. A Canadian hockey player, Harrison is the first transgender athlete in professional sports. Assigned female at birth, Browne has lived publicly as a man since 2016 after many years of struggling to figure out what made him feel off in his everyday life.
“As much as I wanted to be out to everyone in college, teachers, students, family members, I simply wasn’t ready,” he said. ”The fact that I had not transitioned yet made me apprehensive to assert myself as a man when I didn’t look or sound like one.”
Browne played for the Buffalo Beauts and the Metropolitan Riveters of the National Women’s Hockey League, living publicly as a man during his playing days but did not start the hormonal transition due to the process violating anti-doping rules. Upon his retirement on April 30, 2018 Browne began the transition process.
“The only thing holding you back from who you’re meant to be is you,” he said. “The second I stopped worrying about what complete strangers would think if I cut my hair and shopped in the men’s section, I became free.”
After Browne told his story, a panel joined him on stage for a discussion on the issues faced by LGBTQ athletes, including:
Anne Lieberman, the director of policy & programs at Athlete Ally;
Marscilla Packer, Ohio State women’s basketball alumni;
Alexis Venechanos, head coach of the Ohio State University women’s lacrosse team;
Joey Bonnano, Ohio State University gymnast; and
Marshall Troxell from Equality Ohio. Senior Associate.
AD Shaun Richard moderated the panel.
“The Buckeye Equality Group was happy to partner with the Sports and Society Initiative to join together a community of people to talk about insight and education in the LBGTQ community,” Richard said. “These conversations are necessary to move forward together in creating an open and welcome environment in athletics, on-campus and in society overall. Thank you to Nicole Kraft for organizing this special night, and a special thank you to Harrison Browne and the other panelist for sharing your messages.”
Nicole Kraft, director of the Sports and Society Initiative and an assistant professor in communication, said SSI’s goal is to shine a light on many of the significant areas where sport and society intersect with one another, especially equality.
“There’s no area more deserving of attention than the equality that we must have in sports,” Kraft said. “We were honored to be able to amplify the message that’s already been started by the athletics department.
“We are incredibly impressed with the efforts made by the athletics department to ensure equality for all at Ohio State and we believe that forums like this, these continuing efforts to make sure that equality continues to spread throughout all of athletics should be the mission of everyone working in athletics.”
The panel tackled questions covering a multitude of issues faced by LGBTQ community members in the world of athletics, including questions about how accepting the Ohio State community is of LGBTQ athletes.
“In my personal experience as an athlete at Ohio State I’ve sensed incredible acceptance from this university,” Joey Bonanno, a member of the men’s gymnastics team, said. “Part of the main reason I came here was the environment. When I made visits here and saw gay athletes being accepted for who they are I sensed that culture and this was a safe place to be.”
“Being invited to this Sports and Society talk is a huge honor,” Venechanos said after the discussion wrapped up. “Getting to meet people from different areas, like Athlete Ally, Equality Ohio, and having someone like Joey, one of our athletes here at OSU, just shows how far reaching athletics are. All of these people are impactful, and I’m grateful to be part of this.”
The Sports and Society Initiative on Oct. 4 hosted “Equality in Athletics,” a discussion on LGBTQ issues and their intersection with athletics.The event featured:Harrison Browne, an American hockey player, who is the first transgender professional athleteAnne Lieberman, Director of Policy & Programs, Athlete AllyMarscilla Packer, Ohio State Women's Basketball legend Marshall Troxell, Equality OhioAlexis Venechanos, Women's Lacrosse Coach, Ohio StateJoey Bonnano, Ohio State gymnast
Posted by The Sports and Society Initiative OSU on Friday, October 5, 2018
On April 14-16 the NCAA hosted the seventh annual NCAA Inclusion Forum where hundreds of leaders from administrators, to student-athletes, came together in Indianapolis to share ideas and discuss what has been done so far to foster diversity across intercollegiate athletics, and what can be done to keep that momentum going. Kim Doran, a member of the Buckeye Equality Committee comprised of coaches, administrators and athletics staff members, made the pilgrimage to Indianapolis to share what we’ve done/planning to do at the Ohio State University. In addition learning from what other schools are doing that could help boost the student-athlete experience here in Columbus.
“The whole purpose of the forum is to bring everybody together to discuss, collaborate and find ways to implement plans to make sure that everyone is included,” Doran said. “We’re doing a great job at OSU, but being able to show and speak about what we’re doing while listening to what our peer institutions are doing allows us to examine our efforts and make sure that we’re providing the best experience for our student-athletes.”
The forum featured sessions that addressed all areas of diversity, from gender, race, LGBTQ, anything and everything was covered. “Getting to do exercises that show us how some of our student-athletes feel when they get to campus without knowing anyone like them really opens your eyes to the struggle they face, in addition to the general stress of being a student-athlete.”
Doran is no stranger to the NCAA Inclusion Forum. She presented there with Caity McCandless, detailing how university officials from both the Student Athlete Support Services Office and Student Life Disability Service Office collaborate to educate colleagues, coaches, administrators and the students on the differences between learning disabilities and ADHD, and how we work to ensure that the student-athletes facing these issues have the resources they need. “I got a chance to sit in on some presentations last year while I was there to present myself, and with being part of the Buckeye Equality Committee I knew that going back to continue my education was an important step in keeping us on the right path.”
Implementing change can be a difficult process, but it’s one that Doran and the Buckeye Equality Committee remain committed to. “The impact of this forum, going forward, could be huge, but it all depends on the universities wanting to make changes. Luckily at OSU we’re afforded the luxury of having resources to dedicate to making these changes, and our leadership knows that we have to stay focused on the change so we can provide the best experience for our student-athletes.”
The Buckeye Equality Committee has made a point of letting the student-athletes know that they’re being heard when they bring up issues, and the Inclusion Forum has helped the attendees learn how to address these issues when they’re brought up. “Going to the forum allowed me to hear what other institutions are doing and the programs they’re utilizing. Speaking to counterparts at other schools and discussing how they got a program up and running is a huge resource, and the forum allows all of us to do that comfortably,” Doran continued.
“While a lot of this may be just us scratching the surface,” Doran concluded, “we know that the only way to establish long-term change is by breaking through the surface to start building for the future.”
On Wednesday night, Ohio State Athletics kicked off its first event of its equality program with a Q&A panel for all student athletes, coaches, and administration to learn about resources available to student athletes. The panel was hosted two hours prior of tipoff of the women’s basketball game vs. Penn State. As the players on the court sported ‘equality’ t-shirts, other athletes from across many different teams learned what the word equality meant for them.
On the panel, three guest speakers shared the spotlight to answer questions, share stories, and inform students of different resources available. The panel was comprised of, Karen Alsbrooks, executive director of organizational development at Ohio State and former student-athlete, Gretchen Metzelaars, senior associate vice president of student life, and Alana Jochum, attorney and executive director of Equality Ohio.