Athletes with purpose
Athletes deal with a lot of issues on a daily basis. They need to balance the varied schedules of academics, careers and athletics; keep themselves in top physical condition; and deal with the stresses of competition both in the locker room with their peers and on the playing field.
Imagine dealing with all of that and also struggling with the growing realizations of a young gay athlete: the understanding that they’re different somehow from their peers. With that difference comes uneasiness in their surrounding, detachment from their peers and growing questions – What if I’m discovered? Will I still be able to play the sport I love? Will my teammates laugh at me or, worse, turn against me if they knew?
The ABS mentor-athletes know what it is to go through that struggle. They have all been there. Some managed to navigate the minefield of peer pressure and personal doubt and discovered accepting teammates and coaches. Others took the tentative steps of speaking to teammates – or were outted against their will – and faced ridicule, bullying and, for some, banishment from the sport they loved. Theirs was a difficult transition but both situations – the positive and negative – were embraced and conquered by our mentor-athletes. They are strong, resilient LGBT athletes willing to lend their experiences and wisdom.
An athlete contacts us through either our e-mail address or text message number and the ABS coordinator begins the intake process. The coordinator has an initial conversation with the caller to determine geographic location sport affiliations, to answer questions or to facilitate any immediate referrals. Contact information is exchanged. The coordinator then matches the caller to an available mentor and will hand off the caller’s information to that mentor.
What is the “match” process?
The coordinator matches an athlete to a mentor based solely on scheduling, gender and occasionally on the type of sport the athlete plays. If there is a mentor available, regardless of sport played, then he or she may be offered the mentorship opportunity. We will generally pair male athletes with men and female athletes with women. This is an acknowledgement that the differences between the experiences of gay and lesbian athletes – both in the locker room and on the field – outweigh the similarities.
We have found that matching based on age, experiences and other likely commonalities between athletes often creates assumptions between an athlete and his/her mentor that are not founded in truth. In our experience, matching two dissimilar people creates more room for dialogue, questions and exploration of issues.
How does the relationship between athlete and mentor proceed from the match?
The mentor will initially contact the athlete via e-mail. From there, a mutually determined schedule of e-mails, texts or phone calls will be assembled as a way of organizing the time for both the athlete and the mentor. This is a highly flexible organic process. The bottom line is achieving a comfort level in the communications between the LGBT athlete and his/her athlete-mentor.
Typically, the relationship lasts from three to eight sessions. It is our goal to see progress in the issues affecting the LGBT athlete and not to create a dependent relationship. If the sessions end and the athlete feels the need for more input, he/she should go through the intake process with the coordinator again. We do this to protect the time of our mentor-athletes who – besides volunteering for the Athlete Buddy System – have other commitments with careers, athletic activities and their loved ones.
Where do we find our mentors?
The GForce teams have provided a number of LGBT athletes willing to share their stories and experiences. We also use referrals from members and allies of GForce Sports and actively contact both gay athletes and lesbian athletes, as well as coaches, who have been in the media. Outsports.com continually publishes stories about recently out LGBT athletes and that provides us a source of potential mentors that cover the full range of athletic disciplines.
We strive to build a team of mentor-athletes that embrace the diversity of gay culture and actively engage LGBT athletes of all races, ethnicities, and cultural backgrounds.
Does the relationship ever develop beyond an athlete/mentor relationship?
We understand and expect that friendships may develop from these candid discussions. We hope that mentors serve as role models of sorts once the formal counseling sessions come to an end.
With that said, the Athlete Buddy System is neither a recruiting tool for GForce's teams nor a dating service. Direct face-to-face contact between an athlete and his/her mentor is discouraged and romantic – or sexual – contact is forbidden. Our mentors have each pledged to avoid such contact and to maintain a strictly professional relationship with their client.
How does the Athlete Buddy System deal with minors?
It is the policy of the ABS Program to provide an open dialogue about sexual orientation to any gay athlete or, really, anyone who contacts us. Minors face the same issues as older athletes and often face bigger challenges with regards to bullying, anti-gay discourse in the locker room and on the field, and the lack of role models. In the absence of adult counsel, minors can fall into depression, substance abuse and feelings of hopelessness or suicide.
The Athlete Buddy System currently has several ABS mentor-athletes who work with minors on a daily basis as teachers or coaches, and who have had background checks because of these affiliations. Any minor athlete who needs our help will only be directed to these few mentors.
Our mentor-athletes are not experts and don’t present themselves as such. Our approach uses the natural bonds of athletes over their shared interest in teamwork, strength, conditioning, winning and open ended questions about what they're experiencing to help the caller understand themselves better. The mentor-athlete injects his/her experiences or those of their teammates to illustrate and teach where appropriate, but relies on the caller to come to realizations and make decisions based on their own situations.
We find that that either texting or e-mail are the best ways to foster the conversation and we avoid personal contact between a mentor and a minor.