Terps field hockey, men’s soc­cer teams to sup­port LGBT ath­letes

Games sched­uled ahead of Na­tional Com­ing Out Day

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Jonas Shaf­fer jshaf­fer@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/jonas_shaf­fer

In the early 1980s, when the AIDS epi­demic was es­ca­lat­ing in the United States and do­mes­tic-part­ner­ship laws were still a novelty, Missy Me­harg was play­ing field hockey at Delaware and dat­ing men and women. She was les­bian, but same-sex re­la­tion­ships, she said, were “so not ac­cepted,” so she did what was ex­pected.

In 2005, just a year af­ter Mas­sachusetts be­came the first state to legally rec­og­nize gay mar­riages and months af­ter Pope John Paul II called them “evil,” Rob­bie Rogers was play­ing soc­cer at Mary­land and clos­eted. His team­mates went out and par­tied with fe­male stu­dents. They dated them. Rogers “really strug­gled,” he said; he was most ex­pres­sive on the field, where his ori­en­ta­tion mat­tered not.

Tonight, ahead of Tues­day’s Na­tional Com­ing Out Day, the Terps field hockey and men’s soc­cer teams will head­line the first Mary­land United Night, part of the univer­sity’s con­tin­u­ing ef­forts to cel­e­brate and foster an in­clu­sive ath­letic com­mu­nity. In April, the ath­letic depart­ment part­nered with Ath­lete Ally and PFLAG to host the first Mary­land In­ter­col­le­giate Ath­let­ics Sum­mit.

Tonight’s event, nat­u­rally, of­fers the op­por­tu­nity to ap­pre­ci­ate how far the LGBT com­mu­nity in Col­lege Park, and be­yond, has come. Me­harg, the long­time coach of the No. 7 Terps, is mar­ried to her part­ner and has two chil­dren. Rogers, a for­mer na­tional-team player who is now a mem­ber of the Los Angeles Galaxy’s re­serve team, came out three years ago and be­came the first openly gay player in Ma­jor League Soc­cer his­tory. Even Mary­land it­self, the first state to de­fine mar­riage as a union be­tween a man and a woman, is now among the most pro­gres­sive states in the na­tion.

“I would say ev­ery 10 years has supplied a dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ment for young, gay, les­bian, bi­sex­ual stu­dent-ath­letes,” Me­harg said in a tele­con­fer­ence Wed­nes­day. “There was a pe­riod of a time there where maybe I was the one as the leader or the coach that was think­ing that it wasn’t out, when they’re all out. They all know so much about each other. It’s us, ac­tu­ally, that prob­a­bly don’t know what we don’t know.”

The night’s fes­tiv­i­ties are tai­lored to its mes­sage. A mem­ber of the Gay Men’s Cho­rus of Wash­ing­ton will sing the na­tional an­them be­fore Me­harg’s Terps host Michi­gan State. A silent auc­tion at the No. 1 Mary­land men’s soc­cer team’s game against Ohio State will ben­e­fit the Gay, Les­bian, & Straight Ed­u­ca­tion Net­work. The univer­sity’s Of­fice of Di­ver­sity & In­clu­sion will be pro­mot­ing ac­cep­tance and in­clu­sive­ness to at­tend­ing fans.

It is a theme that has par­tic­u­lar res­o­nance among young ath­letes. Ac­cord­ing to an in­ter­na­tional study on ho­mo­pho­bia in sports re­leased last year, 83 per­cent of gay male ath­letes and 63 per­cent of les­bian fe­male ath­letes un­der age 22 said they were keep­ing their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion hidden from all or some of their team­mates. More than three-quar­ters of all re­spon­dents sur­veyed said they be­lieve youth sports were not safe or sup­port­ive for LGBT peo­ple.

“Peo­ple al­ways ask me, ‘What do we need to change the en­vi­ron­ment? What do we need to do to have more ath­letes come out?’ ” Rogers said in the tele­con­fer­ence. “The most dif­fi­cult an­swer to that, or the truth about it is, you can only do so much. But really, it’s go­ing to come down to the ath­letes.”

As the coun­try’s at­ti­tudes about same­sex cou­ples have shifted in re­cent years — ac­cord­ing to the most re­cent Pew Re­search Cen­ter polling, a ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans (55 per­cent) sup­port same-sex mar­riage, up from 37 per­cent in 2009 — prom­i­nent gay and les­bian U.S. ath­letes in­creas­ingly have come out.

In 2013, Rogers and then-NBA player Ja­son Collins pub­licly an­nounced their ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity. The next year, it was Michael Sam, an All-Amer­ica de­fen­sive end at Mis­souri. WNBA star Elena Delle Donne re­vealed in Au­gust that she is gay and en­gaged, an an­nounce­ment no­table, in hind­sight, for hownor­mally it was cov­ered.

As for what comes next, Me­harg and Rogers couldn’t say. Me­harg called to­day’s stu­dent-ath­letes, both straight and les­bian, more ac­cept­ing and open than they’ve ever been in her 29 years at the school.

Rogers has given up hop­ing for more male ath­letes to come out. He and his boyfriend are rais­ing a baby boy now. The so­ci­ety that lit­tle Caleb will in­habit when he grows up is of greater in­ter­est.

“It took me 25 years [to come out], so who am I to judge peo­ple for that?” Rogers said. “Ev­ery­one has their place and time.” Field hockey Tonight, 6 p.m. Men’s soc­cer Tonight, 7

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