Step up to the starting line of a Spartan race and you’ll look around to find that your fellow Spartans are as diverse and unique as Spartan’s obstacle-filled courses themselves. The faces and bodies, each with their own unique stories, come together with one common goal in mind: to see what they can do. No matter where we’re from, what we look like, or what we believe in, Spartan is here to challenge us, and, ultimately, unite us.
Still, across the globe, athletes who identify as LGBTQ experience barriers to entry in sports, an area in which gender stereotypes, homophobic slurs, and exclusion based on sexual orientation can be pervasive.
According to GLSEN, an organization that champions LGBTQ issues in K-12 education, these challenges set in early. In fact, more than half of LGBTQ students have been harassed during physical education. Plus, one survey found that LGBTQ students were half as likely to participate in school sports as their peers (2013).
That’s why we at Spartan Race believe it’s crucial to celebrate gay athletes who have persevered over adversity, and not only survive, but win. In honor of this pride month, we pulled together our shortlist of six badasses making a difference in their sports.
1. Elite Spartan Alyssa Hawley
Spartan elite racer Alyssa Hawley shared her personal thoughts with us about her experience as a Spartan.
I love how inclusive the Spartan community is. I love how it is a sport for anyone regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, ability or background. It’s one thing to be able to do the race. But what keeps you coming back is the community and the people you meet. I have met lifelong friends of all ages. I’ve had some amazing families host me during far away races. And I have seen first hand how willing people are to help each other on the course. People who might not even shoot a glance at each other in a public setting.
The true beauty of this was when I first came out. I was terrified. My episode was airing on NBC in front of thousands of eyes. I had no idea what to expect. And honestly, nothing changed! I had most people give me cheers, only a handful of jeers. I have always felt I can be myself in this community. I hope to inspire others to be themselves. I hope that it also inspires other communities to be inclusive and set aside any differences or beliefs for love of sport.
My best advice would be to just be kind to others and validate others feelings. Just because you wouldn’t feel or believe a certain way shouldn’t diminish some else’s ideals — or them as a person. You can have different opinions and co-exist. I really believe we are all just trying to be better versions of ourselves.
You never know what someone may be going through or the difference that you can make just by acknowledging someone. I love this Spartan community and I am so grateful for each and every person!
-Alyssa Hawley, @Christian.warrior14
2. Dutee Chand
One prime example: This May, just in time for Pride Month, runner Dutee Chand, a two-time silver medal winner at the 2018 Asian Games, became India’s first openly gay athlete, just months after her nation struck down a decades-long ban on gay sex.
Chand, who comes from a traditional village of working-class weavers, risked everything to compete as her authentic self and provide a model for the LGBTQ community around the world. Her decision to come out is courage in its purest form.
Chand’s bravery continues to build on the progressed a number of other publicly LGBTQ athletes have paved the way for, including:
3. Jason Collins
In 2013, this veteran NBA player became the first active male athlete in the world of major U.S. team sports to come out as gay. He did so in his own words in Sports Illustrated, saying, “I was certain that my world would fall apart if anyone knew. And yet, when I acknowledged my sexuality, I felt whole for the first time.”
4. Michael Sam
This former Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year came out before the 2014 NFL Draft, becoming the first openly gay football player in the NFL. He was subsequently drafted onto the Rams in the seventh round, but cut during pre-season. Sam retired from football in 2015, citing mental health issues. No other NFL player has come out since. In Out magazine, Sam said, “I sacrificed my career… to live my life. That being said, it also helped a lot of people in the process.”
5. Collin Martin
This Minnesota United soccer player came out with the support of his team in 2018, becoming the only openly gay male athlete in Major League Soccer.
6. Elena Delle Donne
A player for WNBA team the Washington Mystics, Delle Donne came out (and announced her engagement to Amanda Clifton, now her wife) in the lead-up to the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Gay Athletes Paving The Way
When a gay athlete sprints, climbs, throws, jumps, shoots or grapples as out and proud, there’s always someone watching, whether a student who has been harassed in the locker room or a player who remains in the closet in order to stay on a team.
At Spartan Race, where our ethos is One Spartan One Tribe, we continue to cultivate (Pride month or not!) a culture of inclusivity that values mental toughness and performance, for anyone and everyone.