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10 questions for Rennae Stubbs

Tennis legend reflects on record-busting season

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From left, Bobby Reynolds, Rennae Stubbs, Owner Mark Ein, Coach Murphy Jensen, Arina Rodionova and Leander Paes. (Photo courtesy the Kastles)

Last month the Washington Kastles won the World Team Tennis (WTT) championships and capped off a perfect 16-0 season which included 14 wins in the regular season. This was the first time since the league began in 1974 that a team has completed an undefeated season and gone on to win the championships.

The bulk of the workload rested on the shoulders of Arina Rodionova, Leander Paes, Bobby Reynolds and Rennae Stubbs with an assist by Venus and Serena Williams. With the new Kastles Stadium at The Wharf and multiple sellout home matches, the season was truly magical.

After the dust settled, Coach Murphy Jensen was named WTT 2011 Coach of the Year, Leander Paes was named WTT 2011 Male MVP and Arina Rodionova was named WTT 2011 Female Rookie of the Year.

The final home match of the season was also Night Out with the Kastles for the LGBT community. Kastles stalwart and LGBT sports hero Rennae Stubbs, a lesbian, sat down to reflect on the winning season.

BLADE: The media has assigned nicknames for the four mainstays of the team. Rodionova is Hot Rod. Paes is Scissorhands. Reynolds is The Closer. I have heard them refer to you as Stubbsy. Do you have a favorite nickname for yourself?

STUBBS: I had not heard of Leander being called Scissorhands, I think Magician is probably more appropriate and as for me, Stubbsy has been my nickname for as long as I can remember, so I will stick with it.

BLADE: Coach Murphy Jensen seems to embody the perfect mix of leadership, motivation and fun. What’s it like to play tennis for him?

STUBBS: Murphy was and is the perfect combination of all those things. With an experienced team like Leander, myself and Bobby, there isn’t too much tennis instruction or experience he needs to push on us, more just keeping us positive in tough moments and keeping us laughing. With Arina it was a matter of him keeping her positive and feeling good.

BLADE: I love the camaraderie of the players on the court in World Team Tennis. It’s like your entourage is out there with you.  That must be a great change of pace from the WTA tour. Do you love it?

STUBBS: I do love it. I have always loved being on a team and team tennis with it’s balance and equality make it the perfect team environment. Our team camaraderie was the reason behind our success this year. We always supported each other. There were nights when one of us might have had a rough set and we would always say, ‘Hey I got your back tonight,’ and we always did. We cared for one another and our team owner Mark Ein kept stressing to us, keep supporting each other. We even started to get together in huddles in the middle of matches and end of matches and motivate each other. Saying things like, ‘Everyone keep taking care of your own business and no matter what we support each other to the end.’ It was such a nice feeling in the end to continually support and motivate one another and get the job done. I was so proud of us.

BLADE: Do you get to enjoy the sights and sounds of D.C. when the Kastles are in town, or is it all business?

STUBBS: Unfortunately there isn’t a lot of down time, but one Sunday I had off and I did as much site seeing as possible. I absolutely love the city, its architecture and parks are so beautiful. I tell all my friends, it’s a must on the list of cities to see, truly a favorite.

BLADE: You and Leander Paes are two of the greatest doubles players of all time. Did you play together before partnering for the Kastles?

STUBBS: Only once. It was back a few years ago at Wimbledon.   We lost in the first round, but it was a close match and it was a really tough draw. Most other times we have had regular partners and plus he wins without me.

BLADE: You have competed for Australia in four consecutive Olympics. Are you gunning for a berth in 2012 in London?

STUBBS: I will never say never, but that is a long way away and I just can’t see myself going for another full year of the tour. It would be amazing to play an Olympics at Wimbledon, I won’t lie, but like I said, that’s seems like an eternity to me right now.

BLADE: You picked up the microphone and gave a heartfelt thanks to the fans at the Kastles season finale. Did the new stadium and the sellout crowds motivate you or add to the pressure?

STUBBS: Oh it motivated me for sure and I know the rest of the team felt the same way. The work that Mark Ein and his staff did to get that great new stadium up and running every night was amazing. Also the fans were the reason we won most of those matches this year, especially the tough ones. We have the best fans in the league and to not thank them after the season we had, would not have felt right, especially after going 14-0. I wanted to let everyone know how much we appreciated their support all season and I promised them we would bring the title back to D.C.

BLADE: Was there a doubles team this year in WTT that rattled your cage?

STUBBS: Not really. I am want to beat everyone I play and contribute as much as possible to the end score for our team. There might be a team or two that motivates a little more, but overall, a win’s a win. The most nervous I was all season was when the first lady Michelle Obama and her kids came. I was really motivated that night to play well, I won’t lie. And they were so into it, it was great and they could not have been nicer. Only in D.C.

Rennae Stubbs (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

BLADE: At the regular season finale at Kastles Stadium against the Philadelphia Freedoms, the heat index was 115 degrees. What do you think it smelled like inside of Topspin and Slice’s mascot uniforms?

STUBBS: Oh gross! We all kept saying, ‘Oh Topspin and Slice must being dying, we better keep an eye on them, in case they start fainting.’ Troopers.

BLADE: Will you be back in 2012?

STUBBS: I would love to come back, but that’s again an eternity for me and I can’t say if I will be playing. I think it might be the perfect way to exit into WTT retirement, but we will see. But I can guarantee you, no matter in what capacity, I will be back to D.C. and the Kastles whenever I can. Maybe we can get a visit to the White House. Thank for all the community support. I love you guys.

 

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Trans women banned from track and field, intersex athletes restricted

World Athletics Council policy to go into effect March 31

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CeCé Telfer (Photo courtesy of Instagram)

The organization that makes the rules for track and field meets around the world declared Thursday it will bar transgender women who have experienced male puberty from competing, a move that was anticipated following a similar trans ban issued last year by the governing body for world swimming.

As the Associated Press noted, at this moment there are zero trans women competing at the elite level of track and field. But the edict, which the World Athletics Council announced will take effect on the Transgender Day of Visibility, March 31, is crushing news for one hopeful. 
In May 2019, CeCé Telfer won the 400m hurdles at the Division II championships and became the first out trans woman to win an NCAA title. She’s been training ever since for her shot at the Olympics, despite being ruled ineligible for Beijing at the trials in 2021. The Jamaican-American had set a goal of qualifying for Paris in 2024. But the World Athletics ban ends that dream.

Telfer tweeted Thursday, “It feels as though the world stopped moving.”

Another ruling by the group will likely mean no shot at the Olympics for another Black woman athlete, two-time gold medalist Caster Semenya. The South African track icon is not trans, but because of her higher than typical testosterone levels, she has been barred from competing in her signature event, the 800m. World Athletics took that from her around the same time Telfer made history, in May 2019. 

The group issued an eligibility ruling that prohibits female athletes like Semenya who have Differences in Sexual Development from competing in women’s events, from the 400m to one mile (1600m), unless they reduce their testosterone levels. So, Semenya chose to run in longer events than she did previously. She finished 13th in her qualifying heat at 5,000 meters at world championships last year as she worked to adapt to longer distances, in preparation for Paris. 

“I’m in the adaptation phase, and my body is starting to fit with it. I’m just enjoying myself at the moment, and things will fall into place at the right time,” the South African runner told the AP.

That time may now never come. On Thursday, World Athletics announced athletes who have DSD will have to undergo hormone-suppressing treatment and maintain a testosterone level of below 2.5nmol/L for 24 months, in order to be eligible to compete in any event in the female category.

Semenya vowed following the 2019 ruling that she would never again take any testosterone suppressing medication, terming the rules discriminatory and unfair.

This new rule could impact not only Semenya but also as many as a dozen other elite runners, World Athletics President Sebastian Coe said. Among them, Olympic 200-meter silver medalist Christine Mboma of Namibia, who won a silver medal in Tokyo two years ago but didn’t compete last year because of an injury. Mboma has not publicly stated whether she would be willing to undergo hormone therapy.

Like Semenya, Olympic 800-meter silver medalist Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi has said she will not undergo hormone suppression. 

Even though Niyonsaba, Mboma and Semenya are not trans like Telfer and former Connecticut high school track athletes Andraya Yearwood and Terry Miller — who have been targeted in federal court by opponents of inclusion — there is one thing all these women have in common: They are all women of color, and all targeted for being too fast because of their natural gifts.

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Chicago Blackhawks: No Pride jerseys over Russia concerns

Several of the team’s players are Russian

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Chicago Blackhawks players wearing 'Pride Night' jerseys in April of 2022 (Photo Credit: Chicago Blackhawks/Facebook)

The National Hockey League’s Chicago Blackhawks franchise have opted to not wear the team’s Pride-themed warmup jerseys before Sunday’s Pride Night game against the Vancouver Canucks based on security concerns over the recently expanded Russian law prohibiting mention of LGBTQ rights in Russia the Associated Press reported.

According to the AP, the decision was made by the NHL organization following discussions with security officials within and outside the franchise, according to a person familiar with the situation who spoke to the AP on Wednesday on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the move.

Blackhawks defenseman Nikita Zaitsev is a Moscow native, and there are other players with family in Russia or other connections to the country the AP noted.

The team has participated in the LGBTQ themed part of the ‘Hockey is for everyone‘ campaign and has in previous years set aside recognition for the LGBTQ community in Pride night celebrations.

While the team will forgo the jerseys, the AP noted that DJs from the LGBTQ community will play before the game and during an intermission, and the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus also is slated to perform. There also are plans to highlight a couple of area businesses with ties to the LGBTQ community.

The decision by the team has sparked outage including Outsports editor Cyd Zeigler, who noted on Twitter that the NHL has an inclusion problem as the Chicago team joins the New York Rangers, who opted not to wear Pride jerseys or use Pride stick tape as part of their Pride night this past January despite previously advertising that plan. The Rangers’ Pride Night was held 10 days after Ivan Provorov, the alternate captain for the National Hockey League’s Philadelphia Flyers, opted out of participating in the team’s Pride Night charity event before the game Tuesday, claiming a religious exemption based on his Russian Orthodox faith.

San Jose Sharks goalie James Reimer didn’t take part in the Sharks Pride Night wearing Pride-themed jerseys in support of the LGBTQ community, telling multiple media outlets that support of the LGBTQ community runs counter to his religious beliefs.

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Put this out gay trailblazer’s supportive coach in your bracket

‘Coach Willard’s awesome,’ says Derrick Gordon of Maryland’s Kevin Willard

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Kevin Willard is not just a seasoned coach, but a strong LGBTQ ally. (Screen capture via Inside the Hall YouTube)

When the 8th seeded Maryland Terrapins faced off against No. 1 Alabama in the second round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championships last weekend, it wasn’t just the players on the hardwood who were working hard for the win. Nate Oats coached the Crimson Tide to a 73-51 victory less than an hour from their home court. And on the other side was Kevin Willard, who is not just a seasoned coach, but a strong LGBTQ ally. 

Willard was Derrick Gordon’s coach at Seton Hall when he transferred from UMass in 2015, a year after he came out as the first out gay Division I Men’s basketball player in the NCAA. 

Gordon has credited Willard with creating a comfortable environment, after he “bumped heads” with former UMass coach Derek Kellogg during his two seasons with the Minutemen. In contrast, he said he instantly connected with Willard, and told his teammates and Willard following his final season at Seton Hall that he wished he had another year of eligibility remaining. He’s said he considered Willard the best coach he’d ever played for.

“He just made it comfortable for me,” Gordon told Glenn Clark Radio in an interview broadcast on March 22, 2022. “He said, ‘You know what, we’re more focused on who you are as a person and a basketball player and what you bring to the team.’ He voiced that over and over again. When I went on my visit, I just felt even more comfortable, met a couple of the guys. They made me feel right at home as well, so it was kind of like an easy decision. Coach Willard’s awesome. He’s an amazing guy.”

If you don’t believe Gordon, ask the West Virginia Mountaineers, who lost to the Terrapins in the first round 67-65. Maryland’s win “took the paint off the floor at Legacy Arena” in Birmingham, Ala., as Brendan Quinn wrote in The Athletic. He described Willard’s style of coaching this way:

“Willard paced the sideline, as he does. The man is intense. Doesn’t suffer fools. Serious stuff. No BS. Black eyes screwed deep in a bald head, no pupils. He regards things sideways, incredulous toward anyone who doesn’t come correct. It’s his whole thing. If Guy Ritchie cast a college basketball coach, it’d be Willard.” 

Gordon told Glenn Clark Radio that he particularly recalled the kind of support Willard gave him in one practice early in his Seton Hall career, according to Press Box Online.

“I remember a particular situation that happened in practice — came down the court and I was wide open and I didn’t shoot it,” Gordon said in the 2022 interview. “[Willard] stopped practice and he said, ‘You’re not at [UMass] anymore. I trust you. I believe in you. Shoot the ball.’ Ever since then, my confidence was through the roof, especially dealing with I had to deal with when I was at UMass with that coach to playing under Coach Willard and him telling me that specifically, he just let me play my game.”

Last July, Gordon posted on Instagram that after playing a few seasons in Europe for Cyprus and Germany, “I decided to end my career as a professional athlete.”

Gordon is now 31, and he told his followers he is working on a book about his life “on and off the court,” in hopes he might “help gay young people, student athletes in particular and others who are struggling to pursue careers in professional sports or any career paths they chose without fear or shame.” 

Since Christmas, he’s been sharing posts that include photos with his boyfriend, actor Scott Backman of Los Angeles, including one from last week, captioned: “Every time we’re together, it’s like falling in love all over again.”

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