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Swimming against the tide

Pioneer athlete Evan Cobb recalls college career



Evan Cobb, gay news, Washington Blade
Evan Cobb, gay news, Washington Blade

Evan Cobb came out as a varsity swimmer at Oberlin College years before it was trendy. (Photo courtesy Cobb)

The LGBT sports movement has gained a lot of steam over the past few years. With diversity training and support coming from athlete outreach programs such as Changing the Game, Athlete Ally, You Can Play and Go! Athletes, the evolution of accepting an out athlete into a team situation has progressed rapidly.

A lot of the new dynamic has been accomplished through the changing attitudes in sports leadership. Coaches, athletic directors and sports team managers are feeling the social responsibility to create safe environments for their athletes.

The result of these changes is that more athletes are starting to come out, but we wouldn’t be where we are now without the athletes who stepped forward in the past.

In the collegiate setting, one of the early athlete pioneers was Evan Cobb, a varsity swimmer from Oberlin College who voluntarily came out during the first few months of his freshman year in 1997.

Cobb, from Fredonia, N.Y., was directed to the small liberal arts college in Ohio by an aunt who was involved with the Conservatory of Music at Oberlin. She believed that the left- leaning countercultural atmosphere of the campus would offer Cobb the opportunity to thrive.

His aunt was right about the vibe on the Oberlin campus and Cobb decided to come out to his coach, Dick Michaels, in October of 1997.

“I knew it was going to be tough,” Cobb says. “When I walked into his office, he looked up at me and said, ‘You have been missing practices. What’s up?’”

Cobb went on to have a positive athletic college experience and still thinks of Michaels as one of the most important mentors in his life. What he didn’t know at the time was that Michaels’ own son had come out just a few days earlier.

A year later, in Cobb’s sophomore year, Michael Muska was hired as athletic director at Oberlin College and was quickly outed by the Chronicle of Higher Education. It is believed that Muska was the first openly gay athletic director in a collegiate setting.

Westboro Baptist Church threatened to protest at the college but once again the tradition of openness and tolerance at Oberlin prevailed as the college stood behind its new athletic director.

The incident drew the attention of ESPN, which included Muska in a segment of its series “Outside the Lines.” Cobb also appeared in the segment along with high school football player and wrestler, Greg Congdon, who received terrible backlash after being outed.

“I appeared in the segment talking with my face blurred out,” Cobb says. “It felt incongruous to appear that way, but my younger brother had not been told yet that I was gay and I didn’t want him to find out on television.”

One thing that hasn’t changed as a result of the LGBT sports movement is the questions that are being asked by the media — the same questions Cobb was asked 17 years ago.

Is there sexual tension? Is there homophobia? What is it like in the locker room?

For Cobb, there was never a problem in the locker room at his own college. He says he did experience stress when the team competed at away meets, but he attributes that more to the heightened feeling of jock culture at the other colleges than to gay stigma.

At the time, the ESPN segment didn’t receive much buzz and there wasn’t the expected ripple effect. The media frenzy over the Michael Sam kiss last year points to how things have changed over the years.

Cobb went on to do his graduate work at Yale and moved to New York City in 2010. Now 35, he is working as a community manager for corporate affairs and is happily competing for the LGBT swim team Team New York Aquatics.

In 2011, he responded to a posting from Dr. Truett Vaigneur who was looking for participants to appear in an educational documentary about how being an athlete forms the identity of a gay man in terms of masculinity and self-esteem.

The resulting film “The University Pool” showcases three former collegiate swimmers who are gay and addresses how their experiences defined them.

“I think my positive college experience actually gave the film a different feel,” Cobb says. “My acceptance at Oberlin points to the power of leadership.”

Following the release of the film, the participants, including LGBT sports leaders Hudson Taylor, Jeff Kagan and Colin Joyner, appeared in panel discussions at universities and were able to interact with current students.

“I consider it to be one of the greatest privileges of my life that I was able to compete in collegiate sports as an openly gay man,” Cobb says. “I am very happy to be a part of the continuing cycle of what it is like to be an open college athlete.”

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Federal judge temporarily blocks anti-trans youth sports law in Indiana

The injunction requires that A.M., a 10 -year-old trans girl, must be allowed to rejoin her school’s all-girls softball team



On Tuesday Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana issued an preliminary injunction that blocked an Indiana law that prevents trans youth from playing on sports teams that match their gender identity.

The injunction requires that A.M., a 10 -year-old trans girl, must be allowed to rejoin her school’s all-girls softball team while litigation continues.  

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed a lawsuit in April, on behalf of A.M., challenging House Enrolled Act 1041, which bans transgender girls from participating in school sports. 

Ken Falk, legal director at the ACLU of Indiana, issued the following statement: 

“When misinformation about biology and gender is used to bar transgender girls from school sports it amounts to the same form of sex discrimination that has long been prohibited under Title IX, a law that protects all students – including trans people – on the basis of sex.  

“We are pleased that Judge Magnus-Stinson has recognized this and required that A.M. be allowed to play on her school’s softball team.  

“If other students are being denied the right to join a sports team at their school due to their transgender status, we encourage them to contact the ACLU of Indiana immediately.” 

This past May, the Indiana Legislature had voted to overturn Republican Governor Eric Holcomb’s March veto of HB 1041, a measure that bans transgender girls from competing on girls’ K-12 sports teams in the state.

The vote to override the veto means that this law makes Indiana the 8th state to ban trans youth from playing sports in 2022 by legislative action — and the 16th in the country.

In his veto message sent to House Speaker Todd Huston’s office, Holcomb said the bill presumed a problem already existed that required the state to intervene and it implied the goals of consistency and fairness in girls’ sports were not being met.

“After thorough review, I find no evidence to support either claim even if I support the overall goal,” Holcomb wrote.

“Governor Holcomb was the second governor this year to uphold the dignity of transgender and nonbinary youth, and veto an attempt by lawmakers to write them out of existence. While those young people continue to face unrelenting political attacks, the Indiana legislature voted to override his act of courage and compassion, pushing these marginalized youth even further to the sidelines,” said Sam Ames, Director of Advocacy and Government Affairs at The Trevor Project.

“This bill claimed to solve a problem of ‘fairness’ in school sports in Indiana that didn’t exist, but its negative impacts on the mental health and well-being of trans and nonbinary youth — young people who already face disproportionate rates of bullying, depression, and suicide — are very real. To the young people in Indiana watching tonight: you are stronger than they know. We are here for you, we will fight for you, and we are not going anywhere.”

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DC Commanders notch Pride Bowl victory

Local teams ‘overcome some difficulties’ to score wins



The DC Commanders won their championship game 8-0 last month. (Photo courtesy DCGFFL)

Pride Bowl XIV was contested in Chicago in late June drawing more than 800 players from across the country. The annual tournament featured 32 teams in the Open Division and 12 teams in the Women’s Division.

For the DC Gay Flag Football League (DCGFFL) travel teams, it marked their second tournament of the year having previously competed in the Florida Sunshine Cup XI in February.

The DCGFFL sent five travel teams consisting of more than 80 athletes to Chicago – three teams in the Open Division and two teams in the Women’s Division. 

Each team was guaranteed four games in bracket play with the winners moving on to the semifinals. The DC Admirals, Washington Generals, DC Commanders, and DC Senators Black all advanced to compete in the final four.

The DC Commanders would go on to win their championship game 8-0, defeating the Austin Capitals in the Open B2 Bracket. They scored early in the game and held off their opponent over two 30-minute halves in a tough defensive battle.

Three players from the DCGFFL travel teams were selected to the Pride Bowl All-Tournament Team – Drew Crane of the Washington Generals, Matan Showstack of the DC Commanders, and Derrick Johnson of the Washington Generals.

Clay Arnold has been on the DC Commanders’ travel team for six years and has captained since 2018. This year will mark the first full travel season post-COVID for the players who will also be traveling to Honolulu for Gay Bowl XXII in October.

“We have overcome some difficulties to get back to taking the majority of our players to tournaments, including securing enough money to pay for jerseys,” says Arnold. “The Commanders brought five players who had never traveled and it’s great having new talent.”

There was a special meaning for Arnold in the win, as it brought reflections of his teammate, John Boyd, who passed in 2020.

“We played on the same field where John threw his first touchdown pass as a quarterback,” Arnold says. “It was a great punctuation mark, and I was joyous for many reasons.”

Arnold points to the travel experience as a tight-knit community filled with amazing people, lifelong friends, and an elevated level of competition.

“Several years ago we didn’t compete well and ended up skipping the closing events to lick our wounds at a local dive bar in Chicago,” Arnold says. “We have returned to that same bar every year and are welcomed with open arms. Sharing that quality time with your teammates and the next generation of players is what keeps me coming back.”

Nikki Kasparek founded the DCGFFL’s first women’s travel team, DC Senators, in 2014 with Gay Bowl XIV being their first tournament.

Pride Bowl marked another first for the players as two DCGFFL women’s travel teams competed in the tournament – DC Senators Black and DC Senators Red.

“It was exciting having a second team there and it gave us a built-in cheering section,” says Kasparek. “The group of women on our second team energized all of us and everyone put in significant playing time. The Red team was captained by two veterans and the rest of the players were all rookies.”

The DCGFFL has experienced significant growth in women’s players over the past two seasons with 35 women currently playing in the leagues.

Kasparek, who has a wife and two kids at home, says she is very tied to the Senators and the DCGFFL and is excited about all of the new players.

“I am incredibly competitive and the DCGFFL leagues and travel tournaments allow me to scratch that itch,” Kasparek says. “I am going to enjoy all of it – the friendships, the seasons, the tournaments, the moments – until I can’t flex that muscle anymore.”

Along with the increase in women’s players, the DCGFFL has picked up over 100 new players in the past two seasons. Logan Dawson was recently elected as the new commissioner and also played for the Commanders at Pride Bowl.

“Traveling is a great opportunity to bond with your teammates and compete with the best players from all the cities in attendance,” says Dawson. “It is a higher level of competition than our league play and offers our players an experience that will improve their skill set.”

The DCGFFL has been using the DC Commanders name for many years and have no plans to change it because of the recent name change of the NFL’s Washington Commanders.

“We like the connection and for the first time ever, members of the DC Commanders and the DCGFFL marched side-by-side with members of the Washington Commanders’ organization in the Capital Pride parade this year,” Dawson says. “We will also have interaction with them at their Pride Night this September.”

Registration is now open for Season XXIII of the DCGFFL. Coming up for their travel teams are Beach Bowl 2022 and Gay Bowl XXII.

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Arts & Entertainment

Lia Thomas nominated for the 2022 NCAA Woman of the Year award

The former University of Pennsylvania swimmer has been the center of national debate about transgender athletes in sports.



Lia Thomas, the first transgender woman who has earned a national title in Division 1 athletics, was nominated by the University of Pennsylvania for the 2022 NCAA Woman of the Year award. The former University of Pennsylvania swimmer has been the center of national debate about transgender athletes in sports.

The NCAA Woman of the Year Award was established to honor senior female student-athletes who demonstrate excelling performances in academics, athletics and community services at college.

In March, Thomas, joined the women’s swimming team after competing against men for three years, became the first transgender woman to have a national title in Division 1. She finished the 500-yard freestyle event in the fastest time recorded in the NCAA season. 

However, such attention-drawing performances also brought Thomas to the heated debate over whether transgender women should compete with cisgender women.

In February, sixteen of Thomas’ teammates wrote an unsigned letter to Penn and Ivy League officials, and pointed out that Thomas held biologically “unfair advantages.” 

In March, conservative Christian organization Concerned Women for American (CWA) filed a lawsuit against University of Pennsylvania, stating by allowing Thomas to compete UPenn failed to protect the rights of other college female athletes.

“The future of women’s sports is at risk and the equal rights of female athletes are being infringed,” said Penny Nance, CEO and President of Concerned Women for America, in a CWA statement.  

“Any school that defies federal civil rights law by denying women equal opportunities in athletic programs, forcing women to compete against athletes who are biologically male must be held accountable.”

Last month, the International Swimming Federation (FINA) approved the new policy to bar transgender athletes from competitions consistent with their gender identity, unless they can prove that “they have not experienced any part of male puberty beyond Tanner Stage 2 or before age 12, whichever is later.”

Similarly, USA Swimming, the national governing body for competitive swimming, adopted a more restrictive policy requiring transgender women to prove that the concentration of testosterone in their blood was less than 5 nanomoles per liter for 36 consecutive months or more. 

The NCAA is currently reviewing the new policy but hasn’t adopted it yet.

In total 18 states have enacted laws banning transgender athletes from sports consistent with their gender identity, and around 30% transgender athletes are accordingly affected.

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