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Hudson Taylor returns to competitive sports

Champion wrestler starts over in Brazilian jiu jitsu

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Hudson Taylor, gay news, Washington Blade

After a successful college wrestling career, Hudson Taylor, center, started over in Brazilian jiu jitsu. (Photo courtesy Taylor)

When Hudson Taylor appeared as the guest editor of the Washington Blade Sports Issue in 2015, he was already in his fifth year of serving as executive director of Athlete Ally, which he co-founded along with his wife Lia. Their mission is to end homophobia and transphobia in sports by providing public awareness campaigns, educational programming and tools and resources to foster inclusive sports communities.

At the same time, he was volunteering as an assistant wrestling coach at Columbia University. The coaching position allowed him to keep in touch with the sport that he loves, stay in shape and remain involved in the culture of sports.

His duties at Athlete Ally escalated to a point that required his attention on a full-time basis and he left his life as a wrestler behind to focus on the mission of his nonprofit.

“Wrestling had been a daily part of my life since age 6. When it ended, it was a struggle for me,” says Taylor. “The only way I knew how to stay in shape was through wrestling.”

Hudson Taylor was born in Pennington, N.J., and started wrestling at age 6. By age 10, he was committed to the sport and would go on to win nationals the following year along with maintaining top five national rankings in his weight class through eighth grade.

He next left his family home for prep school and boarded at Blair Academy for four years where he lived the life of a student-athlete. Taylor’s tenure at the school was during a wrestling dynasty that won 31 consecutive National Prep Titles from 1981 to 2012.

“One unique thing about Blair is that you are not divided across other sports. The wrestling team is committed to training year around,” Taylor says. “Outside of wrestling season, my fall sport was weightlifting and my spring sport was also weightlifting.”

Taylor was heavily recruited by colleges and could have gone anywhere. Northwestern University was his first choice, but he ultimately chose University of Maryland because its facilities were new and the theater department was the best match for what he wanted to study.

Not only was Taylor obsessed with competing, he had clear goals about other aspects of his life and they included Broadway, acting and performing. He entered the University of Maryland as a theater major with a music minor in vocal performance.

While competing at Maryland, Taylor was named the Atlantic Coastal Conference Wrestler of the Year in both 2007-08 and 2009-10, after winning the 197-pound title at the conference tournament. In his other two seasons, 2007 and 2009, Taylor finished second in his weight at the ACC’s.

On the national level, he finished third in the country in 2008 and 2009, and fourth as a senior in 2010. He is tied for fifth in career pins in the all-time NCAA record books with 87. At Maryland, he holds the school record for career pins (87), career wins (165) and pins in a single-season (24).

The time commitment proved difficult juggling sports and theater and his college major evolved into interactive performance art. It was the intermingling of sports and theater that would define his life path post-college.

To stand in solidarity with the LGBT community as a straight ally, Taylor wore an LGBT equality sticker from the Human Rights Campaign on his wrestling headgear. He received national media attention and the resulting experience would be his inspiration to launch Athlete Ally.

Fast forward to 2016 and Taylor is missing his sport. He begins stopping in at Edge Wrestling in Hoboken which offers adult wrestling, Brazilian jiu jitsu, mixed martial arts, muay thai and boxing. He would begin sparring with five-time World Jiu Jitsu champion Bernardo Faria, who is a black belt.

“Competitive jiu jitsu athletes take wrestling classes to help with their standing skills and we were having an exchange of knowledge,” says Taylor. “Not very many adults can give me a workout and I found myself getting tired; I was not in shape.”

A spark was ignited and Taylor began training in Brazilian jiu jitsu at the Marcelo Garcia Academy in NYC, which is two blocks from his Athlete Ally office. He says that wrestling and jiu jitsu are closely related but there is a huge wall between the two.

“When I first started going to the academy, I walked in as an elite level wrestler with an expectation,” Taylor says. “I ended up getting beat by people with nowhere near the time I have spent on the mat. It was both humbling and exciting to realize that I was a beginner again.”

After several months of going to classes three days a week, Taylor earned his blue belt in jiu jitsu in September, 2016.

“At that point I was like, ‘Heck, let’s compete. Put me in,’” Taylor says.

In his first tournament, the Pan IBJJF Jiu Jitsu No-Gi Championships in New York City, he won the gold medal in the super heavyweight division (215 to 220 pounds.) as a blue belt. He also entered the absolute division, which encompasses all the weight classes and won another gold medal.

“I have always been a student of my sport and obsessed with technique. Now that I am entering a new sport, I get to learn a whole new body of knowledge,” Taylor says. “I am in love with the new knowledge I am learning.”

Taylor next began teaching private lessons to jiu jitsu black belts to increase their wrestling skills. In April, he crossed over to grappling and won his division at the 2017 Grappling World Championship Team Trials in Las Vegas. He is now qualified to compete at the World Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan in October.

The journey continued this past June when he won his division at the 2017 World Jiu Jitsu IBJJF Championship in Long Beach at the blue belt level. In November, he is scheduled for the World No-Gi IBJJF Championship in San Francisco.

“I wish I had found all of this sooner because I want to compete against the best,” says Taylor, 30. “I am restricted by the belt system and it could take several years to advance beyond the blue belt.”

Just recently, Taylor began teaching his first classes at the Marcelo Garcia Academy, helping the athletes with their standing game. For now, he is enjoying his return to competitive sports and has no immediate plans to tie it into his work at Athlete Ally.

Coming up for Athlete Ally is a new campaign regarding the bidding process of the NCAA along with an athletic equality index on the policies of the NCAA Power 5 conferences.

When asked if he would ever consider showing support for the LGBT community on the jiu jitsu mat as he once did as a college wrestler, he doesn’t hesitate to reply.

“If I compete in a country that I feel needs athlete activism, you can bet there will be a patch on my uniform that supports equality,” Taylor says.

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Celebrating sports history: DC Gay Flag Football’s 25th season

Head of District’s premier league says it’s ‘groovin’ to its silver anniversary

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The DC Gay Flag Football’s 25th season is underway. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

What started when gay football fans got together in the 1990s to play their favorite sport is now a D.C. institution with 270 players in 20 teams spread over three fields, playing in both fall and spring. 

“Get off the bench,” shouts the slogan on the league’s website. “Get in the game!” 

The D.C. Gay Flag Football League turns 25 years old this month and is considered not only the premier league of its kind in the District, but is recognized across the country for its players, organization, and spirit.

“The way we run our league and the way we compete make us stand out relative to the rest,” DCGFFL Commissioner Logan Dawson told the Washington Blade. 

For those who don’t know flag football from any other kind, the difference is easy to spot: There’s no contact allowed. As the rules say, “That includes tackling, diving, blocking, and screening. Instead, players wear flags that hang along their sides by a belt. To ‘tackle’ the person in possession of the ball, the opposing team needs to pull one or both of their flags off.” There are a lot more rules, but that’s the one that really sets it apart from tackle football. 

The sport itself dates back to World War II and its origins have been traced to Fort Meade, Md. 

What’s the secret to the league’s longevity? “I think we attract and hold on to great athletes who are highly competitive, not only on the field, but also, in our professional and personal lives,” he said. Dawson, 32, plays flag football as well as manages the league. He’s currently single, but says his first love is the weather. 

“I knew in second grade that I wanted to be a meteorologist,” said Dawson, who moved to the District to be a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. 

A prolific swimmer since high school, he came out as he started grad school at Purdue University in Indiana in 2012. In an op-ed appearing in Outsports in 2014, Dawson wrote about competing in his first Gay Games in Cleveland along with a group of other gay swimmers from Colorado, and left that experience determined to join a gay sports league. 

He found it in the fall of 2018 in the DCGFFL, the same year the league’s Generals team won Gay Games XVIII. The league supports up to five travel teams, which take part in annual tournaments nationwide. It also hosts a summer tournament each year in Rehoboth Beach, Del.

“There’s a good amount of participation by people who played in the league from the very early days,” Dawson said. “I think we’re just in the sweet spot, where we have a lot of the original participants, a lot of new players, and we’re just kind of grooving right now.”

The first group gathered at Francis Field near Dupont Circle in 1994. Three years later, another group formed to play just steps from the Washington Monument Mall. They came together in 1998 to form what is now the DCGFFL. 

“For the majority of those seasons, we mainly had one division that played that was co-ed,” said Dawson. “This is our second season that we’ve had a Womens+ Division made up of [cisgender] women, trans and nonbinary individuals.” The Womens+ teams are called the Senators. 

Jayme Fuglesten is director of the Womens+ Division and has played in the league in most seasons since 2011.

“The DCGFFL has been a major part of my adult life,” she says. “I came out while playing in the league in no small part because of the love and support of this community.”

Why does she think the league has been such a success to have lasted 25 years?

“I think the league has been so successful because of its focus on inclusion and community,” she says. “I remember being so surprised in my early years when JJ and so many others would just come right up to me, hug me, and welcome me. And that really hasn’t changed in the 20+ seasons I’ve been around. It also continues to grow and respond to the needs and desires of our players. One example of that is the new Womens+ division, which gives an additional space for people who identify as womens+ to play and cultivate stronger relationships.”

DC Gay Flag Football plans to celebrate its 25th anniversary with a dance party and silent auction at Penn Social on Saturday, Sept. 23. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Next month, the DCGFF will send both Generals and Senators to Gay Bowl XXIII in Seattle. “That’s going to be the first time we’re going to have two Womens+ teams at the Gay Bowl,” Dawson told the Blade. “It’s reflective of the new generation of the league.” 

Earlier generations had trouble attracting new players. As the Blade reported in 2019, what had been a steady number of 20 to 22 teams dropped dramatically to 14, its lowest roster since 2011. The league’s leadership turned it around with new recruiting events, new sponsors, changes in their social event locations, changes to their player draft and a change of venue for league play beyond Carter Barron fields in Rock Creek Park in Northwest Washington. 

Brentwood Hamilton Park in Northeast Washington is now home to the recreation division and Randall Field south of the Capitol is the league’s third venue. 

Just like every facet of society, from coast to coast, what happened next hit the league hard. “COVID happened in spring of 2020,” recalled Dawson. “Everything shut down, and we did not play for what amounted to three full seasons for a year and a half.”

But once the world emerged from quarantine and lockdowns, flag football players started flocking to the DCGFFL. “We’ve had probably over 150 new players join our league in the last two years,” he said.

One thing is certain, said Dawson: Despite the name, not everyone who plays in the gay flag football league is LGBTQ+. 

“It’s a really great community. There’s a straight couple that’s married and will be soon having a child in the next month or so,” Dawson said. “They met playing in the league, just like we’ve had gay couples who meet in the league and eventually get married and have children.”

Prominent among the league’s many sponsors is the NFL hometown team, the Washington Commanders. “They are highly supportive of us, not just financially, but also publicly supporting what we are, and our mission,” Dawson said. 

This current NFL season is the first since 2021 without an out gay player on the gridiron. That’s when Carl Nassib became the first active pro football player to come out as gay. 

(Washington Blade file photo by Adam Hall)

While Dawson said, “I’m sure there are more out there” who have not yet come out, Nassib’s retirement makes this anniversary of the DCGFFL even more significant. 

“It’s unfortunate people still feel they cannot be out while they’re playing and doing what they love, but that’s the reason why something like the D.C. Gay Flag Football League is so important,” he said. “To show that there are gay and trans athletes who exist and love playing sports.”

The league plans to celebrate its 25th anniversary with a dance party and silent auction at Penn Social on Saturday, Sept. 23 starting at 8 p.m. Check the website for ticket information.

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Carl Nassib announces retirement

Openly gay NFL player made history when he came out in 2021

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(CBS News screenshot)

Carl Nassib, who made history in 2021 when he became the first active player in the National Football League to come out as gay, announced Wednesday he is retiring at age 30. 

“This is a bittersweet moment for me,” the free agent wrote in a post on Instagram. “But after seven seasons and just over 100 NFL games I am officially retiring from football to focus on my company Rayze.” 

Rayze is a mobile platform that connects people willing to give of themselves with those who need it most, born of an experience in Tampa, Fla., where Bucs players volunteered as mentors to kids being held in a nearby juvenile detention center. Rayze’s website says the company serves to “shine a light on opportunities that need volunteers, while making nonprofit engagement, volunteer recruitment and donating as simple and intuitive as possible.” 

“It really feels like just yesterday starting out as a walk-in at Penn State,” Nassib wrote in his post. “Football has given me more than I ever could have imagined. I can truly hang up my helmet for the last time knowing I gave it everything I had.” 

Ever since he came out in 2021, the former defensive end for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has become a philanthropist for the LGBTQ community, especially for queer youth, personally donating $100,000 to the Trevor Project. That year, the NFL matched his donation, and in 2022, Nassib himself matched donations dollar for dollar, up to $100,000.

According to the Bucs, Nassib played in 99 regular-season NFL games with 38 starts,  recorded 187 tackles, 25.5 sacks, 45 tackles for loss, 59 quarterback hits, four forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, one interception and 19 passes defended. In 2016, he the Cleveland Browns drafted him with the second pick in the third round. At Penn State, Nassib was a star player, leading the nation in sacks and forced fumbles during his senior year with the Nittany Lions in 2015.

“It was not an easy decision. It really, really wasn’t,” Nassib told People magazine in an exclusive interview timed to coincide with his Instagram. 

“This would have been my 23rd football season. I’ve been playing football since I was eight years old, and I’m really excited to move on to the next chapter of my life,” he said. 

Nassib says he began considering retirement last season before becoming a free agent, when he said he was “staying at the Bucs facility until 9 p.m. every night working on Rayze.”

“I feel like it’s my calling and it’s what I’m meant to do,” Nassib says of the app. “I’m really excited to move on to the next chapter of my life and to give Rayze everything that I have.”

In July, he posted that he had accepted an appointment to the board of directors of the local United Way chapter in his hometown of West Chester, Pa. 

Nassib said he is also going to work with the NFL in a new role, in matters related to the league’s philanthropic endeavors and its “diversity, equity and inclusion.”

“I think that I can provide a very rare and specific view of how life is for an out gay player, and I think that there are some amazing opportunities that I can also learn,” he told People.

“Maintaining that relationship shows that the NFL is continuing to support me. They’ve supported me so much over the last two years, and I really couldn’t have done it without that support,” he said.

Nassib said the NFL’s offer to utilize him in this new role “continues to show people that you can be yourself and compete at the highest level.”

But what he’s most excited to do with his time now, he told People, is to spend the holiday season with his family and his boyfriend, retired Olympian Søren Dahl. 

“I’ve spent 11 out of 12 Christmases away from my family, many of them alone in my apartment,” said Nassib. “I haven’t spent Thanksgiving with my family since 2010, so I am really, really looking forward to spending time with my family, my friends, and those special moments. And that’s something that I’ve been looking forward to for years.” 

That’s one of the many reasons why he wrote on Instagram: “I really feel like the luckiest guy on the planet.”

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Close out the summer with Team DC

United Night Out held at Audi Field

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A scene from last year’s United Night Out. (Washington Blade file photo by Kevin Majoros)

Team DC and Federal Triangles Soccer Club will host “United Night Out” on Saturday, Aug. 26 at 7:30 p.m.

This event will celebrate the LGBTQ community and cheer on the Black-and-Red as they take on the Philadelphia Union.

Team DC is the association of LGBTQ sports clubs in the greater Washington region with 42 member clubs (including FTSC) with more than 7,000 participants. Team DC sponsors the Pride Night OUT Series, which helps organize Pride nights with all local pro teams. In 2023, Team DC will sponsor 14 different Pride nights, including the United Night OUT. 

Tickets are $30 and can be purchased on Team DC’s website

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