The women of the Ontario Intercollegiate Women’s Fastpitch Association, joined by coaches and announcer Rick Mercer, become the first in their sport to support LGBT athletes through the You Can Play Project.
Representing the 12 intercollegiate teams in the association with a message of inclusion is important to the players and coaches. Laurier University’s Matt Allen, an assistant coach and th OIWFA president, says the video was made because, “as a whole, we want to educate the public on women’s sport – in particular softball – that sexuality does not impact your throw, your pitch, your bunting or hitting abilities.” Allen references Canadian Olympic champion Mark Tewksbury’s comments about issues facing women in sports: the stigma of women’s sport is that women don’t come out because it perpetuates the stereotype that all female athletes are gay. “What you do as an athlete in your own life and who you are attracted to has no bearing on your skillset as a softball player,” Allen said.
“As coaches at the university level, we have such an amazing experience to see our athletes develop through their formative adult years,” Allen continues. “It’s amazing for us as coaches to see a timid, shy, and apprehensive first year student come into our system who appears to have a lack of confidence, then decide to come out during university and is a completely new person…she shows such an improvement with onfield performance as a result of discovering who they are as a person.”
Amelia Keech, a Queen’s University pitcher, says her team would react with overwhelming support of an out teammate. “Coming out is one of the hardest things an athlete will ever have to do and knowing you have a supportive team to come out to will do nothing but help an LGBT teammate,” Keech says. “We adhere to the goals and values of a team and, as teams, we adhere to the goals and values of the league. Setting a league’s value to respect and support all players, regardless of their sexual orientation, is an important step to the eventual goal: the inclusivity of all players of the sport of fastpitch.”
Catcher Hannah Hallsworth of McMaster University believes the You Can Play video will “encourage athletes of the LGBT community to feel assured they are welcome on our teams…I have had the privilege of meeting many girls from all different walks of life, including those from the LGBT community. From experience, the team has always been welcoming and never exclusive of a teammate with regard to sexual orientation. A team is a team, we are as one, together.”