“I have been involved in LGBTQ+ sports since 2000 and it is important for me to give back and participate in my community. As someone with a background in leadership in higher education, it became natural to step up and run for leadership beyond my professional life. In 2020, I became the commissioner of the National Gay Flag Football League (NGFFL). Although I was not an outstanding player on the team, I loved coaching and teaching others, and stepping into this position was an amazing experience. During my time as commissioner, I fell even more in love with educating people about flag football and creating more communities where everyone can participate and feel included at all times.
The “locker room” culture definitely exists in sports. This field is dominated by straight men and often, LGBTQ+ players don’t feel like they belong in such a space. They may have started off loving sports, but then gotten to high school or college where they no longer feel included, so they quit. I believe leaders in sports have the responsibility to educate others. They have the power to step in and stop bullying situations. Things happen in locker rooms, offices, emails; people are seeing it but not saying anything about it. They choose to look the other way, which contributes to kids feeling like they don’t belong, and might even damage their mental health. Leaders have power and they need to exercise that power for good.
During the 2022 NFL Draft, Joel Horton, Jodie Turner, and I were introduced on stage by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to announce the third-round pick for the Arizona Cardinals. This was a powerful moment for myself, for the NGFFL, and for the LGBTQ+ sports community, to be recognized and included in such an important event in sports.
It’s important for me to point out that being an ally doesn’t make you gay. Educating yourself about LGBTQ+ doesn’t make you gay. It makes you more accessible and approachable. Nowadays, athletes hold a very important role in society; they are role models for many people, especially younger ones. Athletes need to learn more about the LGBTQ+ community to stand up for those that need help or say, ‘that’s wrong’ when they see it. When NFL player Carl Nassib came out as gay, there was a shift in people’s perspective. People who are part of the LGBTQ+ community felt empowered to follow their passion because they thought, ‘if Carl could do it, I can do it too.’ Inaction is also an action, and when you see something and don’t say anything, you are letting the problem continue.
Here at the University of Utah, we have been doing a great job at promoting LGBTQ+ life. When I go to the bookstore, I see rainbow U t-shirts sold just like any other t-shirts, not just during Pride Week or Month. Even though we still have a long way to go, I encourage you, University of Utah students and staff, to step out of your comfort zone and learn more about the LGBTQ community.”
—Shigeo Iwamiya, Director for Residential Education, Student Affairs