Language Can Change The World

In the first 2014 issue of The Triangle — Drexel’s independent student newspaper that I am lucky enough to be a staff writer for — the sports section’s writers were tasked with coming up with their favorite sports moment  in 2013. I had a few fleeting thoughts and nearly wrote about the Drexel women’s basketball team winning the WNIT on their homecourt, but at the last second I thought of something else. Something bigger.

I wrote:

(2013) was the push for equality. 2013 was the Year of Jason Collins. It was the Year of Robbie Rogers. It was the Year of Brittney Griner. It was the Year of Fallon Fox. We learned how to use sports to challenge the status quo — to move society forward. When Collins, Rogers, Griner and Fox freed themselves from years of living in a lie to live a life of truth, they were accepted with open arms. When Russian president Vladimir Putin enacted a malicious series of anti-LGBTQ legislation just months prior to the Sochi Winter Olympics, the world spoke and vowed to not shutter their views. 2013 was the year sports made a push for equality. It was the year we found new role models and rethought our definition of courage. It was the year of being you.

You can read the thoughts of the rest of The Triangle‘s sportswriters here.

I think there is major piece to the push for equality with sports that can get left out when on a 100-word limit (and obviously if you count, I already exceeded it there). One of the biggest pieces to the puzzle is the changing of language — especially the language used in regards who fall into any of the LGBTQ categories.

2013 helped us realize that the words we speak, as inconsequential as they may seem, leave a deep impact on others. We saw this come to fruition in the sports landscape too. Take, for example, when Indiana Pacers forward Roy Hibbert used the expression “no homo” in a press conference during the NBA Playoffs. on the first part of TSN’s three-part documentary series “ReOrientation,” this is what Patrick Burke, founder of You Can Play, called “casual homophobia.” You’re being just being homophobic, you may just be ignorant to the fact.

It seems innocent, yet it carries such a huge punch. It’s an aversion to homosexuality — as relatively hidden it may be in comparison to other expressions, phrases and words. But something happened to Hibbert that may not have happened if it was said only a few years earlier: He was heavily criticized by all people. I do believe that it was more ignorance on his part than it was malice, which proves it even more to the point.

That situation sticks out in my mind right up there with the conversations had about Jason Collins, Robbie Rogers, Brittney Griner, and Fallon Fox. Although it wasn’t the positive role model moment that we hope for from our athletes, it was a valuable teaching moment. People are listening when you speak, and the words you speak can do serious harm.

Consider a locker room situation for a moment. On that team in that locker room is a closeted player. What would that player think if he/she heard his/her teammates using such language? These guys don’t have my back. They’re not with me 100 percent. And they may continue to live the lie because of it.

Because of Hibbert’s words and the words of others that garnered public backlash in 2013, we are more conscious of the words we choose. The phrase “think before you speak” has never been so true as it is in our current world of instantaneous updates and statuses and tweets. But in 2014, think before you speak not just to save yourself from public ridicule, do it to be more open and accepting. Do it to make an even stronger push for equality.

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