What Pride Means To Student-Athletes

College second-year, captain of the field hockey team, and lacrosse player Mary Post

Pride Month has always been a space where I could celebrate my queerness freely with the love and support of my friends, family, and strangers. This Pride will look different: I will be on campus running the Pride 5k with my teammates instead of celebrating at home in New York City — but there is no one else I would rather spend it with. I am endlessly grateful for the support of my teammates on the field hockey team who have continued to reaffirm my identity and celebrate the diversity of our team.

Pride holds a special meaning for LGBTQ+ student-athletes. College second-year, captain of the field hockey team, and lacrosse player Mary Post grappled in high school with playing a sport and being queer. But after going to College and doing some growing, Post now feels that both identities can intersect.

“Being an athlete and being queer are two things I feel fiercely proud of,” Post wrote in an email to the Review. “It hasn’t always been that way, though. Throughout high school I often felt out of place except for on the field playing with my teammates. As I came to terms with my queerness I think that safety and confidence on the field became threatened. It is through hard work, committment, and support from loved ones that I’ve been able to be proudly queer and continue to be a successful athlete. I don’t think I could be one without the other, at this point. My queerness is intrinsic to my being, and being an athlete and active is imperative to my well being.”

For River Schiff, a rising College-second year and member of the field hockey and lacrosse teams, athletics has been a medium for him to express his masculinity and feel comfortable in his identity.

“Being an athlete allowed me to present my masculinity, even before I knew I wasn’t a girl,” he wrote in an email to the Review. “I always prided myself on being ‘one of the boys’ in an athletic lens, competing alongside them in even the most mundane athlete competition from a young age. Even though I chose a traditionally female sport in the U.S. and let go of that aspect for a while, it remained evident that this desire to show my masculinity was fostered by my drive and passion in sports.”

In high school, College third-year and softball player V Dagnino played for the Peruvian National Team, but it came at the expense of expressing their sexuality. At Oberlin, they were able to come out as gay.

“I’ve known about my sexuality since I was in middle school,” Dagnino wrote in an email to the Review. “I’ve always felt like I was different from other people. I’ve remained closeted up until my first year of college because I was terrified. When I was 13, I started playing for the Peruvian National Team for softball. I knew I was gay then, but I tried to act as ‘straight’ as possible because being gay was not accepted among the team. I felt like I was hiding myself from the world.”

Dagnino explained why they stayed on the team and ultimately why they left.

“People wondered why I stayed, but it was a big deal in my softball career, and traveling the world while playing for my country brought me the most amazing experiences,” they wrote. “However in the end, taking a step back from it was the best decision I could have ever made for myself. I am able to be me and not have to hide anymore. I am able to express myself fully in ways that were repressed during my high schools and my days playing for the Peruvian National Team.”

At Oberlin, being a LGBTQ+ student-athlete is unique because of the College’s robust LGBTQ+ community. Dagnino noted the difference it made to have a supportive team, coaching staff, and the importance of representation of LGBTQ+ student-athletes.

“In my previous athletic experiences, I was so closeted and scared,” they wrote. “However, coming to Oberlin I’ve been able to be me with such an amazing team and coaching staff that supports me. I’ve been inspired by other Oberlin athletes older than me to live my own truth and to be proud of this part of me that I’ve hid from the world for so long. I used to view this part of me as embarrassing and totally not cool. But since coming to Oberlin, I’ve learned to love that part of me and see it as probably the best thing in the world. I feel seen, I feel loved, and I feel accepted.”

Representation continues to play an important role in an athlete’s ability to share their identity with others, particularly in the male athlete community, where LGBTQ+ culture is not as widely known or celebrated. This is why stories of athletes such as Megan Rapinoe, Billie Jean King, and Carl Nessib — who became the first active NFL player to come out as gay this past week — are inspiring for the LGBTQ+ community. It shows the world that you can be an amazing athlete and not be straight. Even with the incredible strides made by the athletic community to accept LGBTQ+ athletes, there is still work to be done, especially when it comes to the rights of trans women in athletics.

Post also added that even with its successes and support of teammates, Oberlin also still has work to do when it comes to supporting LGBTQ+ student-athletes — specifically with regard to pronoun use.

“Being an Oberlin athlete has been more affirming than any other space I’ve played sports in,” Post wrote. “I enjoy being as close as I am with both teams, and I think all my teammates do a wonderful job of affirming one another. We also have so much fun on the field. Especially this summer with the field hockey second- and third-years, I’ve felt myself become closer to all of them, and we’re getting so fired up for this fall. The prevalence of acceptance of queerness at Oberlin translates to the athletic spaces on campus. That being said, we definitely still have a long way to go, beginning with simple things like consistently gendering players correctly.”

Despite these challenges, Oberlin LGBTQ+ student-athletes are proof that you do not have to choose between your sexuality or your sport. You will always be worthy of love, support, and happiness.

“One piece of advice I have is to know that you are loved,” wrote Schiff. “There is a lot of uncertainty in coming out in a gendered sports world, but if any place is gonna accept you, it’s gonna be Oberlin.”

Post added that finding reaffirming spaces and knowing that you are not alone is crucial.

“When I was becoming more comfortable with my queerness, the most reassuring thing was knowing that I was not alone,” Post wrote. “I think any modality in which you feel loved, you should maximize time and energy there. For me, it was reading stories of other queer people and knowing and appreciating the work that has been done on campus for people like me to get the support they deserve as they come out.”

Dagnino reflected on their own experience going from a closested softball player to someone who can now live their most authentic life both on and off the field.

“My advice for athletes who are struggling to share their identity with people is I see you, I feel you and I love you,” Dagnino wrote. “You are not alone in this struggle. The day your life truly begins is the day you choose to start living for yourself. As a closeted 13-year-old me once read: A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.”