Amini Fonua was the 2012 Big 12 Champion in the 100 breaststroke, a former team captain at Texas A&M University, and a 2012 Olympian representing Tonga: his father’s homeland. He was Tonga’s flagbearer, and his gold medal in the 50 breaststroke at the 2010 Oceania Swimming Championships was the first international medal ever for a Tongan swimmer. Fonua is currently completing his education at A&M and plans to continue living and working in the United States. As a little perspective on Fonua’s college experience, in the latest marks by ubiquitous college rankings service the Princeton Review, Texas A&M was rated as the #1 “most conservative” university in the United States, and the #7 “unfriendly LGBT” university in the United States, and is also the highest ranked public school on that list.
Fonua was inspired to draft the following editorial after following the different news stories about homosexuality in sports of the last month.
Three weeks ago, UCLA football coach Jim Mora came out to say that any gay players or coaches were welcome in his program, which was a pretty landmark announcement. When NBA player Jason Collins announced that he was gay on Monday, it was headline news nationally. Swimming never felt like a sport that needed such headline-grabbing declarations, because it’s been a while in swimming since anyone was held back on the basis of their sexual orientation.
Three rules that swimmers, swimming clubs, and coaches should live by to promote tolerance are this:
1) Don’t Judge
2) Be Open-Minded
3) Respect Everybody
A conversation with my Team Captain from my freshman year at Texas A&M personify these principles. Seeing no reason to hide, I was open about who I was even as a freshman. A Captain took me aside to speak. He said that if anybody marginalized me because of who I was, he wanted to know about it immediately. Hate is not an Aggie value, and if anything remotely hateful was happening, he promised to end it. The words didn’t judge me; they showed me open-mindedness, and his assertive approach showed me respect.
Outsports posted a blog (http://www.outsports.com/2013/4/17/4233538/brian-goldthorpe-gay-swimmer-homophobia) by Brian Goldthorpe, a former Denison swimmer who got beaten up by three student-athletes. Any attack based on sexual orientation is unacceptable. The attack occurred in 2001 and became a defining moment for Goldthorpe, who chose not to report the incident. Goldthorpe was NOT attacked by his swimming teammates:”three male student-athletes from a different team confronted me.”
Unfortunately people’s attention spans are about as long as our fingernails, and most of the time they’ll only read the headlines: “Gay swimmer”, “bashed”, and “varsity athletes”, which will make anybody deduct that swimming is a tough sport to be gay. In actuality, it’s the exact opposite.
There are many successful gay people in our sport. Our sport has thrived because of the open minds that people have. Plenty of swimmers and a handful of coaches are part of the rainbow family. There are National and International coaches and swimmers both among the blue-blooded Americans and the internationals that train in the country. I’m not sure what constitutes “coming out” in swimming when we don’t call ESPN to declare it, but they are well-known to us swimmers. Our sport has thrived because of the open minds that people have.
Do these facts come to light? No. Why? Sexual orientation doesn’t dictate personal success. This runs true in sport and in life. If you’re good at what you do, everything else is secondary.
It’s safe to say that by and large we have a tolerant sport. I’ve managed to become an Olympian, a Conference Champion, and about to graduate from the most conservative university in America. I was voted by my peers as a Senior Team Captain because I was a leader. Don’t let anybody stop you from achieving your dreams.