Amini Fonua: Our Sport Has Thrived Because of the Open Minds that People Have

  28 SwimSwam | May 05th, 2013 | Featured, Lifestyle

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 ( 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.

Amini Fonua Alia Atkinson Commonwealth Games

Amini Fonua with fellow Texas A&M breaststroker Alia Atkinson at the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

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.

Leave a Reply

28 Comments on "Amini Fonua: Our Sport Has Thrived Because of the Open Minds that People Have"

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
3 years 21 days ago

‘Gig em.

3 years 21 days ago

Amini , thanks for sharing your story. You are an asset to your university and family.

3 years 20 days ago

Great story, thanks for sharing. Liberty University is more conservative than A&M. Think it’s more a generational divide rather than a political divide. Marriage equality is supported by 80% of American adults under 30. Don’t think 80% of Americans under 30 are Dems/Liberals. The military didn’t dissolve after the repeal of don’t ask/don’t tell and most college and pro athletes will treat their openly gay teammates with respect.

Baylor’s hardly liberal, but Britney Griner’s discussion of her sexuality during the WNBA draft wasn’t headline news. Bear Bryant finally integrated his team in 1970 after an integrated USC team slapped the Tide around in Alabama. In an era where everyone has a videocam on their phone, there are very few universities left where a coach caught using gay slurs would keep their job.

3 years 21 days ago

A&M is the most conservative University in the United States? Not even close…

If you were a swimmer on the BYU team and came out, you more than likely would have been kicked off the team and expelled from the university in no time flat.

The folks at A&M are a nice, friendly group and have a live and let live mentality.

3 years 20 days ago

The difference is that one so inclined should never have gone to Brigham Young.

That is like Sandra Fluke going out of her way to Georgetown & then launching a public vilification against the institution because it allegedly did not provide contraceptives to an alleged ( never presented & seemingly mute ) friend suffering endometriosis. ( in actuality the script can be written on campus free & purchased for $9 per month

Captain – I suggest there is a quota on martyrs at American universities & it is filling fast .

Now out in the real world …..nobody cares unless you bother people.

3 years 20 days ago

Kids at 18 may be still in a battle fighting their urges, especially a kid from a religious family. In many cases a kid from a LDS family is almost expected to go to BYU, it’s what they do.

I knew some guys in college that came out, but usually they were 21, 22 or 23. They battled it for quite a while because of societal pressure. It was not easy for them, trust me.

3 years 20 days ago

Oh cry me a river.

If it is not the time or place & you are at – in this case a Mormon institution – wait until you are finished.

It is not really necessary to come out . Plenty of people get through college without proclaiming their sexuality to he world.

2 days ago 7 American soldiers were killed in a Muslim country fighting for a shit hole that
beheads gays – other than baccha bazzi boys – of course.

Feel free to head on over there & wail about coming out at BYU.

3 years 20 days ago

What is with the “cry me a river” stuff? I’m a straight male, with no axe to grind with anyone.

My comment stems from the author of this article stating that Texas A&M is the most conservative university in the US. I found his comment silly and way off the mark and used BYU as an example of an institution that is much more conservative and narrow minded.

During the 2011-2012 basketball season, BYU suspended one of their best players for having sex with his girlfriend. Tell me that happens at a state supported school like A&M…..

Personally, I’m tired of constantly hearing about gay athlete issues. I don’t give a d**n.

I don’t know what the recently killed soldiers have to do with this. I feel very sorry for those brave soldiers, their families and their friends. It’s horrible.

3 years 20 days ago

Purchased at Walmart. the nearest store was a 2 mile bus trip.

3 years 20 days ago

The most conservative college in America was a funny one. How many A&M basketball players were kicked off the team for having sex with their girlfriends? Now imagine that Bob Jones and Pensacola Christian make BYU look like Berkeley.

3 years 20 days ago

It needs to be said that homosexuality is illegal in Tonga.

Maybe you should all keep your mouths shut.

3 years 20 days ago

I’m just saying the guy needs to get out more if he and the Princeton Review think A&M is the most conservative college in America. Hard to take a publication seriously if they consider A&M more conservative than BYU….makes me wonder if their other rankings aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on either.

3 years 20 days ago

Though it’s not the point of the article, I think I can clarify the “conservative” rankings. The measure is based on how politically conservative a university is…and A&M probably ranks at the top of the list because they’re not just inertly politically conservative, they’re very actively politically conservative. I’m sure the proportions at other (especially private) universities is higher, but the A&M student body is probably the LOUDEST group of largely conservative students, especially their student government. They probably get bonus points for the fervor with which they practice conservatism.

Specifically, the ranking is based on the political leanings of the STUDENT BODY rather than the leanings of the administration…I’ve known quite a few students who went to BYU, and almost all of them lean politically moderate and even liberal. So, perhaps the new generation of their student body is more liberal than their parents’. For what it’s worth, BYU is #11 on the list.

JG Is So Right
3 years 20 days ago

You’re completely right. We should never complain about anything since there is always someone else in the world who had it worse. hat’s that? You want to be integrated with the whites? Don’t you know you would have been whipped a hundred years ago? What’s that? You women want to vote? Don’t you know that there are women in this world who can’t even drive? You should all just STFU and accept the lot God has given you.

3 years 20 days ago

This guy who is American & lives an American lifestyle had decided to represent the land of his father – Tonga.

Homosexual activity is prohibited in Tonga. Let him be the one who explains this to the Tongans. Let them be the judge . You can only be part of America – you cannot decide how Tongans react.

In short , they will not allow him to practice sodomy & other homosexual practices in Tonga.

If you want to fly the Gay Rights flag – feel free to go to Africa , the ME , Asia & wave it & DEMAND the world agree with you. You will be killed . In some places sodomised first just to drive home the point.

3 years 20 days ago

Jg – Amini is not American. He was born in New Zealand.

Who else to begin a change of culture than the Olympic flag bearer? I believe Amini has met the king, and has made many allies with his work for water safety in the country (drowning rates are incredibly high for Tongans, both those living at home and abroad. I believe they’re the highest demographic for drowning in NZ.)

3 years 20 days ago

Well then what is the problem? Homosexuality is not only legal – marriage is legal in New Zealand.

But still – homosexuality is illegal in Tonga. And that is whom he chose to represent.

He did so willingly knowing the situation – much like going to any university that is a private institution with its own culture.

Texas A&M is a public institution & subject toTexas law . There is a case before the Supreme Court on Texas University & ethnic / race admissions preferences but I have no knowledge of any issue of sexual orientation .

Besides the article is pretty stupid . Did someone say Princeton . Ok I have not recovered from reading Michelle Obama’s trite whitey sociology essay. I should have known better .

3 years 20 days ago

On the specific issue of drowning amongst the Pacific Islanders – this is worth a post in itself & need not be conflated with homosexual rights.

But one must ponder how or why an island people do not swim . I have met & listened to the people behind the Fijian program where they are trying to get school teachers swim proficient & able to teach swimming. Homosexuality has been decriminalised subject to public decency standars. However one could not be a school teacher & homosexual in Fiji.

BTW Fiji is not In the good books elsewhere being a Coup D’Etat.

I will take further note of how Tonga is tackling this problem .( drowning) . Maybe they need a Coup?

3 years 18 days ago

Despite the prohibtion of homosexual act and sodomy in Tonga, it is widely practice at all level of the society. Interaction between same sexes occur at a high rate within the youth of the Kingdom. This generation are very liberal and open to changes including homosexuality. Cultural taboo of a woman to abstain until marriage open the door for man to man sexual encouters. These are practiced under the carpet and I adore Mr Fonua for his strength to come open and live a happy life of who and what he is? Tonga has a history fo living a life of a lie. Captain Cook branded them with “The Friendly Island” based on their humble and friendly manner, little he knew the Tongans were planning to kill him and his crew. Tonga needs to take leadership in this issue and openly discuss the need for changes in our perception and acceptance of this reality. We are human being after all and created by the same God that we all worship.

3 years 20 days ago

This article is not whether or not Texas A&M or BYU is the most conservative campus in the country, it’s about a swim team at a university with a very conservative reputation welcoming a gay swimmer with open arms and being supportive and respectful and valuing him as a leader. I think the point he is trying to make is Jason Collins may be big news for basketball but for the most part swimming has always been welcoming to gay athletes. It’s about time someone wrote something about this, tons of colleges have had openly gay swimmers on their teams for decades and it has never been a major issue.

3 years 20 days ago

Thank you, SwimSwam, (and Amini) for featuring this. I hope other well known swimmers will share their positive expereinces with this issue – it really helps kids who might be feeling alone, bullied or helpless. Every age group coach would do well to adopt “(1) don’t judge (2) be open mided (3) respect everyone” as part of their team’s culture.

3 years 20 days ago

I am not sure of the universality of this. The fact is authorities / teams / coaches do have to judge so that undesirables are excluded to the best of their ability.

We judge , scan our prejudices everyday – every action . We do not respect everybody.

The problem with swimming is that the age ranges can be very wide. I have been in a coaching conference where discussion included desirability of segregating male swimmers eg under 15s from the 20+ year old males who brag about sexual conquests in the change rooms.

As for children – unfortunately there are predators . They cannot be sacrificed on the altar of ideals.

3 years 19 days ago

The article is opinion. It is someone trying to prosthelytize me to accept moral relativism and to be “open-minded”. So I will prosthelytize right back – having same sex attraction is not sinful. But acting on same sex attraction is, however, gravely disordered. Practicing homosexuality is against God.

3 years 18 days ago

Oh boy…here we go. I had to bite.

1. The old testament law was thrown out when Jesus was born, delegating Leviticus irrelevant.
2. What does Paul know about hormonal balance at birth and it’s relationship to sexuality when writing in 1st century Rome?

I am Christian but believe that sexuality has everything to do with hormones at birth. Three things –

1. Have you ever known a gay man or woman to make that desire a “choice” as most Christians believe it is? No…can’t find one that “chooses” to be gay.

2. Look at the bell curve…where do the majority of gay men/women fall? Gay men are more feminine, suggesting naturally higher levels of estrogen. Lesbians are more masculine, suggesting naturally higher testosterone levels. Testosterone is attracted to female….estrogen attracted to male.

3. This article explains it much better than I can –

This is the kind of stuff the writers of the Bible have no idea about in 69 AD…

To say then that homosexuality is a sin is no different than saying other mutations are sinful…the six fingered man for one, autism, or conjoined twins.

3 years 18 days ago


Your post makes way too much sense. The gay haters will not like what you wrote a bit because it includes logical thought. I imagine that gay people have been around since the caveman and cavewoman days.

It’s just the way the human race is and always will be.

3 years 18 days ago

Like SEC and ACC schools in the ’60s who were slow to integrate their athletic teams, programs which refuse to recruit and/or marginalize gay swimmers will be at a competitive disadvantage. It’s no longer an issue in women’s basketball and softball. Marriage equality may be close to 50/50 for all age groups, but it’s not even remotely close among college age athletes (even the alleged aged foreign mercenaries).

3 years 18 days ago

I am proud of Fonua. As an A&M grad, and parent of a current student (non-swimmer), I know that at its core A&M is conservative, and has a conservative student body. But its reputation for conservatism (and intolerance) is exaggerated. Most students just don’t care. I am most happy that Fonua had the guts to defend A&M’s culture. A&M isn’t Cal. But it is not Baylor.

3 years 17 days ago

Not winning.

As of May 9 2013 sodomy & homosexual acts still forbidden in Tonga.