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

  28 SwimSwam | May 05th, 2013 | News

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.

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Not winning.

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

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.

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.

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.


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).

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,… Read more »


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.

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.