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Anouk Patty has a message — “When you’re your true self, you’re your best self every day.”
As the recently named “Chief of Sport” for U.S. Ski & Snowboard — the organization that, in part, represents the United States in competitions like the Olympics, and as an openly gay woman and former member of the team, Patty knows how important that message is.
When she was on the team in the 80s and early 90s she was not out, and for good reason. “Society then was very, very different,” she told OUTvoices in an exclusive interview. “It was not super-accepted to be gay. It was not something people talked about. The sports world was pretty homophobic."
Anouk Patty, Chief of Sport for US Ski & Snowboard
Photo courtesy of U.S. Ski and Snowboard
But the world is different now than it was. “Everything is different,” she said.
Part of that is because some athletes have taken that giant step to live in their truth in the past few years.
The cover of ESPN Magazine in which Gus Kenworthy came out of the closet.
Photo courtesy of Gus Kenworthy Twitter
Seven years ago, U.S. Ski & Snowboard team member (and legit heartthrob) Gus Kenworthy, fresh off his Silver Medal in the Sochi Olympics, came out of the closet during an interview with ESPN. As if that wasn’t enough, at the Pyeongchang Olympics in 2018 he shared a smooch with his boyfriend on live television.
Asked what impact that had, Patty didn’t mince words.
“It was pretty monumental when Gus came out,” she said. “He’s super nice, super handsome, really good. He had everything there. When he came out, people really paid attention.”
Patty noted that even though Kenworthy would later compete as part of the U.K. team (his mother is British) Kenworthy is still “beloved” in Park City, where the U.S. team is headquartered. “Gus is phenomenal,” she said. In fact, he’s their unofficial poster boy. Like, really. Patty says there’s a big poster of Kenworthy in the kitchen of the team’s Park City headquarters.
“It’s not just because he’s gay,” Patty said. “It’s because he’s wonderful and he cared and he had a purpose and a cause and he cared about it — and he did something about it.”
It’s an example Patty herself is following.
Since Kenworthy’s coming out, Patty noted, the progress has slowed. There haven’t been many other athletes on the team who have come out and there haven’t been a lot in the other sports, with one major exception.
Two-Time US National Alpine Ski Champion Hig Roberts
Photo courtesy of Higs Roberts via Twitter
Two-time U.S. Champion Hig Roberts (another legit heartthrob) became the first elite men’s Alpine skier to come out. Roberts made the revelation at the end of his career in 2020. Roberts’ experience mirrored in many ways Patty’s own a few decades earlier. In an interview with The New York Times, Roberts said “Not being able to be who I am and not be openly gay as a professional athlete was truly hindering my performance.”
Like Kenworthy, Roberts’ purpose to come out was, in part, to send a message to young skiers that they can compete at the highest levels regardless of their sexuality.
“I love this sport more than anything,” he told the Times. “I’m so lucky and privileged to be doing this — but I can’t go on another day not trying to achieve the person that I am meant to be. Which I think for each and every one of us … needs to be happiness and authenticity.”
Roberts’ coming out, according to the Times, added the number of openly gay elite-level skiers to just four. The other two, Anja Pärson, a former Alpine skier from Sweden, came out as lesbian in 2012, and Erik Schinegger wrote a book in 1988 about his experience as a transgender and intersex skier after coming out in 1968.
While the bravery of Kenworthy and Roberts and their predecessors is noteworthy and incredible, Patty says there’s still more work to do before the Team has reached its full potential of being a welcoming place to all athletes of every stripe. She also recognizes the power to effect that kind of change systemically lies with her.
“I have the opportunity to actually make a difference in this specific area,” she said. “I’m working hard to make it a really inclusive, welcoming environment.”
When will that work be done? It’s not easy to say, but Kenworthy and Roberts have helped, to be sure. “We have a Trans athlete on the team now who is a named athlete,” she said. “We’re inching along.” But she’d like to see more.
“When we have a truly inclusive culture where athletes are not only comfortable being their true selves but embrace it and we have some openly gay athletes who can be role models for the next ones, then I’ll feel good about it. We’re not there but we’re taking the first step in creating that environment where we can be there.”
As a sign of how far skiing and snowboarding has not come, earlier this year Italian skiier Sofia Goggia, the 2018 Olympic Gold Medalist in Alpine skiing made a statement that implied gay men weren't cut out for the rigors of the slopes professionally. Goggia, who apparently had never heard of Hig Roberts, had been asked if she thought there were any gay professional skiers. "Among women, yes," she said. "Not for men, I would say." Her reasoning? "You have to throw yourself down the Streif in Kitzbühel."
In subsequent tweets, Goggia would apologize, but not for the statement, only to those who were offended by it.
While Patty's efforts at diversifying the team and the sport are notable and courageous, there may be some blowback, as people like Goggia aren’t accustomed to cultural change, especially in high performance sports.
“It’s not always a smooth ride,” Patty said. “The way you handle the paradoxes you’re presented with define who you are as a leader. I think it’s the same thing for those of us who are openly gay and in leadership positions. I get it, not everyone’s gonna love it. Thats ok with me but it doesn’t stop me.”
On Saturday, August 20th beginning at 10:00 am EDT Strong Voices Television (SVTV Network) will make history by becoming the first television network to stream live coverage of the Amateur Sports Alliance of North America (ASANA) Softball World Series in Washington, D.C. Coverage of the ASANA Series will begin here on OUTvoices on Thursday, August 18 with early round and elimination tournament play — but for the Championship games the SVTV Network will have your exclusive ticket.
The live stream will include at least three championship games featuring instant replay, on-screen graphics, and player profiles. Calling the action will be veteran Queer broadcasters Roman Jimenez and ASANA Hall of Famer Rosalyn Bugg.
The live streams are the latest in a string of sporting events SVTV has carried exclusively as the LGBTQ+ subscription-based service continues to build its collection of live sports, most recently three games with the WTFL (Women’s Tackle Football League) including The Legacy Bowl, All-Star game, and Skills Challenge, as well as the Big Peach Softball Tournament.
“We are very excited to partner with SVTV to carry Championship Saturday at ASANA,” said Angela Smith, ASANA’s Executive Director. “Partnerships like these help make ASANA sustainable and the reach SVTV has to attract such a huge global audience is important to our growth strategies.”
“Our mission at SVTV Network is to be the home for LGBTQ+ sports because our community’s goals for equality should extend to the playing field too,” said Sheri Johnson, CEO of SVTV Network. “Opportunities for inclusion multiply when people see and ultimately respect and cheer on queer athletes in inspiring leagues such as ASANA. We are proud to be their partner and can’t wait to share the championship excitement from Washington D.C.”
SVTV subscribers will be able to log in and watch the coverage Saturday, August 20th starting at 10 am Eastern. For those non-subscribers wishing to catch the action, memberships are available starting at $5.99 each by going to svtvnetwork.com and creating an account.
SVTV’s coverage will wrap up an exciting week of softball in the Washington D.C. Metro Area as the 2022 ASANA Softball World Series puts a capstone on a big week. Teams will have come from as far away as Washington State, Southern California, Phoenix, Kansas City, Orlando, Nashville, and more. Games will have started on Wednesday with teams competing from sun-up to sundown. With most teams eliminated on Friday, only the championship teams will remain on Saturday, creating an exciting atmosphere for the players, coaches, and fans at the tournament complex, which will no doubt come across on the live streams.
SVTV Network is the streaming service that champions the underrepresented of the entire LGBTQ+ community by amplifying all of their voices in TV, film, sports, advocacy, and beyond. SVTV Network’s 10,000-hour library of original and acquired content is available by subscription via the web, iOS, Amazon FireTV, Android, AppleTV, Roku, and in conjunction with Google Chromecast. Be a part of our movement at SVTV.
ASANA — Amateur Sports Alliance of North America — was created in 2007 as a non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of amateur athletics for all persons regardless of gender, age, race, creed, religion, national origin, or sexual orientation with a special emphasis on the participation of women, trans men, trans women, non-binary and agendered people. ASANA Softball currently has 25 member cities across the United States and hosts the annual ASANA Softball World Series that brings together over 70 teams for a 4-day championship tournament.
"Nobody's Gonna Be Their Best Until They're Authentically Themselves." — Vanessa Nygaard, Head Coach of the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury
She’s not new to the WNBA. She’s been a player, drafted in the league’s second year, and played perhaps her best ball in Portland and Miami. She’s also been a league coach, for the Washington Mystics. But she’s never before been a head coach of a WNBA franchise, let alone one as decorated as the Mercury, which has three championship rings and just missed its fourth last year. She’s also stepping into the coaching shoes of arguably one of the most successful coaches in league history, her friend and former teammate Sandy Brondello. So while there are some big shoes to fill and there’s pressure, to be sure, there’s also a huge upside to the job.
The Phoenix Mercury boasts a roster loaded with talent and chief among the All-Stars is a player who is widely considered perhaps the most dominant player in a generation, maybe ever, to play in the WNBA — Brittney Griner, or “B.G.” as she’s known around the league. For the uninitiated, Griner is so dominant that if we lived in a different world, LeBron would be considered the “B.G.” of the NBA.
Coach Vanessa Nygaard on the court
Photo courtesy of Phoenix Mercury
“When you need a bucket, she’s a bucket,” Nygaard says of Griner. “When things weren’t working well, we’d just throw it into her and she’d get you points.”
If you’re wondering why the name Brittney Griner rings a bell, it’s because you haven’t been living under a rock the last few months. She is the player who’s been locked up in a Russian gulag and, for the last several months, used by Vladimir Putin as a pawn in a dangerous, high-stakes game of international chess. The Russian President is using Griner to pressure the U.S. to get whatever the hell it is he’s trying to get — and let’s be honest, nobody, not even Putin probably, has any idea what that is anymore.
At this point you might be thinking geopolitical security coupled with European war negotiation strategy is outside of a WNBA head coach’s job description — and you’d be right — yet here we are. But hey, Nygaard went to Stanford, so we’re all good, right?
All kidding aside, to say that it hasn’t been a distraction would be like saying Vesuvius wasn’t a concern to the residents of Pompeii. (Google it, you’ll get it later.) Trying to keep reporters interested in how your players are posting up in the paint while all that’s going on hasn’t been easy. Nor has it been a breeze to completely re-invent an offense, or ask a group of All-Stars to suddenly fill roles that are different than what made them All-Stars in the first place. Yet she’s done this, navigating her team to the brink of a playoff berth while getting to know them and a new coaching staff.
Then there’s the human side, getting to know a new area and the fun things that go with it, like monsoons and haboobs. So it’s understandable that Coach hasn’t had time to figure out some of life’s necessities, like, where she should get her first haircut in Phoenix, which was precisely where she was coming from when our interview started.
“I had been getting my haircut in L.A.,” she said, during the first few moments of our Zoom call. When she saw the puzzled look on my face, she explained that her family was still living in Los Angeles when the season started and she would visit a lot. So, she would just get it cut there. Now that her family has fully moved to Phoenix, she had to finally find a new place.
It’s the little things.
Over the next 30 minutes, Coach Nygaard and I would have an illuminating discussion about a variety of topics. While she was born not far from where the Mercury play, it turns out we both went to high school about 30 minutes apart, in the northern part of San Diego county. I graduated two years ahead of her but our high school sports teams would have played each other, though not in Girls Basketball. That’s because until Coach Nygaard’s mother got involved, her high school didn’t have a girl’s basketball team.
During our wide-ranging interview we would talk about that and how Title IX may have changed the game 50 years ago, but what’s needed now for that change to be fully realized is enforcement, perhaps on the local level, to make sure every kid gets the same opportunities she had. Coach Nygaard shared how she followed her mother’s example years later, becoming an advocate herself for a team she coached at the High School level, making sure “separate but equal” wasn’t applied.
We would also talk about why representation matters. Coach Nygaard is an out and proud woman playing in the WNBA. That’s important to her. She’s aware not everyone is as lucky as she’s been.
“I never thought of myself as being a visible member of the LGBTQ community, or anything like that,” Nygaard, said. However, the coach believes that when people are in positions like hers, it’s important to accept the reality that they’re role models.
“We don’t all have families that are supporting and loving and accepting of us,” she said. For those people, especially for young kids, it’s important to see some positivity is possible at the end. “I’ve had success in my career. I have a loving family. It’s important to see that there is joy, there are good things to come… For me, that’s the only reason why I would say anything or why I would be front-facing in any way — to provide some hope for that kid who may be at home and feel like, ‘ugh, I can’t do this anymore.’”
But more than offering hope, being allowed to be who you are, to be your authentic self, is about being your best self, Nygaard said in our interview. “Nobody’s gonna be their best until they’re authentically themselves,” she said. As a player, Nygaard believes she wasn’t her best until she knew she was allowed to be who she really was.
This is a universal truth that isn’t just shared in the locker room. It reaches the upper-most echelon of the organization, perhaps one of the most progressive in the league, which, to be clear, is saying something.
Mercury President Vince Kozar feels it’s important for the organization as a whole to make sure the LGBTQ community recognizes the Mercury as both resource and partner. “As an organization, we pride ourselves on being as inclusive as possible – whether that’s centering women or historically marginalized communities. And the reality is we’re a product that provides visibility and representation for groups that need that, one of which is the LGBTQ+ community. We have athletes who are out, outspoken and living very authentically. We want to show up for them. We want to tell their stories because we know those stories impact folks everywhere.”
That visibility and authenticity is a big reason why Nygaard is thrilled to be a part of the Phoenix Mercury. Another reason she loves stalking the sidelines of the Footprint Center, the Mercury fans known as the X-Factor.
“Our fans are free to be themselves,” Nygaard says. When you come to a Mercury game, she says, “You’re not going to see just one kind of fan. You’ll see families there with young kids. You’ll see older gay couples. You’ll see just random basketball fans who just love basketball. You’ll see all kinds of people.” Ultimately, Nygaard says, “Everyone is there to just support the Mercury.”
But one thing Nygaard is especially proud of: “Our Pride night.” She swears “It’s the best in the history of sports.”
Kozar may agree, and he has some bragging rights to back it up. “We were the first local sports organization to have a presence at Phoenix Pride, the first to march in the Pride parade, the first to host a Pride Night at a game, and the first to sign local organization ONE Community’s Unity Pledge in support of non-discrimination in public accommodations and the workplace. And if that made even one person feel like they were seen or not alone or valued or that our games were a safe space, then every bit of it was worth it.”
Many of the Mercury players are themselves part of the community. In fact, Brittney Griner’s wife, Cherelle, took center stage to advocate for her spouse’s release during the WNBA All-Star game in June, a reality that was not lost on Nygaard. During our interview, we talked about the fact that its willingness to put a queer person center-stage on its biggest night sets the WNBA apart from other professional sports organizations — but maybe not for long.
While other pro leagues can now boast out athletes who are active and playing, it is true that few have done more than the WNBA to embrace them. What is also true is that within the WNBA, few have franchises that have done more than the Mercury to make those players and coaches feel at home
Maybe that’s the real X-Factor.
Quidditch is A Real Sport
If you mixed hockey and soccer played on a pitch shaped like a large oval, put a dozen or so witches and wizards on flying broomsticks trying to smack quaffles into one of a trio of goals the size of Hula Hoops placed at each end of that pitch, sprinkle in a ton of chaos and a little harmless violence, you’d essentially have Quidditch, the sport described by J.K. Rowling in her beloved Harry Potter franchise.
The game was first moved off the pages of Rowling’s books and somehow onto terrestrial earth officially in 2005 at Middlebury College in Vermont by Alex Benepe and Xander Manshel, who we suspect are muggles.
“Harry Potter” Author’s Anti-Trans Rhetoric Too Much For Players
Magical or not, since then the game has spread to at least 40 countries and nearly 600 teams and even has a few international competitive associations dedicated to fostering its growth and development.
Recent developments have caused several of those organizations to begin seriously discussing dropping the beloved "Quidditch" moniker from its name. For starters, Warner Brothers, the production company for the Harry Potter movie franchise, still owns the trademark rights to the name. However, the primary motivation has been Rowling herself, who has made a series of tweets and follow-up comments that have been vehemently anti-Trans.
This became official yesterday in a bold and unequivocal statement as several organizations across the world announced they were formally moving away from the Quidditch name and into a new era.
Among those organizations were two in the United States, U.S. Quadball (USQ) and Major League Quadball (MLQ). The two organizations have lead this discussion internationally and even issued a joint statement condemning Rowling’s comments last year. “Our sport has developed a reputation as one of the most progressive sports in the world on gender equality and inclusivity, in part thanks to its gender maximum rule, which stipulates that a team may not have more than four players of the same gender on the field at a time.”
U.S. Quidditch Is Now "U.S. Quadball: Major League Quidditch Becomes "Major League Quadball" In August
In their joint statement yesterday announcing the name changes, USQ and MLQ said, “Both organizations feel it is imperative to live up to this reputation in all aspects of their operations and believe this move is a step in that direction.”
While USQ has already officially adopted the new name, MLQ has said it will officially adopt it with its MLQ Championships in Maryland next month.
Among the many places Quadball is played at is The Sin City Classic, the largest annual LGBTQ sporting event in the world, which takes place in Las Vegas. The next event will be from January 12 – 15, 2023. This tournament is sanctioned by U.S. Quadball.
Since its earthy, non-fictional inception, the sport has evolved to resemble dodgeball, lacrosse, and rugby more closely.
Quadball is played with a volleyball as the quaffle, dodgeballs as the bludgers, and a neutral player running around with a yellow velcro tail attached to the back of their waist as the golden snitch. Of course, all the players are jockeying for position and trying to score while straddling a broomstick. As mentioned earlier, each match is played with a “four maximum” rule, meaning no more than four persons of any one gender are allowed to compete at any one time. However, when the “Seekers” take the pitch, that number can increase to five.
While the organization is keeping alive much of the tradition of the sport as described in Rowling’s text — the snitch, the seekers, the bludgers, etc. — it’s unclear if it will still enjoy the same draw without an instantly recognizable link to the Potter franchise.
That doesn’t seem to concern organizers, who now see a different opportunity the name change presents.
“In less than 20 years, our sport has grown from a few dozen college students in rural Vermont to a global phenomenon with thousands of players, semi-pro leagues, and international championships,” said USQ Executive Director Mary Kimball. “Our organizations are committed to continuing to push Quadball forward.”
Echoing Kimball, MLQ Co-Commissioner Amanda Dallas pointed where that direction might be. “Bringing full creative control of the name of our sport to the vibrant community of players and fans that has grown and sustained it will allow our organizations to take the next step,” she said. “We are now able to pursue the kinds of opportunities that our community has dreamed about for years.”
It is worth noting that several stars from the Harry Potter franchise have made public statements disagreeing with Rowling’s comments. However, some have gone further. The franchise’s biggest stars, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint, who played Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley, respectively, have strongly condemned Rowling’s comments.