“If you’re happy, I’m happy.”

by Risa Isard




be_happy-wallpaper-800x600-3003If you’re a supervisor and one of your employees comes out to you, consider this one of the most affirming ways you could respond. How do I know? Because last year when the owner of the professional baseball team for which I worked responded to me with this short, but sweet sentence, I couldn’t help but smile. It’s been almost a year since it came up in conversation, and I still remember the scenario, and the feeling of relief. With these five words, I knew he’d have my back if I ever faced negative repercussions from coworkers or clients. I knew that it was okay for me to invoke my own experiences as an unlabeled-but-not-straight person in small talk. I knew that he supported me, respected me, and was my ally.

I’ve been in sports my entire life—as an athlete, a fan, an academic, and a professional—and the way I’ve dealt with my sexual orientation has varied both depending on the setting and where I am in my own personal journey.  Unfortunately, though certainly not uniquely, for a long time, my relationship with sports was on the short-list of the reasons why I stayed in the closet, lest I reinforce a stereotype and “hurt” something about which I cared so deeply.

Let’s rewind.

For about 99% of my competitive athletic career, I was so closeted to myself that it really wasn’t an issue.  Looking back on my experiences, I remember instances when one of my coaches made homophobic remarks in jest that would have made me felt unwelcome if had I been having honest conversations with myself.  In complete contrast to that, I also competed for coaches who I suspected were queer, but who didn’t address it with us, no matter how many suggestions teammates and I made that we were staunch allies. And, somewhere in the middle of those experiences, I had a coach who was pretty out, but was always navigating the fine line between being comfortably out and downplaying her sexual orientation out of “respect” for some of my more religious teammates whose interpretations of their faiths were less than supportive of LGBTQ folk. In what is probably no surprise, the latter coach was one of the first people to whom I came out.

Until earlier this month, I worked for a Triple-A baseball team.  As a queer professional, I didn’t know what to expect. It started when I drafted my first resume and had to decide whether I’d include my LGBTQ-related extracurriculars from college.  It continued when I finally landed a job (after including LGBTQ-related activities), moved to what I’ve affectionately dubbed the Bible Belt of California, was living with a coworker, and wanted to establish myself as a professional without risking being pigeonholed and subjected to double standards, or worse—losing my job. The fact that I was working in men’s professional sports was just an added uncertainty.

As most people reading this know, there is no hard and fast way for how, when, and to whom to come out. There is a hard and fast way to be an ally, though, and I’m proud that even in the midst of the reports of homophobia in men’s sports and in professional sports (which are gradually less and less, but still too frequent), by the time I left the Grizzlies, my teammates—my coworkers—proved to me that it was safe to be out. It was safe to be me.

As our owner articulated, sometimes it really as simple as respecting other people’s happiness.

Happy Pride Month!


risaAbout the Author
Risa Isard is based in Washington, D.C. where she is the program coordinator for the Aspen Institute’s Sports & Society Program. A Duke alumna, she designed her own major in social change, gender, and sports and earned honors for her thesis about the prehistory and early years of Title IX. She is an “everyday athlete,” has been published on espnW, considers herself incredibly fortunate to have had amazing mentors, and strongly believes in paying it forward to the next generation. You can follow her on Twitter at @RisaLovesSports.