WHITEFISH BAY (WITI) -- The fight for gay rights isn't just taking place in state legislatures. In its own way, it is being played out on athletic fields and inside locker rooms -- and a powerful collection of athletes is making sure everyone plays by the rules.
When Jason Collins went from being the tallest professional athlete you'd never heard of to the front man for gay rights and equality, he had to know he'd have some support among his peers. Many straight athletes, including Milwaukee Brewers' Yovani Gallardo have shown their support for the "No Hate" campaign, which champions marriage equality.
Former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe has been extremely vocal in his support of gay rights
Hudson Taylor coaches wrestling at Columbia University, but it was during his college wrestling career at the University of Maryland when he noticed theater major friends and wrestling buddies spoke very different languages.
"Seeing the open and accepting Theater Department juxtaposed with homophobic language of the locker room put this into perspective for me and made me realize that as an athletic community, we can and should be better," Taylor said.
Thus, Athlete Ally was formed. The concept is simple: convince straight athletes to use their considerable cache to erase homophobic language and actions wherever possible -- and it's not just professional athletes.
Jackson Weber is smart enough to be accepted into an Ivy League school, and talented enough athletically to play football when he arrives at Cornell next fall. He is, in jock speak, "a real stud" -- a multi-sport athlete at Whitefish Bay High School -- and a big man on campus.
Weber has signed the pledge to be an Athlete Ally.
"To help combat homophobia in sports and stand up for people in the LGBT community who may be in sports who may not be -- but to have them have a comfortable environment to be a part of and not feel that they can't be themselves in the sports environment," Weber said.
There is a perception, fairly or not, that the biggest jocks in schools are often the biggest bullies -- the most likely to pick on the kids who are different -- often the kids who are gay.
That makes a gathering in an art room at Whitefish Bay High School that much more remarkable. Once a month, the Gay-Straight Student Alliance meets to talk about gay-straight issues.
The club president is a triathlete, and all four guys in the group are athletes at the school: football players, rugby players and wrestlers. These athletes model their athletic heroes not just on the field -- but off.
"That's the transition from people in their 20s or 30s making millions dollars speaking out for a cause that they believe in. It inspires us, athletes in high school to do the same," Whitefish Bay student-athlete Joey Davey said.
Weber has spent much of his 18 years playing sports and has heard the hateful homophobic slurs fly, and while not directed at him, he knows they're wrong, and he knows it's up to him to do something.
"There have been several instances, where either in the locker room or out in the field, someone will call someone a fag or something like that. It's not cool. I try to keep my calm about things and ask them not to use that word. Most of the time people are receptive to it," Weber said.
Also receptive are the kids in school who are gay, either privately or openly. Having an athlete be an ally doesn't end all discrimination, but it's appreciated.
"When someone with that much of a following comes out and says 'this is what I believe,' people will say 'if this person who I look up and respect thinks this, maybe they're on to something,'" Whitefish Bay senior Aly Leinbach said.
Weber says he hopes to continue speaking out when he attends Cornell in the fall.
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