Cleveland Browns Players Join the Athlete Ally Movement

May 10, 2013

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - Current Cleveland Browns star D'Qwell Jackson, free agent Chris Gocong, as well as 12-year NFL veteran Eric Barton, have joined Athlete Ally, a leading organization working to raise awareness about and end homophobia in sports. The addition of these three new Athlete Ally Ambassadors is part of Athlete Ally's ongoing effort to empower allies to help make sports a welcoming environment for all. Former Browns linebacker and Athlete Ally Ambassador Scott Fujita directly helped grow the movement in Cleveland with these new additions.

"I am forever grateful to the game of football for teaching me the value of teamwork and sportsmanship and honored that my former teammates recognize their responsibility as role models in our culture," Fujita said. "With each new Athlete Ally that speaks out, an LGBT athlete may feel more comfortable in his or her sport, and will know that there is support. It is clear by the advocacy of these players that Cleveland is a welcoming environment. That is something I am very proud of."

As D'Qwell Jackson, a team leader on defense, explained: "I believe that everyone should be treated the same. That's my thought as a person and as a teammate. Joining Athlete Ally is my way of letting it be known that I would respect any teammate - gay or straight - it just doesn't matter."

Chris Gocong, a member of the Browns for the past two seasons, added: "Scott Fujita was a pioneer in the player movement to create an inclusive environment in the NFL and I feel it is my duty to help continue that work as the league moves from tolerance to acceptance. I want to support any athlete to feel more comfortable and confident being himself."

Jackson, a team leader on defense, is entering his eighth season in Cleveland and was drafted by the Browns in 2006 out of the University of Maryland. The Philadelphia Eagles originally drafted Cocong, a linebacker who missed last season due to injury, in 2006. Barton, began playing his career in Oakland (1999-2003), and then played for the Jets (2004-08), and Browns (2009-10).

"It is important for athletes to be vocal on this front. Other wise sports would just maintain an informal  'Don't ask, Don't tell' kind of policy and that sends the wrong message to young people," said Hudson Taylor, Founder and Executive Director of Athlete Ally.  Taylor added: "Athlete Ally's foundation is our programmatic work with professional sports leagues and at colleges and universities across the country. Yet, creating a welcoming sports environment emanates from the inspired work of the players who advance the cause. I salute D'Qwell, Chris, and Eric for standing up for what is right and providing vision moving forward."

As Athlete Ally Ambassadors, Jackson, Gocong, and Barton join the NFL contingent of Brendon Ayanbadejo (Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens,) Chris Kluwe (Minnesota Vikings), Scott Fujita (New Orleans Saints), Donte Stallworth (New England Patriots), and Connor Barwin (Philadelphia Eagles), as well as tennis greats Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish, NBA star Kenneth Faried (Denver Nuggets), WNBA Player Kristi Toliver (Los Angeles Sparks), MLS stars Omar Gonzalez, A.J. DeLaGarza, Stephen McCarthy and Chris Seitz, Dan Grunfeld (Israeli Basketball), Rashad Evans (UFC), 12 Minnesota United soccer players, and four Australians in rugby stars David Pocock and James Hilterbrand, Australian Rules Football player Brock McLean, and World-Champion cricketer Alex Blackwell along with scores of college athletes who have already signed on.  Jackson, Gocong, and Barton will act as liaisons between Athlete Ally and the league. Athlete Ally Ambassadors help promote Athlete Ally’s mission to end homophobia in sports by speaking out to their peers, sports and fan bases, and encouraging their colleagues to join in the effort.