Duke Wrestler Dylan Ryan is an Athlete Ally Ambassador

June 20, 2013

Dylan Ryan is a standout wrestler at Duke, and leads the Athelte Ally Ambassador program on campus with fellow Blue Devil grappler Conner Hartmann.

My name is Dylan Ryan.  I'm white, I’''m middle class, I'm from New Hampshire, I'm a Republican, I'm a sophomore on the Duke University wrestling team, and I'm an Athlete Ally. 

After first meeting Hudson Taylor as a freshman in college I was touched by his message, though it was one of my fellow ambassadors, Conner Hartmann, who was initially carrying his words.  I did not act immediately, but always remembered the message.  This spring, while in an online argument about basketball, I was repeatedly called a faggot and a homosexual because of the sport I choose to participate in.  This repeated hate speech put me into a period of reflection, in which I remembered Hudson Taylor, who also happened to participate in my sport.  I couldn't imagine being a part of the LGBT community and being part of the locker room, as hearing the constant badgering and dissociation of that community would be nearly impossible to deal with.  This is when I contacted Hudson Taylor, and became an ambassador for Athlete Ally, and thus beginning the program at Duke University.

The first thing I did was recruit Conner Hartmann, our NCAA qualifier at 197 pounds, to join me in the fight to end this hate speech in the athletic community.  After meeting with Leslie Barnes, our Director of Student-Athlete Development, and Janie Long, our Director at the LGBT Center, we made it our mission to push the message at Duke.  We have had a few more athletes jump on board and will start a Facebook page to help promote the pledge on campus.  We also plan to do a photo shoot and create posters so our athletes can promote the pledge.  I will also be wearing a customized headgear in all my matches next season to promote the message of equality for the LGBT community in sports.  Hopefully this gives the message some publicity and allows more athletes, coaches, and fans to join in.

On my own team Conner and I have seen strides.  Though not everyone changes immediately, many of my teammates have upheld the pledge by keeping each other accountable and catching themselves when they call someone "gay" or "fag."  Already we have had teammates sign the pledge and promote the message, which is touching in a sport like wrestling that has many people attack it for being "gay." 

One challenge we faced is the image people have of the LGBT community for stereotypes and upbringing, as many refuse to understand what their speech and practices do to our community.  It is challenging to change these opinions and build their belief in the pledge, but through continued observance of the pledge and continuing to maintain it, some of these people have jumped on board for equality in sports.  Many members of the religious community also have a tough time understanding the pledge, but with use of religious messages, ideals, and stories, we have been able for many to see that the pledge does not interfere with religious beliefs. 

My hope is that all professional leagues members of the LGBT community do not have to hide their identity in fear of disappointing or hurting their teammates.  Jason Collins' courageous step is the first step in changing this culture in major professional leagues, and with more recognizable athletes joining Athlete Ally and upholding the pledge this can only change for the better.  Sexuality should not come between teammates, coaches, and fans.  We can build equality in the athletic community and we can end the negative stigma.