Chico State Brings Gender and Sexuality Inclusiveness into Athletics
with You Can Play Program

Camille Lorenzana

You can play.

With these three words, a nationwide unprecedented movement of inclusiveness was launched a year ago with the goal of ensuring equality, respect, and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation.

Chico State is committed to fostering an environment of inclusiveness that celebrates the diversity of its students, faculty, and staff, not only on campus, but in the community as a whole. In an effort to achieve this goal, Chico State Athletics invited Dr. Pat Griffin to campus in spring 2012.
student athlete headshot
Student athlete, Tommy McGuan, brought the
You Can Play program to Chico State in Spring 2013.

Griffin, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and former director of Changing the Game: the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network Sports Project, introduced the You Can Play program to Chico State. Griffin spoke about diversity and gender and discussed the changes happening as a whole, and more specifically, the changes in sports.  

It wasn't long after Griffin spoke that cross country runner and Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) member Tommy McGuan decided to take matters into his own hands by bringing You Can Play to Chico State. Within a few days, he conceptualized a video with the goal of making a difference regarding the issues facing many athletes today.

"Pat said one way to incorporate these messages into athletics was through a video, and I thought that would be a really great idea," McGuan said. "I was really inspired. I realized there was something I could do if I had a little help."

The "You Can Play" video McGuan produced serves as a social activism campaign, focusing on the eradication of homophobia in sports. Centered on the slogan "If you can play, you can play," the program urges athletes and coaches to focus on a player's talent, work ethic, and character rather than sexual orientation. Players are judged only by what they contribute to the team's success.

Throughout the spring semester, McGuan, with help from teammate Dillon Breen, wrote a script and produced a video. They hoped to spark a conversation across campus on gender and sexuality acceptance by defending LGBTQ+ rights publicly for the first time.

"We got every single team sponsored by the school involved," McGuan said. "It was a lot of work, but definitely worth it."

Each scene in the video includes two players that let athletes know if they can help on the field, track, court, diamond, or trails, they are wanted and welcomed to join a proud tradition of excellence, diversity, and tolerance at Chico State.

The reaction to the video has been overwhelmingly positive, creating discussion for people who were not necessarily talking about the issues otherwise.

"It was just a really positive thing that a student did that wasn't prompted by anything but bringing a speaker in," said Assistant Athletic Director Mitch Cox. "Something that was said got him fired up and he was able to get other people on board."

The You Can Play message, being powerful and clear, is changing attitudes for many regarding gender and sexuality diversity and making LGBTQ+ student athletes feel more comfortable on and off the athletic fields.

"It's crazy because of your sexuality you think that you can't play a sport," said Maddison LeRoy, Chico State student and former athlete. "I think it is a great video because it is such an issue on so many campuses."

In addition, the video has been submitted for a NCAA Award for Diversity and Inclusion. Award winners will be recognized at the 2014 NCAA Convention in San Diego in January.

Now that the conversation has been started, the Chico State Athletics Board of Directors is looking for additional ways to educate athletes, coaches, and teachers to create a positive environment, guiding people in the right direction. The focus now is on derogatory language.

"If we see something that's wrong or hear something that's wrong, we say, 'Hey, you know, maybe this would be a better way of doing it or saying it,' " Cox said.

The department has even allowed students to make changes to language in the Student Athlete Handbook.

"We had a student who came in and said she didn't feel we were doing everything we could do," Cox said. "So we let her go through the Student Athlete Handbook and make corrections to where maybe our language wasn't exactly right."

While the department takes steps in the right direction, Walsh hopes the education will actually be implemented.

"It's one thing to teach and say we are inclusive, but it is a whole other step enforcing those inclusive aspects," Walsh said.

As coaching staff and faculty work to embed the powerful messages of acceptance and tolerance into athletics, student athletes continue to uphold the prominent position they occupy both on and off the field.

Chico State athletes' qualities of dedication, discipline, perseverance, leadership, teamwork, friendship, and physical fitness play a large role on campus, and McGuan and Breen's video demonstrates that with the right qualities and a little effort, people have the power to change minds, hearts, and attitudes.