Rumbling down the field, breaking tackles and knocking around defenders are just a few responsibilities of the fullback in football.
Jenn Rands does all of those things and more as fullback for the Winnipeg Wolfpack of the Western Women’s Football League.
She’s also a lesbian, and says her team has done a lot to create an accepting environment and to be more than just a team.
“The Wolfpack, is one of the most important parts of our lives,” said Rands. “It’s our second family. Some of the best friendships of our lives have come from our locker room and out on the field.
“Even though we hang up the cleats after the championship game in July, there really is no off-season for us as we stick together as a pack year round.”
Rands hasn’t faced any homophobia in sports, but says she knows of male friends who have. She said about 75 per cent of her team identifies as straight but have no problem with lesbian players.
Rands grew up in the small town of Roblin, Manitoba, and said her experience growing up as a lesbian there was different.
“As I grew up in a rural community with a high school population of about 200 students, I kept my sexual orientation to myself until I moved away to attend college,” she said. “I never really felt ‘closeted.’ I just felt like it wasn’t anyone else’s business and was pretty okay with keeping it to myself.”
She remembers her gay friends who came out being bullied in the hallways, and she heard rumours after she left that they were having a rough time.
“A guy who actually was my first boyfriend was bullied a lot after he came out,” she said. “He was called the f-word and stuff like that. Anyone who acted differently was bullied.”
Rands says she always knew she was gay, and didn’t have a hard time concealing it. But when she came out to her family, she was scared.
“My parents were shocked at first and worried about how I was going to get treated and what it would mean going forward and worried they won’t have grandchildren,’ she said. “Being 19 at the time you can imagine my response to that.”
She left for college around then and still lives in the city of Winnipeg. She’s 27 now and has been married for a year and a half.
She acknowledges though her experience is different from others, she says education and awareness are the best ways to end homophobia in sports, and educating young athletes is the main priority.
“We should be educating people in an LGBT-safe environment,” she said. “Coaches should be teaching the fundamentals of respect for yourself, your teammates and your opponents no matter who they are.”
This is the 7th article in a series by Stephen Burns on sexual orientation in sports. You can read the other articles in which Burns profiles several gay athletes and examines their journey through the world of sports, by clicking on this link here: Out of the closet and off the bench