If there is one person who truly symbolizes sports diversity, it would be Compete’s editor, Connie Wardman. Though she never really played a sport in school (no, music doesn’t count), she works tirelessly to support the LGBT athletic community to which her son, Jeff, belonged.
If you know Connie at all you know about her son Jeff. He was a world-class professional dancer and singer who set the stage ablaze with his talent and athletic ability. For many years Connie and I disagreed on whether or not dancing was a sport—that is until she showed me a video of Jeff dancing and I had to admit that anything that involves that many muscles has to be considered a sport!
While she loves her Pittsburgh Steelers, Connie has never been a big sports fan. In a way, that continues even today as the editor-in-chief of Compete Magazine. But one thing she does love is people, and Compete gives our “Irish storyteller” that in the steady stream of athletes, sports fans and advocates she interviews and writes about.
A true crusader in the world of sports, I can’t even count the compliments I’ve received about her good work. I know she has saved at least one life thanks to a letter we received from a suicidal reader named Tom who thanked Compete and specifically, Connie for her work.
Tom said Connie’s article on 9-11 hero Mark Bingham and his mother made him think twice about taking his own life. “Mark’s mom didn’t have a choice, she lost her son. I don’t want to put my mom in that position,” he wrote. I’m happy to say that two years later we received an update from Tom who is doing much better now and has a greatly improved relationship with his mother.
When I’m at events with Connie, complete strangers come up just to hug her. I’m not sure if they always recognize her from her work at Compete or if they’re just drawn to her loving, caring energy. Every time we attend the Sin City Shootout Sports Festival in Las Vegas a virtual line forms to meet her, many of the athletes expressing gratitude for her writing and being a sports pioneer.
One thing I can say for sure about Connie is that she really cares. She has no other mission than to “unite the world through sports.” It also doesn’t have to be done according to her plan. She’s seen so many sports writers mandate that sports diversity or equality evolve according to their plan and on their timetable. Instead, she is looking for the end result, whatever path it may take.
When her son died, Connie lost a little piece of herself. In a 14-month period, in addition to Jeff, she also lost her husband and adoptive mother. We were working together at the time although she wasn’t yet our editor. She vowed to help change society into a more open, loving and welcoming one for LGBT “kids” of all ages.
Connie describes Jeff to me as a warm, loving, outgoing soul addicted to sequins and the stage. And as drag queen Crystal Sinclair, she was always the classy winner of numerous awards. He/she was always the first one to come to the aid of a friend, even putting on many benefits to raise money to bury friends disowned by their families who committed suicide.
When she became Compete’s editor in 2011, she set a path to fulfill the mission of “uniting the world through sports.” While she’s not a hardcore sports fan, she loves the power of sports to bring people together. And she truly admires the athletes and the cause.
When organizations honor individuals who’ve contributed to the sports diversity movement, Connie is often overlooked. But I know that for her, it isn’t about the praise she has or hasn’t received from the community; it’s about what she can do make the world a better place for everyone, both gay and straight. Whether she is interviewing a professional sports superstar or an athlete from the local softball team, Connie gives it her all.
Wow, Jeff’s got an amazing mom.
By Eric Carlyle
Eric Carlyle, CEO of Compete Magazine, has played baseball and rugby and is a die-hard Dallas Cowboys fan.
Photo by Brock Elliott Photography