Who personifies sports diversity? The first name that came to my mind was Molly Lenore. You may not know that she was Compete’s 2012 Inspiring Athlete of the Year. She is a great athlete who has moved sports diversity forward by having the courage to live her life true to who she has always known she was.
Lenore is transgendered—born with a male body, she transitioned to a female body a number of years ago. But even before her transition, sports were very important to her, football in particular. That has never changed.
The National Gay Flag Football League (NGFFL) was in its second year when Lenore joined its ranks as part of the New York Warriors, an all-male team. Understandably she was a little nervous. Lenore has never hidden who she is or who she used to be. And she has always found acceptance and support from her team, saying “I changed my sex but the bonds I have with the men haven’t changed. I love sports. It’s a big part of my life.”
A veteran of many Gay Bowls, Lenore was disqualified from playing with the men in 2008 by the Gay Games. With the support of “Outsports” co-founder Cyd Zeigler, ultimately she was able to play with the Warriors because the Gay Games decided to change the men’s division to an open division. But in 2012 she made the tough decision to begin playing in the small but growing women’s division to support its growth.
Much more than a football player, Lenore is a leader in the LGBT sports movement. She served as commissioner of the New York Gay Flag Football League for ten years and is on Compete’s Advisory Board. Bottom line? She makes a difference.
In her own words, “For me, being a transgendered person means never really fitting in anywhere. But LGBT sports and the resulting community that has been created lets me be who I am—an athlete, teammate, mentor and friend.”
Sometimes the LGBT community itself overlooks the “T” part of the community. But Molly Lenore is not easily overlooked. From her true desire to be the person she was meant to be to her openness and honesty about her transition, she has become a powerful mentor to other gay athletes. To me, Lenore personifies the best in sports diversity.
More than fifty years have passed since Martin Luther King gave his classic speech sharing his dream that one day children would “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” When I was asked which athlete best personifies sports diversity, my immediate thought was Martina Navratilova.
Then I had a politically correct brain freeze, thinking (and let me remind you I’m a person of color myself—American Indian) I should pick a person of color. I certainly have a wide range of ethnicities to choose from. But then I realized my own attitude wasn’t reflecting Dr. King’s dream. If we finally mature into a society that values “the content of their character” then it doesn’t matter what skin color Navratilova has.
She has been described as “arguably, the greatest tennis player of all time” by tennis historian and journalist Bud Collins. Navratilova sought political asylum from her native Czechoslovakia, becoming an American citizen in 1981. And talking about diversity, she regained her Czech citizenship in 2008, giving her dual citizenship. She was one of the first professional athletes (or for that matter, celebrities) who formally came out in the summer of 1981. For over three decades she has been an outspoken advocate for LGBT rights, underprivileged children and animal rights. She’s also co-authored a number of novels and other books.
One of the first lesbians to pay “palimony” to her expartner when they ended their relationship, in December of 2014 Navratilova married Julia Lemigova. She’s a survivor of breast cancer and has even appeared in the quirky comedy series, “Portlandia” as well as “Dancing With The Stars.” And she has also participated in a lawsuit against Amendment 2, the 1992 ballot proposition in Colorado designed to deny legal protection from discrimination for LGBT citizens and, with Jason Collins, she has represented the gay community at the United Nations.
As one of the most public faces of the LGBT community, in 2000 the Human Rights Campaign presented her with its National Equality Award. Nearly a decade ago, AARP chose her to be its ambassador to promote health and fitness among senior citizens. In a world of constant social media overload, Navratilova is someone who has entered her golden years without a trail of scandals. I think Martina Navratilova is an ambassador for diversity.