Featured in our 5th Annual Faces of Sports Issue!

Some people born with a special gift seem to intuitively follow that gift’s path without realizing it. Sam Lehman is one of those people. While he’s always been a great competitive athlete, his true gift is as a coach and mentor – he loves helping people.

Whether it’s helping one of the LGBTQ sports leagues, his own team or an athlete, helping fellow LGBTQ business owners or keeping a game moving forward in his official capacity as a referee, Lehman is always there to support, motivate, empower and elevate others. He’s a powerful champion for the LGBTQ community. Saying that life has given him many gifts, he believes that “it would be selfish of me to take these gifts and go home; it’s important to share and give back as much as possible.”

After college graduation Lehman moved to New York City for work and came out to his family with loving results. Not long after that he met Rob Tanis-Evon, the absolute love of his life – a feeling Rob shared for Sam in equal measure. A fairytale glance across a crowded dance floor has led to their 28-year life together, including marriage in 1990.

In 1997 Lehman and his friend Doug Finlay co-founded Columbia Consulting Group to provide information technology staffing and solutions. However Lehman says it was after they joined the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce or the NGLCC that the group “revolutionized my company and the way we do business “

As part of his mission to give back, Lehman is a vocal advocate for LGBTQ businesses who currently aren’t part of the chamber. “I work monthly in Washington, D.C. on a certification committee,” said Lehman, “and speak to as many new members as possible, helping them to develop success steps after certification.”

In 1994 Lehman discovered LGBTQ softball and fell in love with gay sports. He has this to say about it: “I cannot minimize the impact gay sports have had on my life. Everyone likes to feel like they belong to a community; that aspect of my life was missing before gay sports. I loved the league and all the new friends I was making. As an adult I have had three life-changing events; meeting Robbie, joining the NGLCC and finding gay sports. Each event has had a positive impact on my life.”

Since then he’s played softball with the National Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance (NAGAAA), most lately for the NY Cranky Yankees team in their Masters division. And this year he was inducted into their Hall of Fame. He’s also been actively involved in the National Gay Flag Football League (NGFFL), first as a player and later on as a referee.

And Lehman’s referee work with LGBTQ leagues has broken barriers. It’s led to his working with the NFL in various roles, he’s on the referee team for USA Flag Football and he’s one of two U.S. referees working the World Flag Football Championships. All this, he says “became possible the moment I noticed a simple flyer on a coffee shop wall in New Haven, Connecticut.”

Thanks to people like Sam Lehman, an openly gay man, athlete, coach, referee, businessman, advocate, mentor, friend and husband, and now Compete’s 2018 Mark Bingham Athlete of the Year, the LGBTQ community has a powerful champion.

By Connie Wardman