By Jen Hoffman
Fear is a liar. It’s also the only weapon against my potential. Fear likes to tell people lies about who they are, who they’ll become, and what the path to get there will look like. Life has taught me that everything it has for me is on the other side of fear. Sometimes, the voice of fear is in your own head. Other times, it is the critics and the people that see who you are becoming. It is when we walk towards fear that we begin to see how much it deceives us.
I grew up in a small town north of Detroit. Fear’s voice showed up a lot for me, telling me that as a gay person, I couldn’t be successful and that people wouldn’t love me for who I was. Sometimes the voice would whisper, sometimes it would scream. It was when I left that small town and started playing college basketball that I started to realize how deceitful it really was. I was a gym rat my whole life, and training and competing had always been a deep part of who I was. At the time, I was working towards a scholarship. When I got to college, however, this love for training became so much more. I started falling in love with my body and its ability to adapt, grow, and change. I began to see how the process was not only physical, but also mental. This process also helped me fall in love with who I was, and to see how every situation and person I met was a tool to peel back the layers to my truest self. I was surrounded by teammates, fellow students, and staff at Siena that showed me the beauty of our differences. It gave me a safe space to examine and question fear’s lies, and to begin to embrace the truth of who I was.
There is a certain life and thought process that comes with being an athlete. You fall in love with failure because you know it brings you to success. You break down movements and moments in order to expand your perspective and grow to your greatest potential. Through sports, I have learned fear prevents us from transparency and vulnerability, the two most important ingredients in living an authentic life. Without transparency and vulnerability, we miss out on meaningful connections with the people around us. It is how we build trust inside of the teams we are on and the communities we belong to.
When I was in high school, I used my dedication and discipline to get a scholarship. Reaching the end of my collegiate career in basketball, I realized I hadn’t had enough of the sport yet and that I wanted to coach and focused my energy on this goal. I worked every camp I could, building my resume and working towards my future as I always did: with passion, dedication, and discipline. What I didn’t expect was how fear would show up again. After receiving my acceptance letter to become a graduate assistant for Women’s Basketball at Slippery Rock University, the whispers of fear started to show up again. Although I learned so many lessons in college about being unapologetic about who I was, there was still healing and growth I had not recognized. My experiences from that small town I grew up in told me people would be afraid of who I was because of who I loved. Heading to Slippery Rock, the whispers transformed into a fear of the parents’ letting me coach their daughters. I became afraid of all the negative stereotypes potential players and their parents might hold towards me if I were their coach.
It took me those years as a graduate assistant to remember how important transparency and vulnerability are in being part of a team and a community. Without these things, I was reminded, life is empty, and void of the beauty of diversity. I also found myself lost without a team of my own to compete with. I remember walking the halls of the sport complex after 6 am conditioning with my players and seeing a sign for the Pittsburgh Passion, a women’s professional football team. Trying out for the Passion was what helped me remember the importance of owning my truth and walking the journey to finding my most authentic self daily.
Discovering our truth is a daily process, one that is always evolving with every situation and person we meet. As an athlete, I have had the blessing and privilege to meet so many different people across the human spectrum. Both as a coach and a player, it has helped me discover new parts of myself and grow in ways I wouldn’t have ever predicted. It has also taught me the importance of honoring the journey and authenticity of others.
Our truths are our most powerful weapon in a world of people hungry for love and acceptance. When you show up as your truest self, you give someone else the permission to do the same. Sometimes, being a person is hard. Especially when we live with the fear of having to show parts of ourselves we don’t know will be accepted.
Athlete Ally is working to create safe spaces for everyone in the LGBTQ+ community within and through the world of sports. Regardless if you are a spectator, a competing athlete or coach, or part of the administration, Athlete Ally is on the ground working to provide safe spaces to allow LGBTQ+ individuals to show up with their most authentic self. It is a complete privilege to be an Ambassador for an organization that fights and advocates to remove the stereotypes and fears preventing so many individuals from fully showing up on their teams and in their communities. We all deserve the experience of being seen and accepted exactly for who we are.