Two time Olympian & 2013 World Championship 800m Silver Medalist Nick Symmonds recently spoke with Sports Conflict Institute Founder Joshua Gordon and Practitioner Maggie Langlas Ward on SCI TV. In the conversation Nick Symmonds discussed his stand in Moscow for LGBT rights, and how he personally balanced standing up for a cause without degrading his performance on the track.
Regarding LGBT rights, Nick Symmonds stated, “I saw this as the defining civil rights moment of our generation and I just wanted to be a part of it, I wanted to be on the right side of history.”
According to Gordon, “Nick Symmonds is a unique figure in sports today, as he has been able to strike a balance between competing at an extremely high level and speaking his mind publicly on important issues. Few athletes seem to be willing to do this, as it can likely be a career risk that can lead to diminished performance or ridicule.”
Symmonds described the balance between his athletic performance and speaking out while in Moscow. “People wanted me to boycott the World Championships in Moscow, and I understand why they wanted me to do that, but at the same time you got to remember that I have a job, and my job is to run fast and hopefully win medals. I went out to Moscow having said that that was my primary focus. Having won a silver medal last year at the World Championships, I then had a week in Moscow to really kind of be a tourist and to have this incredible platform to talk to international media and let them know exactly how I felt. It was kind of that balance that worked for me and allowed me to get my job done, but also hopefully affect some change for the positive.” It was during this time that Symmonds would dedicate his medal to his gay and lesbian friends and speak out in the International News about Russia’s “anti-gay” politics.
Nick Symmonds understands that making political statements as an athlete is also problematic. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written a blog that was controversial or said something controversial, and the amount of hate that comes through the comments in social media saying, ‘you’re just an athlete, we want to see you run, we don’t care what your opinion is on this,’ and you know, they have a point I guess.” However, Nick Symmonds stated, “I don’t say that I have the answers to everything; I just want to get people thinking about these topics because I think too often we are a culture that wants to just maybe push things aside and ignore some of the harder conversations.”
In Symmonds’ interview, he strongly encouraged other athletes to speak out in support of LGBT rights, saying, “ultimately, I really believe that in supporting the LGBT movement, you will be on the right side of history and that 10 or 20 years from now you’ll be very happy that you stood up for what was right.”
To improve the current LGBT culture in sports Symmonds recommended “weeding out some of the negative connotations and negative attachments to (words like gay) in our pop culture” and “becoming more familiar with gay athletes.” Further, Symmonds stated that “organizations like the NFL or the MLB have a responsibility to do everything they can in setting up the rules and the guidelines to discourage discrimination of any kind.”
SCI supports competitive goals in athletics through understanding, preventing, and resolving destructive conflict both inside and outside the lines. SCI serves as a knowledge center and provides a range of services to help ensure student-athlete experience is part of a healthy university culture while optimizing performance on and off the field of play. Conflict is inevitable, but how we respond determines whether success follows or costs mount. SCI Founder Joshua Gordon has over 20 years of conflict management experience.