In the world of sports, physical talent is often the only thing fans see from the stands. For Stephen Bickford, a former UNC men's soccer player who was a first-year in 2005, a secret loomed over that talent in a way he felt no one could understand.
“There was definitely always pressure feeling like I couldn’t be part of the team for something no one knew,” Bickford said. “When you go into an exam and something is affecting your mindset, you don’t do as well as you could. That’s what I felt like, like that gnawing feeling in the back of my head was constantly hindering my performance.”
Bickford, a forward for UNC men's soccer, concealed his homosexuality from the public until five years after he transferred from the University. Many college athletes in the LGBTQ+ community can relate to his story — where fear of being shunned for who you truly are keeps you from fully embracing a passion everyone should be able to enjoy.
Athlete Ally, an organization dedicated to ending anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment in athletics, recently released the Athletic Equality Index, a comprehensive report that assesses LGBTQ+ inclusion policies and practices for every athletic program in the NCAA’s Power Five conferences.
The AEI is the first report of its kind to provide fact-based data on the progress made by each major NCAA program in this effort. Liam Miranda, research and program manager at Athlete Ally, sees it as a major step for improvement in the future.