Thursday, July 28, 2011

Ben Cohen, Hero

Photograph by Richard Phibbs for "Out"
If you don't know Ben Cohen, I think you should.  Yes, he's undeniably attractive, judging by the picture to the right, but, believe me, that's not all he has going for him.

Cohen is a thirty-two-year-old, straight, married father of twin girls.  He's also a former British rugby player and England World Cup winner.  I use the word former because, this past May, Cohen retired to devote his energies full-time to the Ben Cohen Standup Foundation.

The goal of his Foundation is to combat bullying, especially in relation to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people, and homophobia in general.  Cohen kicked off the American leg of "The Acceptance Tour 2011" in Atlanta, also this past May.  He engaged in a series of meet-and-greets and fundraising events, all in support of organizations doing the hard work in our communities to generate greater awareness and acceptance of people's diversity.

On his website, Cohen is quoted as saying, "I believe that every person on this planet has a right to be true to themselves, to love and be loved and to be happy.  That's what we all want.  I am in a privileged position to be able to spread some important messages across the globe--and that's exactly what I'm going to do."  Further, Cohen has said, "I'm passionate about standing up against homophobia and feel compelled to take action.  It is time we stand up for what is right and support young people who are being harmed."

Here's what I see:  With his good looks alone, Cohen gets attention, and he knows it, making it work for him (for example, he's willing to pose shirtless for pictures and be a calendar boy if people listen to his message).  Beyond that, the fact he was a well-known, world-class athlete puts him in a unique position, particularly with the sporting community, including players and spectators.  (And let's not forget how closeted athletes are in general, usually not coming out until after they've retired.)  

What I think Cohen has more than anything else is straight cred.  I've said it before and I'll say it again:  people pay attention to straight people talking about the intolerances toward and injustices against gay and lesbian people, more than when gay and lesbian people themselves lament their own plight yet again.  Yes, we need to help ourselves, and we can't sit back and wait for compassionate and influential people like Ben Cohen to take up our causes.  But it certainly doesn't hurt to have someone like him on our side.

In my opinion, Ben Cohen is a hero, and he has my utmost admiration.  Unlike anyone in his position before him, he made the choice to shift his priorities from playing sports and earning big money, to adopting a cause not normally supported by someone who is straight.  And I don't think there can be any doubt his efforts, through the Standup Foundation, will increase awareness, raise funds, and make a difference in the lives of young people, who are particularly vulnerable to the hate levelled against them because of their sexual orientation.

(I invite you to learn more about the Ben Cohen Standup Foundation, by clicking here or here.)                  


  1. I find it difficult to think that someone is a hero, because every action he takes is clearly valuable to him too. Supporting something shows that one is a good person, therefore his value as a public figure grows, he makes more money and so on. But clearly his actions are making other people feel good too, so there is no harm done. It is a simple concept of behavioral ecology. I had a lecture from Amotz Zahavi, a well-known zoologist, and he stated that we humans do good things (for example, give money to the animal shelter) because self-consciously we know that these actions grow our value as a decent human being (for example, your lover sees that you care much about animals, therefore you could possibly be a good parent). Just a scientific point of view.

    It seems like ages since I posted here. Truth be told, I have been working 24/7. My experiment is ending and this means more time to myself. This month has been an eye-opening experience. I have made mistakes, learned form them, made mistakes again and learned from them. And I realized that I would like to continue my studies in science. Luckily, I was once again able to defend a full scholarship for my studies. My heart beats too fast when I think about my decision: will I be clever enough to make it to my master's degree, will I be a scientist one day, will I have time to fall in love... But what I now know is that I am a good person. A human needs love and love comes in many forms. I just need to be opened to love and take pride in it.

  2. Great to hear from you again, elevencats. I've missed you.

    Of course, you can look at Ben Cohen retiring from his career as a rugby player and taking up the causes of bullying and homophobia the way you mention, but I don't look at it that way.

    The side benefit to any of us putting ourselves out there is the same, but I'd like to think, ultimately, that's not what motivates any of us to do good things to help other people.

    Ben could have adopted any number of causes, but I think he saw nobody devotes his time or energy to what's most important to him, in part, because his own father was beaten to death in 2000 when Ben was just twenty-two years old (which he discusses in online interviews).

    Also, Ben's seen the impact of bullying and homophobia, and how they've ruined lives. He has his own reasons for starting the Standup Foundation, and I believe his heart is in the right place. As you write, what he's doing is benefitting other people in an important way.

    Good to get an update on what you've been doing. Clearly, you've had a lot of success because you were awarded a full scholarship to continue your studies. I'm proud of you, and you should be so proud of yourself.

    I'm relieved to learn you consider yourself a good person (which I have no doubt you are), but you must believe in yourself more, too. Of course you will be clever enough to earn your master's degree. Why wouldn't you be? More confidence, young man, more confidence.

    And, yes, you will have time to fall in love. As you say, you need to be open to it when it happens, which is absolutely correct. In the meantime, continue to focus on being the best human being you can be, which you're working on by recognizing your self-worth and getting a good education. When the time for love is right in your life, it will happen, I promise you that.

    By the way, I know I've mentioned this before but your ability with the English language has improved markedly. I'm so impressed. Keep it up. You're going great.

    All the best, thanks for the comment, and I hope to hear from you again very soon.