|Photograph by Richard Phibbs for "Out"|
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.)