"We, and we alone, dictate what and how we consume things."
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Welcome, welcome everybody! I'm really excited to publish this interview here on AP this morning. Found these guys on LinkedIn through Tim Singleton of the now sadly defunct FC Fargo. Ryan Adams graciously took the time to speak with me about TC Jacks and the role sports can play in being an agent of social change of all kinds. It was a fascinating conversation, and if AP switches to a podcast down the road, hopefully we can do this again, live! Check it out.
Welcome to AP. First question would be who you are, where you're from, and what your role is with TC Jacks.
Thanks APB for taking time to talk about the TC Jacks. I am, Ryan Adams, the current President of TC Jacks LGBT Soccer based in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota. Otherwise known commonly as the Twin Cities. Prior to becoming President of the club, I managed league operations for 3 years.
How did you come to be involved with soccer in general, and running a team in particular?
I grew up playing soccer in the MSP suburbs. I played through my junior year of high school and left soccer to pursue the opportunity to attend college early and get a relief from some social pressures in my life. That pressure was my sexual orientation, which was difficult to come to terms with until my early 20s.
After leaving sport and even college, I was able to return to school as a proud and out individual to pursue my original passion of the social sciences. It took me about 8 years after high school to find my motivation for sport, in particular team sport. I chose to return to soccer at the same time I began studying sport sociology my final year of my undergrad. From there I went onto earn an MA in Sport Management. During grad school I began playing for the TC Jacks, which to me was over coming not only my anxiety from when I played sports in a homophobic environment as a youth, but also overcoming an ingrained prejudice that an LGBT team would be less than equal to that of a hetro-oriented team.
TC Jacks has been around since 2007, so you're getting ready to have a ten year anniversary next season. How did this team come into being? I guess you could say, what's the 'origin story?'
The Jacks came about 10 years ago when JB Becker, who's since passed away, desired to get fellow LGBT persons in the community together to play soccer. It began as an informal community based group with the goal to get on the pitch and moving. Minnesota is home to several LGBT sporting organizations, softball for example has been a huge sport here for over 30 years. The IGLFA, the central body of LGBT soccer, has been around since 1992. So it was those few before us that led to growing our club. And it's evolved quite a bit over the 10 years to incorporate more community and offerings, meanwhile we have maintained and grown the core offerings of coed open soccer, local league teams and having teams represent Minnesota in LGBT tournaments nationwide and globally.
Is the IGLFA the league you managed operations for, or was that someone else?
I served the IGLFA as Communications Director for 6 months this past year. During that time I became aware of a gap in service to US based LGBT soccer clubs. So, with the blessing of the board, I left to pursue starting US LGBT Soccer, which is set to launch this coming August. There are more than 18 US based clubs from coast to coast, and there is a highly desired and needed central organization to grow the game in new markets for LGBT and allied persons. So our hope is that we can be an asset in that regard. We also have some other great ideas such as a US based national LGBT team that will be deployed to international LGBT tournaments and possibly represent the LGBT community at USASA tournaments.
That's something I'm interested in hearing about, these tournaments. Are these between teams or countries, and what exactly is it like getting to travel overseas and interact with players from other countries and experience different cultures?
There is certainly a unique bond between the LGBT teams across the world, because one thing most all of us have in common is that we grew up in a space where being gay and playing soccer among other activities was not a possibility. There are some great rivalries between clubs, but more so brotherhood would best describe it. The teams are typically representative of a city rather than a nation. However, I do foresee the opportunity for national representation to be an option too. The tournaments tend to be a week in duration when it's an 11s format, however there are some 7 a side tournaments that occur over 3-4 days or a single day short game format.
The various styles are conducive to attracting various players, since most everyone is a full time working adult, it can be difficult to get the time off to attend. On the pitch we're fierce competitors and off the pitch you will find the players inter-mixed. Many of whom have been playing in these tournaments for years, while others getting their first exposure. It's the highlight of my year, and from what I get in feedback, the best part of other's year on the team too. Having the chance to meet others from around the world have given me a great global perspective and appreciation for the game. We're incredibly fortunate in many regards that homophobia is being addressed proactively in our sports culture today. My heart breaks when I get an email from a player in Africa or the Middle East who would love the opportunity to come to the tournament but fears they will be punished, jailed, outed, or forbidden from attending.
Let's circle back around to your work with US LGBT Soccer. What are you hoping to accomplish getting this organization going? Are you hoping to form a national league for these 18 teams, and growing, that you mentioned, or even a true national team?
The first thing we're doing is consulting the clubs to determine where we can be of most assistance. There are some things we can do for the clubs at a national level to help them out such as insurance, networking and other support. In addition, our goal is to provide a tournament sanctioning standard to which promotes the game of soccer meanwhile also providing standardization, interpretation and safety measures across all tournaments. We hope to create regions to which would provide inter-region play in addition to the handful of tournaments that are hosted throughout the year. And as mentioned, the opportunity have a single national team to deploy to tournaments where it would otherwise be difficult to get a single club to attend due to location, timing, costs, etc. It also provides an additional avenue for competitive play, sponsorship and overall influence of the game in the LGBT community.
Currently all the clubs either represent themselves or are members of the IGLFA, which is a global entity that is not able to focus in on the US Market to brig it to its full potential. At the end of the day, our goal is simple, to engage LGBT persons to join or continue the game of soccer into adulthood. Our mission is aligned with that of USSF and the USASA, the governing bodies of our sport domestically. And ideally, we would become an affiliate to USASA further adding the US credential.
Solid goals. How has the community as whole around the Twin Cities reacted to the presence of the Jacks?
The Jacks have really gained traction in the community in recent years as we expanded from 1-2 league teams on a year round basis to over 7 teams and 100+ roster spots nearly year round. We're certainly not striving to be an amateur soccer club, however we are striving to be the go to community soccer club for recreational and competitive game play to which all persons feel welcome regardless of their known or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, race, ethnicity, and beyond.
We're gaining respect for those efforts and the community has been seeing our Facebook ads combating homophobia in sport as well as custom Snapchat filters at MN United matches promoting equality through soccer. Through this effort we have found ourselves with some competitive teams who win leagues and tournaments, bringing a different type of respect for our on the field success in addition to our community success. It's about once a week we hear at one of our team's matches, "who are the TC Jacks, we've been seeing you everywhere." Our flashy blue uniforms help with being seeing too I am sure.
Sounds like you guys are doing a good job of getting your team name out there. Attending some MNU games has to help with that. Is there any thought of taking the team to a 'higher level,' so to speak, like the Premier League of America?
That is a great question, and one I and others have pondered before. At this time, and for the foreseeable future, we see our club continuing to provide our core competencies of providing localized leagues, open soccer and tournament opportunities. We do see ourselves as being strong supporters and partners to PLA teams, as we would entice our players seeking to take the next step in their playing ambitions to join on of the local PLA squads, the squad of our good friends FC Fargo within the APL. We value our connection to the amateur soccer clubs in our region, and hope we can provide other support to those clubs to assure they are promoting equality for their players, their fans and their staff. We'd love to have a larger partnership with Minnesota United and the amateur squads to continue to make soccer a positive space for LGBT fans and players.
There is a ton of opportunity for work to be done and improvements to be made. We've had few interactions with Minnesota United outside of their desire to sell us season tickets, and I don't mean for that to sound like we are throwing them under the bus. Rather, we challenge them and all clubs to do more to change the atmosphere of the game of soccer so staff, fans and players can simply be out and proud. We feel if our club enters the amateur space we'd lose the focus on our mission of reducing stigma in the sport to the need for being competitive and profitable.
Solid point. There's no reason to go up if it takes away from the main goal that the organization a whole is promoting. How many teams are currently running under the Jacks 'umbrella' I guess you could call it?
We have 7 league teams currently, and we develop tournament rosters based on the players ability to attend. We've been to 2 national tournaments and 1 local tournament in 2016, with our biggest tournament yet in 2 weeks, widely considered the "Gay World Cup" in Portland. We have 3 11v11 teams who play in the Minneapolis City Leauge, 2 of which are coed teams. And we have 4 teams in the 7 a side league, which plays year round called Cities Sports Connection. 2 of those teams are coed. And we've laid the ground work for fielding our first 11v11 women's only team who will start play in the MWSL in 2017.
Wow. You've built quite a network of teams there. Since the team has been around for almost 10 years now, what are the lessons you've learned, from success and failure, first about running a team, and secondly about running an organization dedicated to this specific cause? Sorry it's a long question, but they're both pretty connected.
It's definitely been hard work by many people to get to where we're at. It's an honor to serve the Jacks and the community with over 500 hours of service a year, and we're constantly trying to find ways to reduce the amount of work that it takes to manage our club. The toughest lesson is always trying to accomplish too much and spreading ourselves too thin. We've really adapted to trying to run ourselves with entrepreneurial spirit and operations. This past year we implement an entrepreneur system called the EOS model which highlights the use of prioritizing issues, setting goals, and also getting the right people in the right seats to gain traction. There is always a ton of potential and things to be done when the club is running across three playing channels in addition to social advocacy and social events. That's not even considering trying to attain sponsorship's and community support as there are hard costs certainly associated, and we try to supplement low income players so everyone has the chance to participate in all levels of play.
Our largest successes have come from the strategy of fielding teams across various days of the week and having folks be open to playing on various teams based on their availability instead of their skill interest. That strategy has permitted growth, however it's also increased the work load on our board to facilitate the teams. We're hoping to move more towards offering particular skill levels on set nights, with the option for some varying of skill levels on teams when only certain nights work for someone. But we've learned that people are willing to adapt their schedule to make it work if they know they are on a team that will correlate with their playing ambitions. It's simply difficult to please everyone, but we do a darn good job at it based on the feedback of the players.
As an organization, our biggest challenge is engaging the female audience, in particularly in the LGBT community. Every LGBT club faces their own challenges, some clubs like Portland and Washington DC for example excel at the involvement women. Our club has made it our largest initiative to focus on and grow female involvement on coed teams and by starting a women's only team. For whatever reason, the lesbian community in the Twin Cities is difficult for us to engage. We're certainly not the only LGBT sporting organization in the Twin Cities that has this issue. We're committed to figuring out how to change that. We've created female specific ads, and are placing flyers in cafes, bars, and other places we anticipate our audience to be. Like any adult organization, the other challenge is keeping people engaged, feeling a value, and preventing complacency. With marriage equality nationwide, and LGBT persons being very welcomed in the community, there is a growing trend of less reliance on LGBT community groups to provide programming and opportunity as community groups become more inclusive.
Our work is far from over though, so we are finding ways to engage players. One hot topic that came up recently is that gay men are still banned from donating blood, though it's not a lifetime ban, there remains a one year ban for those sexually active. So despite being a monogamous couple, two men are still not permitted to donate. That is one topic we're bringing to our players attention so we can advocate for change to the FDA to base their policy on overall sexual risk and not based on a sexual orientation. Reason being, saying all gay men are a high risk despite their actions being reflective of a low risk person is stigmatizing and quite offensive. Not to get off topic or on a tangent, but it's supplemental topics like this where LGBT persons remain discriminated against when people so easily have become complacent because they're at times unaware that marriage equality did not come with full equality.
Tangents are good, I don't mind them at all. Soccer has a very long history of of supporting causes of all kinds, political and social. Usually though it's been more of the team is the vehicle driving the cause, where in your cause it's almost more the cause is the vehicle driving the team. I could be wrong there, of course. What I'm really curious about is what kind of advice would you give to a team looking to support a cause, or, people rallied around a cause who might be interested in starting a team to raise awareness?
I think you bring up a neat point regarding the cause driving the team. An LGBT club is fairly similar to other clubs driven by a factor such as gender, race, ethnicity or location. We find ourselves having a lot in common with teams who are unified by race and gender, as those are not things to which you choose in life, rather, there are ascribed to you at birth. Having folks understand that being gay is not a choice is certainly at the root of much of our cause and work to make progress. The other is tackling the definition of masculinity and the application of that. Meaning, being gay doesn't make anyone less of a man, nor does playing sports make a woman more masculine. When you have such a strong purpose rooted in the basic foundation of who you are born to me, I would say the cause behind the team is quite natural and the fuel for the efforts is eternal.
My advice to a team looking to support a cause would be, have you considered where your team or organization stands on social factors such as embracing minorities? If you're already doing great at tackling homophobia, gender discrimination and racism in your organization or team. Then taking on community challenges that are important locally or to your fan base is a great next step.
My advice to a group of people rallying behind a cause to form a team, would be: have a vision and be able to share that with the team and others to believe in your vision and purpose. And don't worry about the size of reach. A small team of 10 persons are 10 more persons believing in and focusing on a topic that otherwise may not have the support.
That's solid. Really, really solid. Though you bring I'm something I'm curious about. The idea that being a woman who plays sports makes that woman 'more masculine.' How have you seen that stereotype played out and how does TC Jacks address that?
It's actually quite a huge problem that still needs massive reform from youth leagues through professional. We do our share through as many ways as we can. Our teams are predominantly coed and play in coed leagues. There are times when a guy will insult another guy by words like, "quit being a girl (in reference to injury, fouls, etc)." We immediately address the person who says that and inform him that it's unacceptable and offensive no only to our teammates but to his own. We provide our players a charter to which they abide by that address racism, gender discrimination and homophobia. In addition to general respect and non-violent behavior. We try to develop captains on the pitch who represent these values through and through and can be the voice of advocacy when issues arise. We actually hear fewer gay slurs in our leagues than we do hear slurs by men trying to insult others through comparing them to women. We try to remain conscious and aware of words, actions and policy that promote stereotypes such as this one.
That's really interesting. Would not have expected to hear that comparing men to women is still such a prevalent issue on the sports field. I'm probably just to used to playing with my family, and we don't do those kind of things. Since you've got a lot going on with the team, and the organization as a whole, where do you hope to see everything five years from now?
That's awesome the family values you have instill respect from the get go. That is truly a solution. We're actually having a retreat this fall to discuss the 3-5 year vision. There are a plethora of ideas and potential growth opportunities. I definitely for see the Jacks managing 2-3 men's, 2-3 coed, and 1-2 women's teams on a consistent basis by 2020. I foresee hosting an international tournament in Minneapolis by 2022. And I foresee the Jacks being a vital community partner to the local MLS club and being a consistent team at national and international LGBT and Adult tournaments.
Big things coming down the pipeline then. Let's switch to some shorter questions, I want to be respectful of your time. Sound good?
What's your favorite soccer league and/or teams to watch?
I love watching the international men's and women's matches be it matches within the confederations or the World Cup. Just something about representing countries that I find exciting.
I've had a couple of people mention they enjoying watching the USWNT, but you might be the first to say you primarily enjoy international. Who are your favorite soccer players, one past, one present?
I am a keeper, so I have to say I enjoy the "old folks" of Hope Solo and Tim Howard. And Fernando Torres is a favorite as to the past, and Pelé is definitely my legend.
Respect to the Legend, for sure. What books, soccer related or otherwise, would you recommend?
I admit, I do not make enough time to read books, but the ones I have tend to be related to growing my ability to think deeper and learn more about a specific topic. The first book that comes to mind is "Traction" by Gino Wickman. This book is incredibly helpful for a small business, entrepreneur or even non-profit. It helps you understand how to get the right people in the right seats and depict your organization vision among other things to which will gain you traction as an org. A recent release is "Fair Play" by Cyd Zeigler, which tells the story of how sports has been radically transformed for LGBT athletes in the past four years. For soccer specifics, there are two must reads: "How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization" by Franklin Foer and "Soccernomics: Why England Loses, Why Germany and Brazil Win, and Why the U.S., Japan, Australia, Turkey—and Even Iraq—Are Destined to Become the Kings of the World’s Most Popular Sport" by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski. These two books peaked my interest because of address the evolution and impact of the sport on a global scale.
Soccernomics was the first soccer book I ever read. A real game changer. Would you rather attend the World Cup or the Euros?
The World Cup, definitely.
Alright. Where can people find out more about you and about TC Jacks?
First stop should be our site http://www.tcjacks.org , beyond that we are on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. We also are members of the IGLFA and US LGBT Soccer. A simple google search could bring about just about everything one would want to know.
Last question, and also your chance to make a closing statement of sorts. What would like to say to people about why they should get out and not just support local soccer, but support causes and the organizations behind them as well?
First, thank you, John, for a tremendous opportunity to chat and share the message of LGBT Soccer. Change through soccer is possible with the help of those who stand to gain nothing. For example, a simple Facebook like can go a long way as social media reach for small causes and organizations can help them attain sponsorship and pass on important messages. For example, we posted the other week how gay men are still banned from donating blood, and many folks were utterly shocked the FDA rule still exists. We had some great engagement with people who were thankful for us bringing the topic to their attention. They were social media followers who are not informed beyond just the field of soccer and will hopefully become advocates for our cause of equality.
There is something to be said for teams who rally behind a cause, when you're playing for more than just a game, you have a unique bond as a team that regardless of win or lose, you're bettering yourself and bringing awareness to something that would otherwise likely escape us in our busy lives. Lastly, I would just mention that we, and we alone dictate what and how we consume things. Whether that is our source of food, news or soccer, without our consumption demand the product would not exist. So that means, if you want to see a product change, then don't consume it and be sure they know why so they can evolve.
If you want to see something thrive, such as the women's professional soccer league, then you have to consume it regardless of what bias you may have between genders playing sport. Soccer is a beautiful game for whom everyone should have the opportunity to play regardless of their gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or otherwise. It's important we create space and opportunity for disadvantaged persons to play because there is a wildly dominant force in sport, which is the male gender and masculinity. There is room for gay athletes and there is room for advancement of women in sport. We just need to be better consumers and supporters and advocate for the sake of love and equality.
We, and we alone dictate what and how we consume things. I like that line a lot. Very poignant close. It's been a pleasure doing this, maybe we will do it again once you've got your national project up and running. Ryan, thanks again for taking the time to do this interview, I really appreciate it. Remember, if you are enjoying the content I'm putting out, I'd encourage you to click here to Follow me on Twitter, or here to Like the page on Facebook. And if you'd like to read these interviews before everyone else, and make sure you aren't missing anything, click here and sign up for the newsletter. You'll be the first to know when articles are released and learn about other exciting content down the road. Make sure to spread the word by sharing these interviews, telling friends about the blog, those kind of things. I can't accomplish my goal of maximum exposure for all levels of the American Soccer Pyramid without YOU. Until next time, Stay Loyal, Support Local.