In 2011, the problem of bullying and homophobia has been taken on by A-listers like Lady Gaga and Ellen DeGeneres. But when it comes to former rugby super star Ben Cohen, he quit his career to bring light to the issue.
Cohen, the married father of twin girls and 10th-highest point scorer in England rugby history, became an anti-bullying activist after his father was slain breaking up a fight at a nightclub in Northampton. And because of all of his ground-breaking efforts, he will be honored this Saturday by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force at their annual recognition dinner at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach.
So before he boarded a plane to head to the Magic City, he chatted with Niteside about what it is like to be straight witha gay following to what the Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation is all about.
I know you currently live in London. Have you ever been to Miami?
No, I haven’t. It will be my first time. I can’t wait for the weather. I have been told the Fontainebleau is the place to be. Every place in America is so new to me and it changes everywhere you go. So yeah, I’m really excited.
Are you going to enjoy our nightlife or you strictly business this trip?
I won't be doing any of that. I am most definitely going to be jet legged, and being hung over too wouldn’t be good. I hear it is a very good time there in Miami, though. Next trip, maybe.
You retired from rugby at 33. That must be nice.
I wouldn’t say I retired. Retired to me is lying around and doing nothing. I really wanted to focus on my foundation and it is a pleasure to be able to do so. I get to go around the world and speak out for things I believe in and it’s fantastic.
What made you want to start the Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation in the first place?
With the death of my father, it was very emotional for my family and he really inspired a lot of this. I also found out I had a gay following. I wanted to give back to the community that had supported me so much and to break down any stereotypes. Me myself, I have never been bullied, but my family always taught me to treat everyone as an equal. I knew that was a lesson I could pass on.
Has there been an “aha” moment that made all the hard work worth it?
Of course we get a lot of thanks you, but we don’t do it for thank you. We do it because we truly want to make a difference. We want to bring the light to the issue and make people aware of what it is going on. We like to speak to universities and their sport staff and hopefully they make changes for their generation. Who knows, they might even tell their children the importance of anti-bullying.
Did you receive any criticism when you first began your foundation?
Yeah, not many people get it. Well, that’s not true. A lot of people do get it. But a lot of straight people have asked, “Why are you doing this?” I just explain that it really is just to break down stereotypes. I knew I would be able to speak to both the gay and straight community and maybe reach a few different groups of people. I just want people to know that how you treat others is how you should want to be treated yourself. Random acts of kindness are simple.