If you read the interview we published with Wisconsin women's hockey goalie Ilana Friedman in February, you already know how important it is to the senior to pave the way for other LGBT athletes at UW. When the university announced the creation of its own "You Can Play" video this week, it was the culmination of 15 months of ideas, planning and work on Friedman's part. The video is also a large stamp of validation and achievement for her.
In February, Friedman described her demeanor and approach to living her life openly by saying, "There’s always one person that’s always going to have to knock that door down or have to crack a hole, and that might as well be me. If I can make a little progress in Badger athletics then great, that’s awesome. Because it’ll make it a little easier for the person behind or the person behind them."
This video is more than just "a little progress" -- UW is just the second Big Ten school to join the "You Can Play" campaign and produce such a video. It's a legacy that Friedman will leave behind at Wisconsin long after she graduates.
"I just feel in general that this is an important day for Wisconsin athletics and I’m very happy and honored to be a part of it," she said.
"It is yet another reason that Wisconsin-Madison is a top-notch university and athletic department."
The "You Can Play" project has inspired hundreds of high school, college and professional teams to create videos pledging their support for respect, equality and fair opportunity for all athletes, regardless of sexual orientation.
"Through the ‘You Can Play’ project, we are able to communicate to various audiences, most importantly our student-athletes, that Wisconsin Athletics provides inclusive, safe and supportive environments no matter who you are. It allows us to send a message that we are all Badgers and I hope it empowers student-athletes to speak up if they have concerns," Bridget Woodruff, UW’s Director of Student-Athlete Development, said in a university release.
So how did Friedman go from being a single student-athlete openly advocating for LBGT support to organizing a university-wide campaign?
"I was continually sitting in my apartment," Friedman said, "seeing developments happen around the nation with Jason Collins, other universities that partnered, etc. and I said why not UW? The mission statement of the university and the goals throughout the athletic department are so similar to those at 'You Can Play.' It was a no-brainer.
"I met with [former] women’s ice hockey's assistant athletic director Sean Frazier and the Director for Student Development within the athletic department, Bridget Woodruff, on separate occasions and introduced the project to both of them and said I was more than willing to spearhead the movement here at UW and be the face of this. Immediately the response was positive. Sean Frazier said, most poignantly, 'We are not going to do this 50 percent. We either do it all the way or we don’t do this, because half-way doesn’t get the job done. I don’t believe in discrimination of any sort, so this has my name behind it.'
"I worked with Andre Harris, also a member of the athletic department staff, and we started putting together small events. I would speak at Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) meetings and Student Athlete Equally Supporting Others (SAESO) meetings about the project to see if people were interested and to show them why causes like this matter. We passed out Bucky Athlete Ally lapel pins, we made flyers and posted them around the respective McClain and Kohl Athlete Academic Centers or "Fetzer" Centers, and I spoke at an anti-LGBT bullying symposium.
"I wrote the script for the 'You Can Play" video, met numerous times with Bridget, helped with scheduling all the participants of the video, helped with some of the editing process, picked out the music for the video. Basically, [I've] been a close, close part of the project. Eventually, filming took place in late March, the week after [the women's hockey] season ended, and then editing has been going on since then. We premiered the video at the Buckinghams. It was overwhelmingly positively responded to, once again."
The day that Friedman knew the video was going to be a reality and had the full support of the university was a day that should have otherwise been a sad one for her. She and the women's hockey team were on a road trip in February and gathered to watch the Olympics gold-medal women's hockey game from Sochi. There are girls from both Canada and the U.S. on the Badger team and there were multiple Badger connections playing on both teams in Russia. The Americans eventually lost, and Friedman felt empathy for her friends who hadn't reached their goal.
Shortly after the game ended, as she was headed back to the team bus, Friedman received a call letting her know that athletic director Barry Alvarez had heard about the plan for the 'You Can Play" video. Not only was in he full support, he wanted to be in the video.
"I sat down on the bus and told my teammates and I started crying, because to have that support from so high in college football and in college athletics is so incredibly meaningful," Friedman said. "I was so happy he was on 'our' side."
One great part of the video is how varied the participants are. Members of many different teams are featured, as well as coaches and staff members the public isn't necessarily familiar with. Friedman said that including faces from all walks of Wisconsin athletics was deliberate and important.
"We wanted to set the precedent that there was an ally in every part of Wisconsin Athletics: senior staff, athletic strength and conditioning coaches; almost every team is represented with either an athlete or coach, many members of the athletic support staff," she said. "There are people everywhere that support athletes of different sexual and gender orientations at Wisconsin and that is a tremendous fact that needs to be highlighted.
"A big part in the project has been Chase Tarrier of the men’s rowing team. As a proud ally, his help has been indispensable. He helped with gaining athletes for the video and other logistical duties as well. So, Bridget and I immediately partnered with the LGBT Campus Center, where Gabe Javier has also been present at all of our meetings and video sessions. He has been a huge help and such a great resource for the messages we’re trying to send of inclusion and acceptance."