By Zack Jenkins
When World Cup winning British rugby star Ben Cohen announced his retirement last year instead of renewing a 3-year contract, coaches and fans turned their heads up in confusion. He wasn’t injured. He was one of the top scorers in British Union rugby history. And he was deciding to leave it all behind to start a foundation to combat LGBT bullying.
The Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation was started in 2011. Soon after, Cohen was honored as one of the first straight professional athletes to dedicate himself to philanthropic efforts for the LGBT community. Married with twin 4-year-old daughters, Cohen was moved to fight homophobia after becoming aware of the suicides of bullied gay teenagers that have hit the media in the last few years.
Cohen lost his father to brutal violence when he was beaten to death after standing up for an employee who was being attacked at a bar owned by his family. Cohen decided to use his fan base to make a difference and stick up for the underdog.
“I might play the most violent sport in the world, but I still know right from wrong,” he told the New York Times. “The important thing is to educate people about what bullying does. It’s about understanding.”
Cohen’s Facebook fan page had some 37,000 followers at the time, mostly homosexual men, a fact he had been unaware of. He decided to focus on LGBT bullying to draw in his fan base to make a difference. He now has over 202,000 fans.
The foundation will be selling a line of athletic-style cotton underwear and T-shirts to raise money for LGBT advocacy groups. Ads feature Cohen in sporty and muddy briefs.
“The whole thing about the StandUp Foundation is to look at the people who are silent participants in bullying,” said Cohen, “those who stand around watching, those who take pictures. They’re the people we really need to affect. That’s the movable middle, those swaying with the crowd.” He doesn’t want his daughters to have to endure bullying of any kind. The doubts and insecurities it creates, he told Out.com, can drive you to suicide.
Find out more about the StandUp foundation on their website here.