By: Dan Woog*
There’s more to Justice Calo Reign’s uniqueness than his name.
He’s an African-American gay man who graduated from the United States Air Force Academy. He’s one of only 2 percent of the Cadet population to receive the Commandant’s Award coming out of basic training, and one of fewer than 2 percent to hold positions of squadron commander and team captain during the same academic year.
Reign has been both a football conference champion and a school record holder in track.
A commissioned Kentucky Colonel – bestowed by the governor – for his work with youth character development, Reign went on to become CEO of a private foundation. He has worked with business people and elected officials in Nigeria, the Philippines, Canada, Thailand and Cambodia.
“I have enjoyed success at every phase of my life,” Reign says. “But I also know what it’s like to enter a real zone of defeat due to internal issues of my life that distracted me from using all of my strengths to make this world the best world I can make it.”
Which is one reason he is now a coach – in every sense of the world. His Reign Group seeks to create “champions” in a wide range of fields, from philanthropy and social entrepreneurship to sports.
“We at The Reign Group are on a mission to change the world,” his website reads. “We are not interested in individuals who are satisfied with mediocrity or the status quo. We are interested in individuals who are willing to train their hearts and minds to connect fully with their strengths, (and) become Champions in their endeavors.”
Reign’s athletic resume is impressive. As sprints and hurdle coach at the Air Force Academy, he coached five conference champions, nine NCAA championship qualifiers and three Olympic trials qualifiers.
At the University of Louisville, the program reached the NCAA Top 25 for the first time ever. He recruited eight national champions in two years, and coached athletes to 16 school records.
Currently, he’s working with one of the top female boxers in the country.
But, he says, life has not always been a straight run to success. He lost his job at Louisville when he was outed, he says. “I was told that because (being gay) would show poorly on the program, I should have let them know ahead of time.” He was the target, he says, of “horrific” voicemail messages and email comments.
“I had just taken freshmen to the NCAAs. We were training for the world championships,” he recalls. “The whole program I built crumbled. It was very disheartening.”
Earlier, a Louisville athlete had come out to Reign. Between that experience and his own, he says, “I really see how homophobia is used as a weapon in sports.” However, he does not point to bigotry as the cause. “I think it’s about control – a way to control people,” he says. “It’s used as a recruitment weapon.”
In the acceptance of homosexuality, he says, coaches lag far behind athletes. “If you’re teammates with someone who’s gay, so long as you do your job, they don’t care.”
He points to his own example. “For a while, I lied,” he says. “I told my athletes I wasn’t gay. But when I finally came out, they said, ‘So what?’ The holdup is in the older regime’s thoughts about masculinity and femininity. It’s antiquated. Coaches and administrators, they need to understand the student-athlete’s mind, and get it.”
Through his life experiences, Reign helps the men and women he coaches “manage their emotional energy.” He had a rough childhood – there was more going on in his Christian, military, conservative environment than questions of sexuality – but, he says, “I focused on my strengths. If you have the right mindset, you can deal with any negative influences.” That’s true, he says, whether you’re training for an upcoming race, a bout in the boxing ring, or asking for money to fund a project.
Gay youth are important to Reign. “They feel like they’re in a war zone,” the Air Force Academy graduate says. He equates war and sports. Both, he says, are far tougher mentally than physically.
Much of Reign’s training centers not on running harder or throwing better combinations of punches, but on “how to use your strengths to overcome adversity, how to interact with teammates, how to be a positive person.”
Not all of Reign’s athletic work is with LGBT clients. But, he says, “I do see a certain type of urgency in them, something that’s not there in others.” For LGBT athletes, he says, “sports performance is almost a way of validating who they are. They’re very harsh on themselves.”
So Reign focuses on “saying what’s right with them, not what’s wrong.”
It’s a formula, he says, for “exponential growth and change.
He’s doing his part to make sure that, for gay athletes, peak performance will come – and justice will reign.
*Dan Woog is a journalist, educator, soccer coach, gay activist, and author of the “Jocks” series of books on gay male athletes. Visit his website at www.danwoog.com. He can be reached care of this publication or at OutField@qsyndicate.com.
Filed Under: Entertainment & Sports