Ben Cohen, a former rugby star and the third highest scorer in English rugby history, said yesterday at the Staller Center that the main idea for launching the Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation was “to create something powerful” that would help people to denounce and thus eliminate homophobia and bullying, particularly in sports.
The Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation aims its campaign toward people who are silent participants in bullying, “those who stand around, watching, without saying or doing anything,” Cohen said.
Over the course of an hour, Cohen shared his personal and professional experiences to a room full of students, athletes and faculty.
Throughout his speech, Cohen emphasized how being the chairman of the world’s first foundation dedicated to taking a stand against bullying and removing homophobia from sports meant a lot to him.
“My dad has been beaten up pretty bad in a nightclub in England when he stood up for an employee who was being attacked,” Cohen said. “He died a month later through his injuries.”
Throughout the evening, Cohen explained that losing his father played a huge part in his decision to found the StandUp foundation.
“A dad is crucial. Losing him was not only tough for me, but for my whole family,” Cohen said. “After this attack, I have realized that I had to stand up for something. I did it for my dad.”
Cohen explained that the reason for him to create the StandUp Foundation wasn’t due to his age, injuries or his sexual orientation.
In fact, he was just interested in finding a way to make this world a better place for everyone.
“Sexual orientation should not matter,” Cohen said. “Just because someone is different, why does it give the right to torment them, bully them? No one deserves those kind of treatments.”
Since founding the Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation, Cohen has gathered support from Nike, Microsoft and musicals such as Wicked, who have joined the foundation and helped it to expand.
“I have worked with the biggest organizations in England in order to denounce homophobia and racism especially among athletes,” Cohen said. “We went to some schools in order to
talk athletes,” Cohen said. “We went to some schools in order to talkabout homophobia and we asked the children; how would you feel about being put in that kind of situation?
That made them think twice about the issue.”
“To have created something that has a massive effect in the UK but also globally makes me really proud,” Cohen said. “It’s great to create something to promote social changes and help people.”
If Cohen’s experience and willingness to change the world inspired a lot of people around him and globally, he also inspired some students in the audience.
Among them, Cassandra Dix, an international sophomore student from England majoring in biochemistry, got the chance to meet him at the end of his speech.
“It was really exciting to meet and get to talk to him,” Dix said.
“Ben Cohen comes from the same hometown as me in England. He is really friendly, nice and just a normal guy actually.”
Dix added that “The speech was really empowering, I believe that what he stands for is good.”
“According to me, a great way to denounce homophobia in sport would be to change mentality within the coaching staff,” she said.
“If they were more proactive saying to their athletes, it’s wrong when they say or act in a bad way and then kicking them off the team, that would be great.”
As Stony Brook’s rugby team joined him on stage, Cohen ended his speech with an inspiring life lesson, in which he encouraged students to accept themselves and “be yourself, be proud of who you are, and surround yourself with the people who like you for who you are.”
“The big question is: when you are going to feel discouraged, what are you going to do to get yourself back up? Once you can reply to that, you can be certain that you are on the right track,” he said.
His Ben Cohen Standup Foundation is located in Atlanta, Ga., and donations can be made on his website.
You can contribute online at his website: