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Whitecaps trainer Derby advocates for acceptance

LGBTQ+ advisory rep passionate about job, changing the narrative
Cody Derby and the LGBTQ+ advisory committee strive to advocate and educate about acceptance, not just inclusion (Terry Nummer)
@katiejwoo
June 17, 2020

If there's one thing Cody Derby is confident about, it's his innate ability to help others. The former college baseball player is an athletic trainer for the West Michigan Whitecaps, the Class A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers. He's also a regional representative on the LGBTQ+ advisory committee of the

If there's one thing Cody Derby is confident about, it's his innate ability to help others.

The former college baseball player is an athletic trainer for the West Michigan Whitecaps, the Class A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers. He's also a regional representative on the LGBTQ+ advisory committee of the National Athletic Trainers' Association.

As an openly gay man, Derby is no stranger to adversity. Since he works in professional sports, one might conclude he's seen more than his fair share of it. But instead of allowing prejudice and judgment to define him, the 26-year-old is working hard to change the narrative while proving himself as a dedicated athletic trainer in the Minor Leagues.

Growing up in Glenwood Springs, a small town in Colorado, Derby was a three-sport athlete committed to playing baseball at the higher level. After his freshman season at Ottawa University in Kansas, Derby geared his mind-set to athletic training and eventually entered the program at Kansas State University. Around the same time, he decided to come out to his family and publicly.

"Because I was transferring to Kansas State, I wanted to really be my true self and focus my time on athletic training, and I knew this was going to take away a lot of my time as a student," he said. "I wanted to at least have a little bit lifted off my shoulders."

Things started coming together for Derby shortly after. He landed an internship with the Atlanta Braves training staff in 2016, when he met some of his greatest mentors. It cemented his assurance in his career path.

"From playing my whole life to transitioning into this career, baseball's been my end goal," Derby said. "I've always wanted that ... but this sparked my path into professional baseball."

After graduating from Kansas State in 2016, Derby applied to Missouri Western State University in pursuit of his master's degree. He completed his first year, but when an opportunity with the Tigers opened up, Derby couldn't let it pass by. After several conversations with mentors and program leaders, he began his career as a professional baseball athletic trainer and finished his degree online.

Derby spent his first two years in the Tigers organization in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League before moving up to the Whitecaps at the start of the season. Since Minor League Baseball remains on an indefinite hold due to COVID-19 concerns, he'll have to continue waiting to start working with his new team. Thankfully for Derby, he has another way to help others -- this time off the field.

Founded in 1950, the National Athletic Trainers' Association is a non-profit organization that helps support those in the athletic training profession. Currently the organization consists of more than 45,000 members, and as it has grown over the decades, so has its range. NATA has launched several diversity and inclusion interest groups, including the LGBTQ+ advisory committee.

There are many levels to the group ranging all the way up to the national level. Below that are several different district committees. Derby is a representative of the Southeast Athletic Trainers Association in District 9 and he also serves as one of the three representatives of Florida, where he currently lives. As soon as he heard about the committee, he knew he wanted to be a part of it.

"We come together about once a month and talk about ways that we can personally advance diversity within our profession by using all the different areas that we're at," he explained. "Some of us are in high-school settings, some in military, some in college. ... I'm really happy to be a part of it. Coming from a professional baseball standpoint, I think it's important.

"It all comes down to education and awareness."

The committee's main focus is to advocate for respect and equality for both trainers and patients in the LGBTQ+ community, while also aiming to educate regarding differences in sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions. It utilizes a variety of different perspectives and experiences from members to underscore the importance of not just inclusion, but also acceptance.

"Obviously, I can use this platform and really do a lot to provide inclusion -- that's part of the reason why I joined this committee," Derby said. "But at the end of the day, it comes down to being a human and just accepting everyone. It doesn't matter -- sexual orientation, gender, religion. ... It's not tolerance, it's acceptance."

For Derby, acceptance also means acknowledging who he is as a professional -- a hard-working, educated athletic trainer.

"There was never a point in time in any sport that I worked with where I felt like I had to come out and say that I am a gay man," he said. "Still to this day, I don't think that's necessary. ... I want people to know who I am as a person. I want people to know that I'm a good athletic trainer and what my end goal is in my career."

While there is no timetable for baseball's return yet, the continuous commitment to inclusion remains pertinent. Derby knows he can use his platform to make a difference and plans to continue to do that while simultaneously honing his craft.

"At the end of the day, I want to be the best athletic trainer I can be and get to the big leagues just like everybody else," he said. "But if I can use this platform to help and advocate and educate, then I'm 100 percent in. And that's exactly what we're doing."

Katie Woo is an editorial producer for Minor League Baseball. Follow her on twitter at @katiejwoo.