“Then Let us Try to Help”: A Lesson from Magda Trocme

December 11, 2013

George Cunningham

I recently finished Malcolm Gladwell’s book, David and Goliath. If you have not read it, I do recommend it. While not as good as Blink, Gladwell’s recent offering is very compelling and allows you to, if not rethink, at least ponder some of the taken-for-granted assumptions you have about power, underdogs, and fighting the fight.

The last chapter in the book is particularly compelling. In it, Gladwell discusses Andre and Magda Trocme, a couple who lived in France during World War II and helped hundreds of their Jewish sisters and brothers during that time. I won’t give away the whole story, but one quotation from Magda Trocme is particularly compelling. In commenting on why she and her husband helped so many when doing so was remarkably dangerous, she noted:

Sometimes people ask me, ‘How did you make a decision?’ There was no decision to make. The issue was, Do you think we are all brothers or not? Do you think it is unjust to turn in Jews or not? Then let us try to help.

Even writing those words now, I actually have chill bumps on my arms and a tear in my eye.

Certainly, the Trocmes offer a number of lessons for people in various aspects of their lives, but what resonates with me is the application among for Straight Allies. As people with power and privilege in virtually all aspects of Western society, it is easy for Allies to remain silent. And, or research suggests this oftentimes takes place. Certainly, when asked, many people will express positive sentiments toward LGBT individuals. But when the rubber meets the road, they will frequently remain silent. This is true for people working in academics (as Melanie Sartore-Baldwin and I observed; 2010, JSM) and for those working in athletics (as Nicole Melton and I have observed; in press, JSM).

The tragedy of this is that speaking up makes a difference. It impacts the experiences of sexual minorities, as we observed in both of the aforementioned studies. It also impacts how likely your coworkers are to advocate for diversity initiatives, something Melanie Sartore-Baldwin and I observed in a different study (2010; JASP). In this way, being a Straight Ally allows for social learning and modeling among people within a workplace.

While there are certainly tangible benefits, I suggest there is a moral imperative to provide such support. To illustrate, let us again consider Magda Trocme’s words, only this time, with an application to LGBT individuals:

There is no decision to make. The issue is, Do you think LGBT individuals and heterosexuals are sisters and brothers or not? Do you think it is unjust to express prejudice toward and discriminate against sexual minorities or not? Then let us try to help.

Then let us try to help. Then let us actively advocate for the rights of our LGBT sisters and brothers. Then let us speak up when people use insensitive language. Then let us fight to ensure workplace policies and procedures are fairly applied to all, not just the majority.  Then let us work to ensure sport teams are places for all persons, not just cissexuals or heterosexuals. Then let us try to help…


For more information, see:

Cunningham, G. B., & Sartore, M. L. (2010). Championing diversity: The influence of personal and organizational antecedents. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 40, 788-810.

Gladwell M (2013). David and Goliath: Underdogs, misfits, and the art of battling giants. New York: Little, Brown.

Melton, E. N., & Cunningham, G. B. (in press). Examining the workplace experiences of sport employees who are LGBT: A social categorization theory perspective. Journal of Sport Management.

Sartore, M. L., & Cunningham, G. B. (2010). The lesbian label as a component of women’s stigmatization in sport organizations:  A comparison of two health and kinesiology departments. Journal of Sport Management, 24, 481-501.



About George Cunningham

George B. Cunningham (PhD, The Ohio State University) is a Professor with the Division of Sport Management and also serves as the Director of the Laboratory for Diversity in Sport. He has published over 100 journal articles and book chapter, has written an award-winning textbook Diversity in Sport Organizations, and has received external funding for his research from a variety of entities, including the NCAA. Cunningham served as President of the North American Society for Sport Management during the 2009-2010 academic year.

View all posts by George Cunningham