Jenna Wegner is a lifelong Timberwolves fan who, in the past few trying and tumultuous years, realized "once and for all" she was a woman. She began taking steps to live as her true self and began the process of medically transitioning.
Amid the many difficult personal moments this entailed, the Wolves, and especially guard Anthony Edwards, were a source of joy for the Minneapolis native.
"Ant was a big part of that joy, both as a player and as a person off the court," Wegner said. "He was fast on track to pass Ricky [Rubio] as my favorite modern Wolf."
Then Wegner, like other lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Wolves fans, felt a lot of upsetting emotions after Edwards posted an Instagram video in which he used homophobic language. Wegner said seeing the video was "an absolute gut punch."
"I've been laughed at and called slurs by plenty of people [for my appearance]," Wegner said. "You cry about it for a bit and move on knowing you'll never see those people again. But to know that someone you really admired, who will be constantly a presence in the media you consume or the city you live in, would likely also laugh at you or call you a slur, is just demoralizing."
Wegner is one of more than two dozen LGBTQ fans of the Timberwolves who spoke with the Star Tribune since the video emerged to say they were disappointed, dismayed and hurt by what the 21-year-old Wolves star said. The Instagram post showed him calling a group of men on a sidewalk "queer" in a derogatory way while adding: "Look what the world done came to, bruh."
“I want to see him sitting down with members of the LGBTQ community and talking to them and understanding where experiences are shared, where things like discrimination are shared amongst marginalized groups.”
Edwards, who is entering the third year of a four-year, $44.3 million contract, was fined $40,000 by the NBA on Tuesday for the video. His agency, Klutch Sports Group, has not responded to requests for further statements. The Wolves open training camp on Monday.
Edwards' charismatic personality off the court and electric potential on the court have made him a favorite among fans, including many LGBTQ fans. But in the wake of his video, many of these fans are left with conflicted feelings about rooting for Edwards and their favorite team, questioning whether they might attend games in person and wanting more from him and the team in terms of an apology and accountability. Only a few of the fans the Star Tribune spoke to for this article said what Edwards posted wasn't a big deal.
"It gave homophobes a voice," said Eric Boogaard, a gay Wolves fan from Rogers. "It gave them almost a poster boy. 'Look at this big name, he feels that way. It's OK to feel that way.'
"It keeps the gatekeeping up of LGBT people away from the sport. It keeps that gate up of saying you're not welcome here."
Sports has traditionally been a difficult place for LGBTQ people to feel welcome, in part because homophobic language can be a part of sports vernacular. Edwards' video brought up unwelcome feelings for many.
Ben Draper lives in England and became a Wolves fan specifically because of Edwards.
"The reason why it was so hurtful to the LGBT community is that it made an example of us all," said Draper, who is nonbinary. "It made us feel like we were something to be laughed at, just a punchline."
The next step
Edwards issued an apology via Twitter. For many, that wasn't enough to show he's truly sorry. Some would like to hear more from him.
"You don't hear your tone or your intention with a tweet," said Tobias Johnson, a fan from Savage who is bisexual. "I think it's something that has to be rectified in front of a camera and microphone and say, 'I am truly sorry.' "
Others would like to see Edwards do outreach work with LGBTQ groups and to use his social media platform to condemn and call out hateful language.
"He has to make a large push to show us that this is not his personality," said Amber Keyes, a Wolves fan from Stillwater who is transgender. "... I want to see him sitting down with members of the LGBTQ community and talking to them and understanding where experiences are shared, where things like discrimination are shared amongst marginalized groups."
Edwards' comments have caused many LGBTQ Wolves fans to analyze their fandom. Keyes said she has a "Thurskii" shirt, which is based off a word Edwards likes to say often, and used to wear it to bed. She doesn't anymore.
“[Edwards' words] gave homophobes a voice.It gave them almost a poster boy. 'Look at this big name, he feels that way. It's OK to feel that way.' ”
Ben Pourier, a fan from Minneapolis who is gay, said he attends about 20 games per season and hears often from the Wolves ticket office. He has been disheartened by the team's lack of a response, beyond a statement from President Tim Connelly, and by some fans on social media defending Edwards' words.
"Nothing makes me want to speak to [the Wolves] right now," Pourier said. " … I read things on Twitter and people just don't get it."
There's an 'asterisk'
Pourier said he's still going to be pleased when Edwards does well — his Wolves fandom hasn't stopped. Other fans felt the same way, they just won't be able to fully enjoy the success like they once did.
"I do think that there is a little asterisk there that I'm just like, 'Damn, he said that,' " Johnson said.
Added Keyes: "I'm still going to look at the box score every morning and be happy if Ant is in the 20s, but only from a basketball standpoint. I'm not going to go out and buy his jersey, whereas before I would have."
Boogaard said he wasn't sure if he'd feel welcome attending Wolves games.
"I'm sure there are people at Timberwolves games who are homophobic. That's a given," Boogaard said. "My voice is not exactly the most masculine voice. If I speak, am I going to hear comments?
"I want to believe this is something someone can learn from and I would love to believe it was a poor choice of words and we grow from there."
There is a hope among this group of fans that Edwards will learn from what happened, that he will take the time to understand why what he said was hurtful and repair the damage done. The ball is in Edwards' court to take that responsibility seriously in order to gain back some of the trust he lost.
"I hope he becomes an even more amazing person than I originally thought he was," said Sabrina Hiller, a Wolves season-ticket holder from St. Paul who is pansexual. "But until I see some personal growth happen, not just the growth everybody is talking about on the court, I think I'm just cool on Ant for a while."