By RYAN ROSADO
There was a time when the thought of professional sports supporting the LGBT community was unthinkable.
But those days are coming to an end as major sports apparel companies and professional sports associations are coming together to raise awareness for respect and acceptance of the LGBT community’s presence in sports.
This display of support was most evident in June when sports apparel powerhouse Nike expanded its #BeTrue Free Run 5.0 line. The #BeTrue line aims to promote awareness of LGBT respect and acceptance working in tandem with Nike’s LGBT partner, the LGBT Sports Coalition, whose goal is to end anti-LGBT discrimination in sports by 2016. Net proceeds from the line’s purchases also go to the Coalition.
Released in June 2012, the Nike #BeTrue line saw further growth this summer with an expansion including more apparel items such as sandals, graphic T-shirts, tanks and iPhone cases. Nike has also amped up its LGBT outreach efforts by gaining an unofficial spokesperson for the #BeTrue line, recent out pro-NBA athlete Jason Collins. The basketball star took to Twitter showing his support for the Nike line by donning a #BeTrue T-shirt while attending the Boston Pride parade in June.
Although Collins hasn’t officially been announced as the #BeTrue line spokesperson yet, a Nike spokesperson recently said, “Jason is a Nike athlete. We are a company committed to diversity and inclusion.” This statement comes just after Collins’ recent endorsement contract with Nike.
Another out athlete who recently signed an endorsement deal with Nike is Brittney Griner. The female NBA athlete has recently been seen bedecked in Nike gear.
The apex of Nike’s recent outreach efforts to support the LGBT sports community this Pride season was further reinforced through the second annual Nike LGBT Sports Summit held in Portland from June 12-15. The event brought together a wide range of college and professional athletes, coaches, athletic administrators, political figures, LGBT advocates and journalists all in support of furthering respect and acceptance of LGBT athletes.
Also entering the sports marketing LGBT movement is the NFL Players Association. In June, the Association launched a collection of Pride T-shirts called the “One Team Pride Shirts.” The Association is working with a nonprofit organization, Athlete Ally, in support of its mission of promoting equality in organized sports.
The T-shirts feature the names of nine NFL straight allies in support of raising awareness of respect and acceptance of LGBT athletes including: Brendon Ayanbadejo, Connor Barwin, Scott Fujita, Steve Gleason, Chris Gocong, Chris Kluwe, Donte Stallworth, Terrell Suggs and Eric Winston.
The One Team Pride Shirts feature black T-shirts with rainbow-colored graphics. All net proceeds from sales of the shirts go to Athlete Ally.
Another organization that shares the same mission as Athlete Ally is the You Can Play Project, which seeks “to challenge the culture of locker rooms and spectator areas by focusing only on an athlete’s skills, work ethic and competitive goals.”
To achieve this mission, the You Can Play Project has produced a line of apparel products that sport the organization’s logo with hoodies, fleeces, caps and bag tags.
The You Can Play Project has also acquired straight LGBT allies in both the professional sports arena and celebrity arena such as various athletes from the Bay Area (San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders) and hip-hop duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. The You Can Play Project supporters have been featured in various public service announcements vocalizing their support in promoting the You Can Play Project’s goals.
These efforts are starting to make business sense as well. According to a recent Pew Research Center study of LGBT consumers, 51 percent reported refusing to purchase a product or service due to “lack of support for LGBT rights.”