In last year’s Blade sports issue I wrote, “Many athletes who come out in the future will likely be met with a collective shrug of the shoulderpads.” Yes, it is still big news when a pro player comes out and there is still homophobia in the locker room, albeit less vocal. Fortunately, much like with marriage equality, the dialogue is changing quickly. Thanks to specific directives from the various leagues, the focus is becoming less about the athlete coming out and increasingly on the reaction of owners, teammates and fans. Large fines are automatic now for anti-gay slurs, something unheard of even five years ago.
Like a typical fan, we sit back and watch the pros battle it out on the field and the airwaves. Yet, what can the average fan do to make sports more hospitable for the gay athlete? Quite a lot actually.
Speak OUT. Use social media to congratulate the Rams for selecting Michael Sam in the NFL draft. All teams and many owners (like Ted Leonsis of the Washington Wizards and Capitals) monitor social media sites vigorously and respond to comments. Don’t be afraid to go on fan blogs and support openly gay players. You don’t need to respond to the negative comments, but if negativity is all teams see, it gives a skewed sense of who really cares about the issue.
Watch OUT. When an advertiser hires an openly gay player (and it is inevitable), go to their website and thank them. Even if you don’t use that brand of deodorant or eat that kind of soup, let them know you are watching. The fear of lost revenue from fans and advertisers is why teams have been afraid to draft a gay player. Thanks to efforts in the corporate world, most businesses now know that LGBT-friendly policies are actually good for the bottom line and sports are ultimately a business.
Buy OUT. Believe it or not, one of the most reliable ways to gauge a player’s worth is by the sale of their jersey. Look for sports clothing of openly gay players and wear it outside of your home, especially at sporting events. The more people see such overt signs of support, the better.
Attend OUT. Team DC sponsors the annual Night OUT Series, which includes LGBT community nights with all local pro teams. Not only is the Night OUT at the Nationals the largest such event in the country, but it has helped spawn similar events with other teams. This success has raised LGBT awareness with all sports teams to the potential of an LGBT fan base while lessening the possible negative impact of having an openly gay player on the team.
While we all love the Night OUT at the Nationals, go to other Night OUT games like the United Night OUT on Sept. 27 with the DC United Soccer Club. Attendance at these events has an enormous impact on the mindset of each of these teams.
Support OUT. The next generation of openly gay athletes will almost certainly compete in a very different and, I hope, supportive world. Yet, the pressures of coming out will still fall on younger, less mature shoulders. Team DC created a College Scholarship Program for openly LGBT student-athletes as a way to support them financially and highlight that there is a place for LGBT youth in sports. The program has had the secondary benefit of opening a dialogue with parents, educators and coaches about the issues facing these student-athletes. More information about this program, including making a tax-deductable donation can be found at teamdc.org.
Each of us should get off the sidelines and into the game.