When we started Outsports.com in 1999 nobody wanted to talk about gay people in sports. Gay athletes like Corey Johnson and Esera Tuaolo were coming out in a trickle. Sports journalists didn’t want to ask questions about the subject. Straight people thought gay men couldn’t play sports; Heck, gay people thought gay men didn’t want to play sports.
Fifteen years later, that has transformed. Athletes are flooding out of the closet. The LGBT community has embraced sports, and some of our greatest sports institutions have welcomed gay athletes.
Now YouTube – the most powerful multi-media company in the world – has dedicated its entire celebration of Gay Pride to sports.
This is no accident.
Sure, sports are a hot topic with the coming out of high-profile athletes like Michael Sam, Jason Collins, Brittney Griner and Derrick Gordon. Yet YouTube’s embracing of LGBT sports is much more than a celebration of the flavor du jour. It reflects a changing tide in the sports world that just weeks or months ago many thought “impossible.”
Sports and the gay community are now forever joined at the hip.
For decades we’ve focused on what drives a wedge between the sports world and the LGBT community. Yet these two cultural powerhouses have long exemplified the same core values. Courage. Heroism. Inner strength. Good, plain fun.
It’s no surprise these are the same values drawing big companies to embrace the LGBT sports movement. While we’ve been told for years that big-name athletes coming out in sports risk losing endorsement deals, the opposite has been true.
When Collins and Griner came out, Nike embraced them. Nike has even created a gay-pride-themed campaign, #BeTrue, that helps fund the LGBT Sports Coalition, a group of people aimed at ending anti-LGBT bias in sports.
When Sam came out, endorsement offers poured in. Visa stepped up to the plate in May with a commercial featuring Sam just before the Draft.
Now YouTube is wrapping its arms around LGBT athletes with their powerful #ProudToPlay campaign. It’s not just a nod to the importance of sports in the LGBT community: It’s a bold statement of the importance of sports in our movement’s journey. Last year their campaign revolved around the theme of “love.” This year, for YouTube, sports embodies not just the struggle of LGBT athletes, but the pride of the entire community.
For the last decade, the advancement of gay rights in America has gone hand-in-hand with the transforming culture in sports. The big-time macho sports like football, basketball, baseball, soccer and hockey have long been the bellwethers for masculinity in America. Shifting the attitudes in these sports has been instrumental not just in opening the sports themselves to LGBT people, but opening minds in general.
When a high school soccer player comes out in Indiana and introduces the team to her girlfriend, her teammates celebrate victories with them both.
When an NFL draftee kisses his boyfriend on national television and is introduced by the St. Louis Rams three days later, it becomes a lot harder for people on the outskirts of the Bible belt to support Missouri’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
And when YouTube engages gay and straight athletes of the highest profile to share their support for equality, every single person on the Internet listens. Sports culture – American culture – shifts.
Fifteen years ago, sports and the LGBT community weren’t just on opposite teams, they were playing on different courts all together.
Now LGBT pioneers like Harvey Milk, politico David Mixner and Stonewall veterans like the recently deceased Storme DeLarverie have passed the ball to LGBT athletes and sports activists like Anna Aagenes, Brittney Griner, Anthony Nicodemo, Chris Mosier and so many other members of the LGBT Sports Coalition.
YouTube’s celebration of that transition, along with other companies like Nike, brings the triumphant conclusion of the entire LGBT-rights movement a whole lot closer.
Zeigler is co-founder and editor of Outsports.com.