Monday, December 1, 2008

“Some People Are Gay. Get Over It!”

This is the message that will be on signs and posters at Britain’s Rugby Football League games beginning in February. The RFL is working in collaboration with Stonewall, a gay and lesbian rights group in Britain, to organize this first every education and awareness campaign sponsored by a national sports organization. The campaign slogan will also appear in game programs and rugby fanzines. Plus, Stonewall is providing the league with information packets about inclusive policies and practices. But wait, there’s more! (as that loud guy on the TV infomercials keeps yelling) The RFL is also setting up a gay, lesbian, bisexual forum for staff and players. A spokesperson for the RFL said they became interested in doing this campaign after similar collaborative efforts between individual teams and local LGBT groups were successful. The campaign is expected to reach two million people who attend matches each year as well as the 250,000 RFL players across the country.

Wow. In the United States this would be roughly equivalent to the NFL working with It Takes A Team to set up an education and awareness campaign for pro football fans at games, in Sports Illustrated, and to establish a forum for NFL players and staff to discuss gay issues. Can you imagine a Super Bowl PSA with the message “Some athletes are gay and that’s ok.”

Some inroads have been made into the macho world of the NFL. Gay ex-NFL player, Esera Tuaolo, led a session at rookie camp at least once. My colleague at UMass, Robin Harris, has also led sessions for the NFL rookies on a variety of diversity topics including LGBT issues. Former NFL commissioner, Paul Tagliabue, was an active supporter of PFLAG as a father with a gay son.

The San Francisco Forty-Niners are the only NFL team I know of that has taken an active role in working with community LGBT groups and enacting gay-friendly policy and education. Helen Carroll of the NCLR Sports Project works with the San Francisco Forty-Niners on LGBT issues as part of the Forty-Niners’ Community Advisory Committee. They also are the only NFL franchise to offer domestic partner benefits to employees. They are sponsors of the San Francisco Pride Parade and received an award from the Commercial Closet.

You might say, well, of course, it’s San Francisco! But I think their efforts to open doors provide some possibilities for other cities to initiate collaborative relationships with pro sports franchises. That is how the RFL’s campaign began. They saw how local collaborative efforts between teams and LGBT groups were received.

I know this might seem a bit optimistic to people who believe that NFL players will never accept a gay teammate and male football fans will never cheer for a queer, but if we don’t envision the future we want, how will we change sport?

1 comment:

Amy said...

Pat, this summer I lived in Chicago and noticed that the Chicago Cubs are also active in the Gay community. see this press release: