Pride month has come a long way over the past five years within the sports industry. We’ve had athletes come out as gay, which was a game changing decision. Even though these athletes were at the tail-end of their careers, it was a watershed moment in our industry. Teams host Pride Nights at the stadium, host panels for members of the media and fanbase as well as educational opportunities to communicate the fact that sports are inclusive. The NHL does one of the best jobs in celebrating Pride Month through its Hockey Is for Everyone initiative. All 31 NHL Clubs, alumni and current players will participate in pride events across North America. The NHL will participate in 2019 WorldPride, the largest pride parade in the world. Brian Kitts, You Can Play co-founder and president said, “There’s no better way to make young athletes and fans feel safe and welcome than to have their sports idols and teams the look up to showing this kind of recognition and support. This was the original vision of You Can Play, and our partnership with the NHL and NHLPA has made that something that LGBTQ athletes and allies alike can feel good about.” In addition to the parade, the NHL will release stories and contents throughout the month of June on its social channels.
On the flip side, in 2019, there are zero publicly gay athletes playing in the four major professional men’s sports leagues. Despite teams, leagues and organizations becoming move involved with Pride Month, we’re at a crossroads. There is an openly gay man running for President of the United States, but we don’t have an openly gay man playing in the four major sports. This is either because a) There are zero gay men playing professional sports or b) none feels comfortable enough to tell the public. The odds favor the latter. According to LZ Granderson, he says “Is it really more than a checked box if another calendar year goes by with no player who has come out as gay part of the competition?” He brings up a valid point – it’s great that we celebrate pride and welcome it in our society, but if the goal is to create impact and change so that athletes feel comfortable being themselves, then the odds say we have not succeeded yet. It’s on us as a society to change the conversation and be vulnerable and honest with ourselves and our communities. Maybe most important of all, we need to show acceptance in our locker rooms. If it becomes acceptable in a professional locker room for a major sports superstar to be openly gay, it will reverberate in locker rooms around the world.