4) Nike to Gay Players on Coming Out: Just Do It, We’ll Support You
In a sporting world where money talks, the fear has always been that an openly gay player — while supported by members of their teams and coaching staff — might lose out on sponsors and thus render them unpalatable for selection. Few companies display open hostility toward openly LGBT players but, without explicit statements advocating for gay players to come out, the idea has persisted. But not anymore.
Former Phoenix Suns executive Rick Welts, who came out in a New York Times piece in 2011, revealed that prior to his coming out, he informed Nike representatives in order to give them adequate time to prepare for subsequent media attention. Welts, now president of the National Basketball Association’s Golden State Warriors, said in a phone interview with Bloomburg at the beginning of April: “They made it clear to me Nike would embrace it.”
Welts then went on to say, “The player who does it [comes out], they’re going to be amazed at the additional opportunities that are put on the table, not the ones that are taken off.”
And, indeed, Welts’ assertion seems to be on the money.
While Brittney Griner might not have made big headlines for affirming her identity, she is making headlines for being the latest Nike sponsor signing, becoming the first openly gay Nike endorsed player.
So what’s making the difference?
Sponsors getting behind LGBT athletes is certainly a strong factor. Also, vocal straight allies from within the sporting sphere such as former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo and Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, have all contributed to setting a new standard in respectful and openly positive discourse surrounding LGBT players, and even wider issues like marriage equality.
Also, there is now a concerted effort among sports governing bodies to tackle issues surrounding anti-LGBT bias and gay inclusion, with the National Hockey League (NHL)’s continued involvement with the gay-affirming You Can Play Project, and the National Football League meeting with LGBT groups to open a dialogue about discrimination.
Now that Jason Collins has come out, a watershed moment by any standard, the conversation around LGBT athletes looks set to change forever, and what a way to round out a largely very positive month for gay inclusion in sports.
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