Last weekend, the NBA became the first league to take GLAAD and Athlete Ally up on our offer to provide ally trainings to professional athletes. The NBA's 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 classes of rookies were shown a video presentation by Athlete Ally founder Hudson Taylor and myself (Aaron McQuade, GLAAD Director of News and Field Media). We discussed what it means to be an ally to the LGBT community in the context of sports, the importance of being an ally, and how professional athletes can go about being allies. Moderators were there to take questions from the players, and both GLAAD and Athlete Ally offered an "open-door policy" for any pro sports player who has questions, comments or concerns about LGBT issues to contact us anytime, on or off the record.
The training was the latest in a series of big steps being taken to potentially pave the way for an openly gay male athlete in the world of major league team sports, documented in a great piece by Buzzfeed's Chris Geidner and Kevin Lincoln, posted today. NBA executive vice president for social responsibility & player programs Kathleen Behrens told Buzzfeed:
“Working with GLAAD and Athlete Ally gives us a chance to not only say ‘don't say this,’ but hopefully to give our players a better understanding of the challenges LGBT kids are facing and the role we can play in ensuring that sports, schools and playgrounds are a safe haven for all kids.”
In the past year, dozens of pro teams and athletes have sent messages of support to LGBT people - either to young people who might be victims of bullying through the It Gets Better campaign, or to LGBT athletes who might be discouraged from continuing to play the sport they love, through the You Can Play campaign. You Can Play founder Patrick Burke told Buzzfeed:
“We’re trying to keep building the PSA campaign, because we think that’s the biggest way to actually change culture. Getting these athletes to come out and very publicly, very visibly say, ‘I support a gay teammate and you should too’ — we’ve already seen it in hockey, it’s changed the culture. NHL players are calling me saying they’d like to do one.”
Kids who are growing up now and young athletes who are just starting to cultivate their skills are seeing their heroes talk about how true champions value teamwork and respect. These kids, who will be tomorrow's superstars, are seeing this message of respect for all woven into the fabric of the game. We're looking forward to providing similar resources to all the other major sports leagues, and we're looking forward to seeing all of these efforts result in the world of sports being a safe space for all.