You Can Play met with NFL coaches and general managers at the NFL annual meeting in Orlando on Monday. Openly gay former NFL player and You Can Play Executive Director Wade Davis helped to speed up the trajectory that the NFL was already on in reducing homophobia in professional football, accepting LGBT players and fans, and equipping coaches and managers to best work with LGBT players. The NFL, You Can Play, and LGBT sports advocates have raved about the meeting, setting momentum for LGBT equality in sports.
"He was authentic," said NFL vice-president of football operations Troy Vincent, who hopes Davis' conversations will open a dialogue about gay issues in the NFL and lay a roadmap to address them. Vincent was one of the architects behind bringing Davis into the NFL fold.
"The hardest thing to do for any outsider is connect with the audience," Vincent continued. "He did that on the kick-off. And he was real. He talked about what everyone was thinking. He addressed those things up front with humor, transparency, honesty and care, not just for himself, not just for people with a different sexual orientation, but a genuine care that we all can do better, that we call can be free."
Davis, the executive director of the You Can Play project, told Outsports after the meeting that his presentation had several focuses. First was to debunk the stereotype that gay athletes are weak. Second was to tell them that gay players aren't snitches - They're not looking to "catch" teammates being homophobic. They want a football family where they can love, be loved, play their asses off and grow as people. Lastly, Davis pointed out that closeted gay players face a distraction - hiding their true identity - that is keeping them from being the player they could be.
Broncos Coach John Fox said that Wade's presentation was the 'most incredible' he's ever seen. According to a separate Outports report:
"I thought it was the most incredible presentation I've seen since I've been around here, and I've been here a long time," Fox said. "It's obvious the thing has become a bigger part of our NFL. Like everything, you have to learn how to motivate and deal with your locker room. It is a brotherhood, it is a family. You need diversification in everything, even sexual orientation. It has to be in the conversation now. So I thought it was pretty profound, it was definitely eye-opening for me, and like I said I enjoyed it as much as anything I've seen since I've been here."
GLAAD and You Can Play announced a formal partnership to ensure equality for athletes and fans, on and off the field. GLAAD and You Can Play will realize this goal by developing resources for and working directly with sports officials and organizations to promote understanding of LGBT-related topics, as well as best practices for dealing with them.
After the momentum coming out of the NFL meeting, we can expect other professional sports leagues to ramp up LGBT-inclusive policies and culture.