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The NFL pushes LGBTQ+ inclusivity


Are all fans ready?

The National Football League (NFL) has historically been hesitant toward LGBTQ+ inclusivity for their fans or their players, prime examples from past and present include former player Michael Sam and current player Carl Nassib. Granted, the league’s outward stance has shifted in recent years, however, this has not been without backlash from some outspoken fans. 

It is important to look at how sports leagues, who have massive platforms, use their status. The NFL in recent years has taken steps to promote voting, social justice and racial diversity.

 This shift toward a socially holistic approach from the league stems from a change in demographics within the U.S. Seeing where the league stood and what it stands for today makes for an interesting discourse. 

One of the most pivotal LGBTQ+ moments in the NFL came when University of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam was drafted in the seventh round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the then St. Louis Rams.  

Sam identified as gay in a time when certain states had bans on same-sex marriage. Gay marriage was not federally protected until a year later in 2015, when the US Supreme Court ruled on Obergefell v. Hodges.  

When Sam publicly came out, he would become the NFL’s first openly self-acknowledged gay player. 

Sam came out in the months leading to the draft, leading some to speculate that his stock would tank. Sam was projected to go somewhere in the third or fourth rounds but fell to the seventh round where the Rams picked him up.  

Controversy regarding his sexuality inflamed the football landscape. During an appearance during a Missouri basketball game, where his 2014 team was recognized for their Cotton Bowl championship, anti-gay protesters from the Westboro Baptist Church gathered to protest Sam. Students gathered to counter-protest the members of Westboro in support of Sam, with CBS Sports’ Chip Patterson reporting thousands of students participating. 

The social landscape has changed since Sam was last in the league. As previously mentioned, gay marriage is now federally protected, but several other strides have been made toward inclusivity for LGBTQ+ people. As more public figures come out as members of the LGBTQ+ community, the easier for others to come out themselves. 

Take, for example, Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Carl Nassib. Nassib publicly came out in July of 2021 on an Instagram post and became the first player to come out while in the NFL. 

“I just wanted to take a quick moment to say that I’m gay. I’ve been meaning to do this for a while now, but I finally feel comfortable enough to get it off my chest,” Nassib said. 

Several fans were quick to express their support for Nassib.  

“Wow! To be the first NFL player who feels comfortable enough and okay with themselves enough to be open and honest is a really encouraging thing to see and it will certainly inspire and help others!!!” said an Instagram user. 

Others felt appalled by Nassib’s announcement. 

“I just threw up in my mouth a little,” commented one user.  

“Imagine being gay…that why u suck at football,” said another. 

The entire NFL fanbase may not be ready to accept gay men in football, but the NFL itself has recently come out to support its’ LGBTQ+ fans and players. 

In June 2021, days after Nassib publicly came out, the NFL began to push the “Football is…” campaign.  

In a Twitter post, the NFL posted a video featuring statements that opened with “Football is.” The first phrase that appears is “Football is Gay.” Proceeding this statement are other statements like “Football is Lesbian,” “Football is Queer,” “Football is Accepting” and “Football is for Everyone.” The video then cuts to a rainbow-colored NFL Shield.  

The video also announces the NFL’s partnership with The Trevor Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing awareness and suicide prevention amongst LGBTQ+ children. The NFL matched a $100,000 donation that Nassib contributed for the Trevor Project. 

The tweet did not hesitate to stir up a debate amongst fans.  

“Is football still for straight people…I think I need a video telling me that it is,” a user responded.  

Another user said, “I came out as Straight but didn’t feel the need to make a huge stupid deal about it!!” 

Other users were much more supportive of the NFL’s push for inclusivity. 

“I never thought I’d see the day that the NFL would support my community,” commented a user. Another said, “Thanks for standing by people who often desperately need it…The NFL has a massive platform, glad to see to taking civic responsibility.” 

The NFL continues to promote LGBTQ+ inclusivity. This year, the NFL created an affinity group, NFL Pride. NFL Pride is tasked with promoting inclusion within the workplace. Nassib also contributed to the Trevor Project in 2022 matching donations of up to $100,000 dollars. 

Clearly there is still a way to go toward inclusivity amongst fans, but with the NFL and other sports leagues promoting and supporting the LGBTQ+ community, they can create a safe and welcoming environment for all regardless of race, gender, sex or any other identifier. 

Emmanuel Rivas Valenzuela is the sports editor and can be reached at [email protected]: @rivasemmanuel2 on Instagram 

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About the Contributor
Emmanuel Rivas Valenzuela
Emmanuel Rivas Valenzuela, Contributor/Writer
Emmanuel Rivas Valenzuela is a contributor for The Prospector. He is a senior majoring in multimedia journalism with minors in political science and Chicano studies. Emmanuel served as sports editor at The Prospector and as a writer with Minero Magazine. Now, Emmanuel is interning at El Paso Matters and is a contributor at The Prospector.
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The NFL pushes LGBTQ+ inclusivity