Nike Courts Out Gay Athletes for Sponsorship

Homophobia has been rampant in male professional sports for years. More recently, three high profile incidents have drawn attention to this problem. As Scott Soshnick reports on Bloomberg.com in his article “Gay Pro Athletes Get Backing of Nike, NHL as Sponsors Await,” the first episode involved Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers, who used a gay slur to attack a referee. Then, Chicago Bull’s Joakim Noah used a gay expletive to insult a fan. Finally, in a radio interview before the 2013 Super Bowl, Chris Culliver, cornerback on the San Franciso 49ers, told a reporter that no gays would be welcome in the locker room. While all of these men were fined by their prospective leagues and later apologized for their hateful words, the idea that homophobia remains prevalent in American sports could no longer be denied.

As more media attention has been drawn to homophobia in men’s professional sports, some athletes have voiced support for the gay community, but to date no active male football, baseball, or basketball player has come out. As marketers vie for the estimated 800 billion LGBT-buying dollars, many are hoping to sponsor out gay athletes (Soshnick).

In “Nike Wants To Sponsor First Major Out Pro Gay Athlete: Who Is Going to Lead the Way?”  Diane Anderson-Minshall of advocate.com summarizes Soshnick’s interview with Rick Welts: “When Rick Welts, the former Phoenix Suns exec, came out as gay, Nike executives asked him to send a message to ‘anyone thinking about becoming the first openly gay athlete in major U.S. team sports — the company wants him as an endorser.’” This announcement signals a shift in the advertising industry toward more inclusive representation.

Anderson-Minshall also writes that many leaders in the sports industry are beginning to voice their support for the LGBTQ community. For example, John Farrell, Red Sox manager, told fans on Jackie Robinson Day that gay players would be welcome on his team, and he said baseball  “reflects society in so many ways…[and] you look to not only coexist but accept the individuality of every player that’s in there. …[it] goes back to creating an environment that’s accepting. There is going to be people from all walks of life, we respect the rights of every individual that walks into our clubhouse.”

As gay men are embraced and celebrated within the hyper-masculine American sports culture, their millions of fans will be exposed to naturalness of homosexuality, and we will move ever closer to the equality we deserve.

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