SEATTLE — There was no denying the impressive symbolism. Seated on the dais were representatives from all five of this city’s professional sports franchises. Alongside them were representatives of Athlete Ally, an organization dedicated to helping break down misconceptions and educating people on LBGTQ issues in sports.
There was no mistaking their purpose, either: To proclaim that Seattle sports will strive to provide a safe and welcoming environment for people of all sexualities. Even better was that it all seemed to becoming from a genuine place.
“All I can do is lead from my heart and for what is right,” Seattle Sounders majority owner Adrian Hanauer told Sounder at Heart. “I just hope that we as an organization can have an influence. Inclusivity is a no-brainer. But this is not for everyone and we have to realize that there’s more work ahead.”
The visibility of not only this press conference but tonight’s Pride Match and all the other celebrations leading into Sunday’s Seattle Pride Parade are undeniably important steps toward building that kind of inclusivity. But they also need to be followed by smaller, less obvious actions.
As was pointed out in Tuesday’s press conference, there are about 4,000 active players in the five major professional American male sports leagues. Right now, just one of them is openly gay.
Brad Evans, one of the most visible LBGT allies among male pro athletes, acknowledges there remains much more work to be done.
“I can preach about how I feel our locker room is safe, but the numbers will tell you something different,” he told Sounder at Heart. “That lies on my shoulders, that lies on Adrian’s shoulders, it lies on the guys in the locker room. The proof will be in the pudding. Hopefully we can have a good conversation about this when it does happen and that person felt safe and OK.”
The responsibility of making locker rooms and playing fields a safe space is not just about teammates and owners, though. The media and fans play as big — if not a bigger — part. We are the ones who need to help stamp out homophobic chants or excise phrases that breed “otherness” from our casual language.
That doesn’t mean we have to have big confrontations every time we hear those things, but it does mean we all have a role to play.
“Sometimes that means speaking up and lending your voice, sometimes it means providing a platform for other voices,” Megan Rapinoe told Sounder at Heart. “Sometimes that means within your homogenous group, don’t let anyone say anything that’s racist or homophobic. A lot of the times, we hang out in communities that look like us, so making sure that even though you don’t live in those communities or go through the things they go through, you try to understand, try to put yourself in their position and be as educated as you can. At least try to understand that other people are going through things you aren’t. At least being willing to listen to what others are going through.
“I think just being open and also taking care of the people who are close to you, in terms of making sure they’re educated. You might not have gay friends but you can have a bunch of straight ally friends. In that way you can have an impact.”
Weeks like this one are important. But we can’t allow ourselves to feel as if they are anywhere near enough.