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The NFL embraces LGBTQ+ inclusion ahead of Super Bowl LVI

“LGBTQ athletes need to see more stories of athletes like them supported by their teammates because many are accepted just as they are”

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View of branding during A Night of Pride with GLAAD and NFL on February 10, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for GLAAD)

LOS ANGELES – LGBTQ+ History was made Thursday night atop the National Football League’s Los Angeles headquarters rooftop, overlooking the glittering new SoFi Stadium, site of Super Bowl LVI, as about 150 NFL players, sports professionals and fans mingled with supporters of GLAAD to celebrate the league’s now very public embrace of the LGBTQ+ community.

GLAAD and the National Football League (NFL) hosted ‘A Night of Pride,’ sponsored by Pepsi Stronger Together, at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood California.

Jonathan Beane, Senior Vice President, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer at National Football League (NFL) welcomed the crowd and minced no words. 

“This is long overdue, isn’t it?” he exclaimed, referring to the league’s commitment to the LGBTQ community. “This (event)  is just the beginning; there’s a lot more that we’re going to do as a league.” 

LGBTQ community icon and LA Dodger Baseball team owner Billy Jean King, the first female athlete to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, for instance, has been selected as a Legendary Coin Toss Captain on Sunday.

Tennis Icon Billie Jean King and her longtime partner Ilana Kloss.
(Photo courtesy of Major League Baseball Inc/The Los Angeles Dodgers)

“LGBTQ athletes need to see more stories of athletes like them, who are supported by their teammates, because so many of them are accepted, just as they are,” GLAAD Deputy President and COO Darra Gordon said in her remarks. “I hope young LGBTQ athletes see posts from tonight and know that they have a rightful place to be out in the NFL, in football, in sports, and at any cultural milestone they aim for.”

LZ Granderson, host of the ABC News podcast ‘Life Out Loud with LZ Granderson, moderated a discussion of LGBTQ inclusion in the NFL featuring out NFL Legend Ryan O’Callaghan and NFL free agent R.K. Russell, who came out as bi in 2019.

R.K., aka Ryan Russell, who is one of more than 20 players in NFL history to come out as gay or bisexual (with Michael Sam and Carl Nassib, he is one of three to do so before retiring) and O’Callaghan (who played six seasons with the NFL retiring in 2012) tackled the hard stuff.

O’Callaghan says, in his day, he never imagined a moment like this would be possible, “not a chance in hell” that there could ever be such a full on embrace of LGBTQ identity and players by the NFL. 

“Back then” he said, “they didn’t do anything much at all.  Especially not publicly. Up until the last few years, the NFL was absent (on LGBT issues).”

O’Callaghan, who came to the GLAAD event from the prestigious annual NFL Honors awards that bestows MVP Award, Players of the Year, etc, reported significant news of a very public LGBTQ moment.

(L-R) LZ Granderson, R.K. Russell and Ryan O’Callaghan speak onstage during A Night of Pride with GLAAD and NFL on February 10, 2022 in Los Angeles, California.
(Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for GLAAD)

During the Honors event, the LGBTQ community was also honored with a video montage of thanks from out gay and bisexual players, honoring Carl Nassib.  

“A few months ago we filmed a piece for the NFL Network for their 360 show talking about LGBTQ in sports and the work of the Trevor Project. They had another player, Michael Irving — his brother is gay — and four us (from the NFL 360 segment) appear (tonight) onstage.”

They received a standing ovation. 

“It was very powerful,” he said, “a big step for the NFL to broadcast that to America.”

“What they did tonight was a whole other step,” O’Callaghan said of the world wide television broadcast.

Moderator Gunderson seized the moment with an obvious question: “Are we done or is this like the Obama moment where we got the Black man in the White House but racism is still hanging around.”

R.K. Russell attends A Night of Pride with GLAAD and NFL on February 10, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for GLAAD)

Russell jumped at the chance to answer, saying “Things are certainly accelerating. As a generation of sports fans, as writers, as journalists, as athletes, we want to see ourselves in the game because we’ve always been there, because  we built this game — honestly.”

“With the Black Lives Matters movement, seeing players really take a stand we know we are more than just these athletes. We are more than these titles. When we step off the field, we take those helmets off, I am a Black man and I am a bi-sexual man. That carries with me everywhere I go. I don’t have to wear a jersey for that.”

“But when I do wear that jersey you need to know that and respect that. You can either ride with me or not,” he said, adding “I think we’re just getting started.”

“But,” moderator Granderson ominously asked, “Where are we going?”

“We’ve got a race issue still in the NFL,” he continued. “If a league that is 70 percent openly Black can’t confront racism issues then how do you think a league that has one openly gay player has addressed its homophobia issues?”

“I think that’s where the community, the writers, people like us keep the league accountable as well,” said Russell. “It’s about holding them accountable and we need to see that from everybody — players, coaches, staff, journalists, fans. Keep the NFL to its word.” 

Russell said that Covid downtime had helped people realize that “surface level, performative” actions are not enough. 

“That’s not going to cut it anymore,” he said. “We want to see Black head coaches, we want to see out players, we want to see it in the media, on the field, we want to see you actually do the things you say you’re going to do.”

Asked if he felt the LGBT highlight moment during the evening’s Honors award was performative or a significant step forward, O’Callaghan said he felt “it was genuinely sincere” and that while it was perhaps the most significant thing the league had done to date, it was not the only thing.

O’Callaghan talked about the league’s sponsorship of New York’s Heritage of Pride and float entries into its parade. “They started with small things like that and doing things on social media and the NFL network, changing the logo during Pride month and sharing that on social media.”

“Now it’s kind of expected.,” O’Callaghan said. “The hardest thing was the first step.”

“Doing what they did tonight at Honors, and this party…I’m sure they will be participating in the parades again this year,” he said.

O’Callaghan pointed out that in 2021 the NFL and the Arizona Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill sponsored the National Gay Flag Football Super Bowl in Tempe. “It means the world to have the NFL and a team owner supporting LGBT players and fans,” he said.

Of course the evening was wrapped around the Super Bowl, an event that may champion triumph over adversity but also, famously, a commercial opportunity that has in recent years also found marketers paying millions of dollars for seconds long TV commercials that often celebrate cultural issues.

GLAAD’s Visibility Project, a program dedicated to growing LGBTQ inclusion in advertising, announced today that LGBTQ people and issues will be nearly invisible during Super Bowl LVI ads, with only one ad that expressly features LGBTQ people or issues released prior to the Sunday broadcast. The ad for the Google Pixel 6 features a queer couple.

Additionally, Vrbo will air a LGBTQ-inclusive pre-game ad. In 2020, at least-eleven LGBTQ-inclusive ads from Amazon Alexa, Budweiser, Doritos, HGTV, Microsoft, Olay, Pop Tarts, Sabra, Tide, TurboTax, and Under Armour aired during Super Bowl LIV. In 2021, at least four LGBTQ-inclusive ads from M&M’s, Michelob ULTRA, Logitech, and Paramount + aired during Super Bowl LV. GLAAD will track ads during Super Bowl LVI at GLAAD.org and release a comprehensive list following the game.

(L-R) Deputy President of GLAAD Darra Gordon, Brent Miller, Jari Jones, and GLAAD Head of Talent Anthony Allen Ramos attend A Night of Pride with GLAAD and NFL on February 10, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for GLAAD)

GLAAD Board Chair Pamela Stewart moderated a panel on LGBTQ inclusion in advertising featuring Mohit Jolly, Senior Director of Marketing for the Global Ads Marketing Organization at Google, trans actress model and producer Jari Jones, and Brent Miller, Senior Director for Global LGBTQ Equality at P&G.

P&G’s Miller told the story of an 18 year old youth from North Carolina who sent him a letter praising a 2018 Olympics ad in which out gay Olympic gold medalist Gus Kenworthy’s coming out story was featured, thanking P&G for saving a life. 

“Thank you for saving another soul,” he wrote.  He said “Something as short as an ad can be life changing,” telling the story of a 54 year old man who described a sense of empowerment watching a Pride flag unfold on an Olympic venue mountainside in South Korea. That kind of marketing, Miller said, is “what we’re supposed to do.”

Miller also said he was particularly proud that his work moves not just a younger generation but the generations before them who fought “so hard and now get to see their work come to fruition.” 

Andrew Beaver, an advertising and marketing executive who serviced P&G advertising accounts, agreed with Miller, “I worked with P&G during a time when it wasn’t easy to support our community. They put put their money where their mouth approving LGBT+ inclusive advertising.”

Mohit Jolly, Senior Director for Global Ads Marketing at Google, who grew up in Chandigarh, India, a small, conservative city about five hours north of New Delhi, said he knew early on that something about him was different. “I come from the most intensely conservative background and coming out was not easy.”

He and actress Jari Jones spoke of the necessity for inclusion in marketing and the power of LGBT stories. 

Jones said that images of trans people she was exposed to as a young person had set her back but today’s more authentic representations of people like her have changed her life and the lives of millions of people.

Google, said Jolly, recognizes the power of representation and information to transform our lives and highlighted several tools the mega-powered company provides, including LGBTQ safe spaces and LGBTQ business features on maps worldwide. 

“Every day we reach billions and billions of people and so we have a responsibility,” he said. “I believe our commitments are profound.”

As the event drew to a close, Big Fredia took the stage and opened with her signature song of affirmation and call to be your true color, the aptly named “Big Dick Energy.”

Big Freedia performs onstage during A Night of Pride with GLAAD and NFL on February 10, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for GLAAD)

Guests included out NFL Legend Ryan O’Callaghan as well as LGBTQ leaders and allies including Alyssa Milano, Anthony Bowens, August Getty, Big Freedia, Braunwyn Windham-Burke, Jai Rodriguez, Jari Jones, Jeka Jane, Joey Zauzig, Justin Sylvester, Kent Boyd, LZ Granderson, Mollee Grey, Peter Porte, Philemon Chambers, R.K. Russell, Sonya DeVille, Victoria Brito, Cyd Zeigler, Los Angeles Blade Publisher Troy Masters, Andrew Beaver, GLAAD’s Rich Ferraro and Pamela Stewart, Chair of GLAAD’s Board of Directors.

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German soccer federation: Trans players can decide their team to play on

“This new regulation on playing rights will provide an important foundation to allow players with diverse gender identities to play football”

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Photo courtesy of the German Football Association (Deutscher Fußball-Bund e.V.)

FRANKFURT – The German Football Association (Deutscher Fußball-Bund e.V.) this week issued new regulations and rules governing all transgender, intersex and non-binary players. On Thursday the governing soccer body passed a new regulation that takes effect as of the start of the upcoming 2022-23 season allowing all trans, intersex and non-binary players to decide for themselves whether to compete on men’s or women’s teams.

The DFB also specified that as long as the player’s health is not affected by playing sports while taking medication, they can continue to participate in the sport. Under the new regulation, this would not be considered as doping.

This marks a departure from the recent trend and actions of other international sports governing associations such those taken earlier this month by the swimming’s world governing body FINA, which meeting in the Hungarian capital city of Budapest, voted to restrict transgender athletes from elite women’s competitions.

FINA said their action was necessary to determine eligibility criteria because of the “biological performance gap” that appears between males & females.

Thomas Hitzlsperger, the DFB’s diversity ambassador, said “Football (soccer) stands for diversity, a value that the DFB also promotes. This new regulation on playing rights will provide an important foundation to allow players with diverse gender identities to play football.”

Sabine Mammitzsch, the vice president for women’s and girls’ football (soccer) welcomes the regulation telling media outlets:

“The national and regional associations and also those responsible at grassroots level have signaled for some time that there is uncertainty around how to treat trans, intersex and non-binary players in practice. They therefore welcome the introduction of a far-reaching, nationwide regulation on the playing rights of these groups.”

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NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell talks to Billie Jean King on impact of Title IX

The impact of Title IX on women’s sports is significant. The law opened doors and removed barriers for girls and women

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Screenshot/YouTube NBC Nightly News

NEW YORK – This week marks the 50th anniversary of Title IX which was signed into law June 23, 1972 by then President Richard Nixon. It prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or any other education program that receives funding from the federal government.

Title IX states: No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

Two years after Title IX was signed into law, King founded the Women’s Sports Foundation in 1974. In 1971, before Title IX passed, only 1% of college athletic budgets went to women’s sports programs. At the high school level, male athletes outnumbered female athletes 12.5 to 1. 

The impact of Title IX on women’s sports is significant. The law opened doors and removed barriers for girls and women, and while female athletes and their sports programs still have fewer teams, fewer scholarships, and lower budgets than their male counterparts, since Title IX’s passage, female participation at the high school level has grown by 1057 percent and by 614 percent at the college level.

The impact of Title IX stretches into professional sports as well. More opportunities have emerged for young women to turn their sport into their career, particularly in the WNBA. Collegiate and professional coaching opportunities have increased as well.

An openly Out lesbian, King and her longtime partner Ilana Kloss joined the Los Angeles Dodgers as co-owners in September of 2018.

NBC News reported that fifty years after Title IX was signed, the impact of the law is still being felt by women in sports across the country. Tennis legend, Billie Jean King, who has devoted her life to fighting for gender equality in sports, spoke with NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell regarding Title IX. She explained that while we have come a long way there is “much more to do.”

Billie Jean King Discusses Title IX Fifty Years Later:

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World swimming body FINA votes to ban Trans athletes

FINA says it was necessary to determine eligibility criteria because of the “biological performance gap” that appears between males & females

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FINA's president, Husain Al-Musallam, announcing the new policy Sunday in Budapest (Screenshot/YouTube 10 News First)

BUDAPEST – The Swimming’s world governing body FINA meeting in the Hungarian capital city voted to restrict transgender athletes from elite women’s competitions. The final vote tally of the representatives was 71.5% approval for the new policy which requires transgender athletes show that “they have not experienced any part of male puberty beyond Tanner Stage 2 or before age 12, whichever is later.”

Enactment of that requirement effectively eliminates trans women’s eligibility to compete in the women’s category.

Tanner Stages describe the physical changes people undergo during puberty.

“We have to protect the rights of our athletes to compete, but we also have to protect competitive fairness at our events, especially the women’s category at FINA competitions,” FINA’s president, Husain Al-Musallam, said in a statement.

The organisation is maintaining that it was necessary to use sex and sex-linked traits to determine eligibility criteria because of the “performance gap” that appears between males and females during puberty.

“Without eligibility standards based on biological sex or sex-linked traits, we are very unlikely to see biological females in finals, on podiums, or in championship positions; and in sports and events involving collisions and projectiles, biological female athletes would be at greater risk of injury,” the statement from FINA’s new policy read.

Athlete Ally, which advocates for Trans athletes responded:

“FINA’s new eligibility criteria for transgender athletes and athletes with intersex variations is deeply discriminatory, harmful, unscientific and not in line with the 2021 International Olympic Committee framework on Fairness, Inclusion and Non-Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity and Sex Variations,” said Anne Lieberman, Director of Policy and Programs at Athlete Ally.

“This sudden and discriminatory decision is a blatant attack on transgender athletes who have worked to comply with longstanding policies that have allowed them to participate for years without issue,” said Joni Madison, Human Rights Campaign Interim President. “This policy is an example of swimming organizations caving to the avalanche of ill-informed, prejudiced attacks targeted at one particular transgender swimmer. We urge the FINA to rethink its policy and ensure inclusion for all athletes — including transgender women – and allow them to participate in sports free from discrimination, abuse and harassment.

“To the young athletes who may be disheartened by this policy, know that we know and believe that every young person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect and that transgender kids, like their friends, deserve the same chances to learn sportsmanship, self-discipline, and teamwork, and to build a sense of belonging with their peers,” Madison added.

Swimming Body FINA Votes To Segregate Trans Athletes | 10 News First:

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