When former University of Missouri defensive end and potential NFL draft pick Michael Sam shared that he was gay on ESPN’s Outside the Lines in February, representatives from GLAAD and You can Play Project saw a chance for a transformative moment.
GLAAD, which promotes a positive and accurate media portrayal LGBT people, helped You Can Play and its executive director, Wade Davis, craft a message on the importance of LGBT visibility and acceptance in sports.
“It was a time where GLAAD really stepped in there said, ‘Hey Wade, let us handle the media aspect of it, and we’ll really work as a team to talk about messaging,'” Davis told USA Today.
Five weeks after Sam’s announcement, the two organizations christened an official partnership that will marry one of the nation’s leading gay advocacy groups with an organization in You Can Play designed to promote equality for athletes regardless of sexual orientation.
With Sam as the latest example, it’s vital now more than ever that organizations like GLAAD and You Can Play unite to help lead the discussion on what has proven to be a controversial topic, Davis said.
“One of the biggest things is that there are so many LGBT athletes who are now stepping out and announcing their sexuality,” he said. “Let’s make sure the reporting on this is done in a way where the story about sports can be told as it intersects with LGBT athletes.”
USA Today quoted Davis as saying, “I’ve always been a firm believer that sports is a space that is accepting of people who are different, whether it’s someone of a different race, a different class, a different religion. So one of our biggest goals is to really shine a light on what effect sports can have on creating better understanding of LGBT individuals.”
For GLAAD, the collaboration with You Can Play marks the first full-scale foray into the world of sports—an arena wrongly labeled as inhospitable to the gay community, GLAAD president Sarah Kate Ellis said.
“One of the things that we’d love to do is debunk some of these myths around the locker room issues, and the myth perception that the professional sporting world is homophobic, when in fact it’s a very inclusive world, and it has been,” Ellis said. “I think that played out with Michael Sam. But that trickles down, that myth perception trickles down to the local level, to the soccer fields and the baseball fields in our local communities. We want to make sure that we’re changing that conversation.”
In addition to helping foster a positive image of LGBT individuals in sports, both GLAAD and You Can Play hope an upcoming national campaign can also bridge the gap between sports and the LGBT community.
“It’s also an opportunity for LGBT organizations to really learn about the sports world. I think that was something that was always lacking,” Davis added. “There’s always been this disconnect between sports and LGBT individuals, so we’re really happy that we can combine our forces to educate both sides. So we’re educating the sports world about LGBT individuals and vice versa.”