Equality on the Pitch: Major League Soccer’s Support of the LGBT Community
A week ago, Major League Soccer announced that it was ending its 6-month-old partnership with the Boy Scouts of America “for a variety of business reasons.” Yet the timing of the announcement followed closely on the heels of the BSA’s decision to continue to exclude gays and lesbians from participating in their organization. Based on MLS‘ on-going public support of the LGBT community, it is no wonder that most news organizations have speculated that MLS dropped the BSA for this reason alone.
Major League Soccer, more than any other men’s professional sports league in the US, has been a vocal proponent of LGBT equality. In May, when it announced that it would participate in the “You Can Play” project, which works to end homophobia in sports culture, MLS executive vice president JoAnn Neale said, “MLS W.O.R.K.S. [the league’s charitable arm] is committed to working alongside groups that support LGBT causes and equality.”
Individual teams have also shown their support for the LGBT community. According to Yahoo, “Many teams, including the Chicago Fire, Chivas USA, D.C. United and the Columbus Crew have held game promotions for gay and lesbian groups.” And just earlier this month, Chicago Fire announced that it would team up with Equality Illinois, the pairing being “the Midwest‘s first formal alliance between a professional sports team and a pro marriage equality organization.”
MLS taking this stand in the soccer world is important because homophobia is still a very real problem. Only three male professional soccer players have ever come out publicly: David Testo, Anton Hysen, and Justin Fashanu. On the same day that MLS announced that it was severing ties with the BSA, the UEFA handed down a fine to Antonio Cassano, a member of Italy’s national team, who said “I hope there are none” when asked by a reporter during the recent Euro Cup about rumors that two players on the Italian team were gay. (Cassano did apologize less than a day later, saying he meant no offense and that “homophobia is a sentiment that is not mine.”) Earlier this year, the Football Association fined Nile Ranger, Manny Smith, and Ravel Morrison for writing homophobic tweets. And in a new Esquire UK article on the subject of homophobia in the world of soccer, Tim Adams reports that when the president of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, was asked what gay fans of the sport should do about the 2022 World Cup being held in Qatar where homosexuality is illegal, Blatter “smirked and suggested they would just have to keep their hands off each other for the duration of the tournament.”
Still, it appears that the tide may be turning towards a greater acceptance of gay athletes in the soccer world.
Here in the USA this is represented by Major League Soccer’s consistent stand for LGBT rights and equality. Additionally, of the three openly gay athletes who will represent the USA in the Olympic games this summer, one is a female soccer player, Megan Rapinoe. Her public coming out was met with a collective culture yawn. (Rapinoe’s story, though, should not necessarily be seen as representative since many female athletes still face significant homophobia.)
For once, it’s nice to see us lead in the arena of supporting LGBT equality. Turns out that here in the USA, that arena also houses a soccer pitch.