At no other time in history have those words from Nelson Mandela rung truer than right now. Last spring when the NBA’s Jason Collins became the first active openly gay player in men’s professional sports he instantly received an outpouring of support on Twitter. Then during the Winter Olympics in Sochi, athletes and fans around the world joined the Principle 6 campaign and put Russia on notice that its anti-LGBT legislation flew in the face of the Olympic Charter. And just recently, after Michael Sam learned he was the first openly gay player drafted by an NFL team, his kiss with his boyfriend, broadcast live and witnessed globally, opened up a complex discussion about attitudes toward the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.
These are just some of the groundbreaking moments in the past year that have given individuals more opportunities than ever to give their opinions and to enact change through today’s perpetually connected society. In fact, many LGBT athletes, like English diver Tom Daley are sharing their stories on YouTube, and the support they’re getting from teammates and fans has helped others find the courage to do the same.
LGBT inclusion and acceptance in sports and across societies is becoming much more common. Yet we have a long way to go. While there are numerous out players in women sports, these athletes often face stigmatizing stereotypes about what it means to be a lesbian athlete. For transgender athletes, ignorance about basic science is still a huge hurdle that must be cleared.
For those wishing to help change the culture of sports globally, our task is twofold. First, we must challenge ourselves to become better educated about the issues facing our LGBT brothers and sisters in sports. Without a basic understanding of the forms of prejudice they face, we cannot be the advocates and educators we hope to be. Second, we must find ways to be explicit about our commitment to LGBT inclusion. From everyday instances of confronting anti-LGBT or heteronormative language, to participating in the campaigns and efforts of organizations actively working to change sports for the better, there is always something you can do to be a better ally to the LGBT community.
For instance, in celebration of the upcoming World Cup in Brazil and LGBT Pride month, Athlete Ally joined YouTube and Google’s #ProudToPlay initiative honoring the LGBT athletes and their supporters by standing up for diversity. Take a moment to record your own Proud to Play video or share the campaign with your friends and family.
In order to be an effective ally, you have to be willing to take action. By signing the Athlete Ally Pledge, you can also commit to promoting the best of athletics by making all players feel respected on and off the field. Spreading the values of inclusion and acceptance with your networks, you can help to make sports the equal playing field they were intended to be. With so many individuals and organizations committed to this work, the opportunities to affect change are limitless. It is up to all of us to do our part for sport and beyond. Together, the words of Mandela live on: Sport has the power to change the world.