In June, Seattle Reign FC of the newly-formed National Women’s Soccer League became the first American women’s professional sports team to sign onto the You Can Play Project, an advocacy organization seeking to rid sports of homophobia. This week, the team released a video announcing the partnership and pledging to create tolerant environments in the lockerroom, on the pitch, and in the stands. Megan Rapinoe, the American soccer star who came out as gay before playing for the U.S. Women’s National Team in the 2012 London Olympics, headlines the video.
“Degrading and homophobic language have no place on the pitch, in the lockerroom, or in our communities,” members of the team say in the video. “We pledge to make the lockerroom for everyone. We pledge to create a safe and enjoyable environment at every one of our matches. If you can score a goal, you can score a goal. … If you can play, you can play.”
Watch the full video:
A number of prominent professional athletes and collegiate teams have signed on with You Can Play, which was co-founded by Patrick Burke, the son of former Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke and the brother of the late Brendan Burke, who came out while playing college hockey for Miami (Ohio). Having a professional women’s team on board is significant, because while many in the sports world are attune to the homophobia that can exist in men’s sports, it is often overlooked in the women’s games.
Women still face homophobia though, particularly in collegiate sports, because the perception that female athletes are unfeminine and perhaps more likely to be lesbians can often drive backlash against those who actually are. Homophobia has contributed to the downfall of lesbian coaches in women’s sports, while lesbian players, like Brittney Griner, who came out shortly before becoming the top pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft, are often pressured to stay in the closet or downplay their sexuality. “Be straight, or at the very least, act straight,” ESPN’s Luke Cyphers and Kate Fagan wrote of the attitude that if often pervasive in women’s sports.
Griner and Rapinoe have both been prominent in helping break down those barriers, and continued efforts from You Can Play and teams like Seattle FC will continue to do that while reminding everyone that even if women’s sports are perceived as, and often are, a less homophobic place, they still have issues that need to be addressed.