Members of NFL Network’s broadcasting crew will wear purple during tonight’s broadcast of Thursday Night Football to mark Spirit Day, an annual day when people are asked to wear purple to show support for LGBT kids and fight against anti-LGBT bullying.
Outsports, an LGBT sports site, asked the NFL Network crew to participate earlier this month, and NFL spokesperson Greg Aiello and NFL Network analyst Michael Irvin confirmed to the site today that the network would indeed mark the event tonight. Aiello told Outsports that host Rich Eisen will wear purple and mention Spirit Day during the broadcast, while Irvin and analyst Steve Mariucci will also wear purple during the show.
Irvin, the former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver, appeared on the cover of Out magazine in 2011 for an article in which he talked about his late brother, Vaughn, who was gay.
Major League Baseball, in the middle of its playoff season, also marked Spirit Day today, when all 30 of its teams posted pro-LGBT messages on their Facebook pages (some baseball fans, unfortunately, proved how badly the day is needed). MLB also outlined its Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram pictures in purple throughout the day, and it will broadcast a message to fans during Game 5 of the American League Championship Series tonight, asking them to learn more about Spirit Day’s meaning and how to join efforts to stop bullying of LGBT children. Multiple players, including the New York Mets’ David Wright and Atlanta Braves’ Justin Upton, spoke out against bullying in an MLB release today.
The celebrations come at a time of increasing LGBT awareness in professional sports. Both MLB and the NFL bolstered their anti-discrimination policies, which include sexual orientation, during the summer. The NFL Players Association raised money for LGBT causes through merchandise sales. The NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers, Major League Soccer’s Portland Timbers, and the National Women’s Soccer League’s Portland Thorns all came out this week in support of an Oregon amendment that would legalize marriage equality.
Having athletes, leagues, and teams, many of which are still waiting for their first openly gay player, stand up for equality is obviously important, but on a cause like Spirit Day aimed at children, it is even more so. It will send a message to young sports fans that acceptance and tolerance, not bullying, are the right things to do, and it will use some of the most powerful people in the eyes of children to tell them that being who they are is OK. Sports and athletes spent a long time behind society when it came to advancing equality, and in many ways they still are. But this is the type of progress and message that sports can send and make resonate the way no other part of our society could.