Tag Archives: gay

Mirroring Social Evolution

Donald Sterling ClippedAs I sit and think about sports today, I think about the hot topics splattering headlines in the recent weeks and months. It’s not about money or arrests or even cheating. Instead, we’re reading and discussing unacceptable bigotry in major league sports – Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s racist comments and Michael Sam becoming the first openly gay player in the NFL. While some may not agree, I think this is pretty incredible. An industry previously thought of as traditional, and keen to an unspoken “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, has now become a reflection of real social change.

A lifetime ban for Donald and jerseys flying off the shelves for Sam (despite his lack of assigned number) have both been applauded by the general public, as well as the players and organizations they support.

Furthermore, when Miami Dolphins safety Don Jones tweeted, “Horrible” shortly following the St. Louis Rams selection of Sam in the seventh round of the 2014 NFL draft, he was bombarded with disapproving criticism. His employer even issued a statement assuring the public that he would be addressed appropriately. An admirable effort from the team that was previously at the center of a bulling scandal – bringing national scrutiny to locker room culture in the NFL.

Circling back to the outrageous babbling of Donald Sterling, a valid question was raised by his wife, Shelly Sterling, in an interview with Barbara Walters: “I’m wondering if a wife of one of the owners, and there’s 30 owners, did something like that, said those racial slurs, would they oust the husband? Or would they leave the husband in?” An interesting and noteworthy perspective, but perhaps not a legitimate claim. We’ll have to wait (likely years) to see her fate while she contemplates the fate of her marriage. Donald, on the other hand, issued an apology today via a taped CNN interview with Anderson Cooper begging to be allowed this one mistake in his 35 years of ownership. Somehow I doubt that this is his one and only mistake during that time…but I could be wrong…

All in all, once the standard is now the unacceptable. While state and federal laws in the past few years (and 50 years) have helped spearhead equal rights movements worldwide, it was once projected that men’s professional sports were far from following suit. With both surprise and gratitude, I look to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, Michael Sam and the St. Louis Rams (and their PR teams, of course) for their courage and commitment to social change in sports. It may be too early to say that we are entering a new world of sports, but this is undoubtably a conscious effort by industry leaders to shift perception and mirror societal evolution.

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Jason Collins: “The Announcement Should be Mine to Make, Not TMZ’s”

Today, history was made. Jason Collins dominated headlines and raked in Twitter followers by becoming the first openly gay active athlete. He opened up to the world this morning as Sports Illustrated‘s May 6 issue hit newsstands, bearing his fearless smile on the cover.

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“I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay,” Collins’ confessional byline begins, “I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation. I wish I wasn’t the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, “I’m different.” If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand.”

This is a huge moment in sports, politics and American culture. In his debut piece, the seven-foot center and free agent notes that while he’s been struggling with the decision for nearly two years, it was the recent Boston Marathon bombing that made him realize that he shouldn’t wait for the circumstances to be perfect.

My initial reaction to the news was an overwhelming sense of joy. I celebrate Collins’ courage to be himself in a situation that doesn’t make it easy. People face this dilemma every day, and the struggles that Collins experienced (and will likely continue to experience) every day, but not everyone is a public figure. One of my favorite lines Collins wrote reads, “The announcement should be mine to make, not TMZ’s.”

In public relations, so much of what we do is finding ways to control the message. Making sure that the right audience sees and hears the right message. I know it may sound terrible, but when I saw a free agent announce his sexual orientation in an exclusive cover of Sports Illustrated, I thought…this is strategic PR. But Collins’ article put my accusations to rest. He is so unmistakably honest. It is easy to feel compassionate towards someone who bares everything, knowing that by doing so, he is welcoming criticism. By the end, I had forgotten all the motives I thought lay behind the swarm of publicity and felt closer to a man I never even considered cheering for.

…and that’s the beauty of PR and branding – if it’s good, you think the message was your own idea!

With that, I’ll leave you with an insightful and supportive tweet from the one and only Fortune Felmster, comedian best known for her regular appearances on Chelsea Lately:

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