Support of LGBTQ community by the Patriots and other teams pushes the NFL forward
The afternoon before the 2017 NFL season kicked off in Foxboro, Massachusetts, about 15 teenagers were welcomed to Patriot Place. They were from Boston Alliance of Gay and Lesbian Youth (BAGLY), a youth-serving LGBTQ organization dedicated to social justice in the greater Boston area. The teens were there to speak with former New England Patriot Ryan O'Callaghan, who publicly came out as gay in June, and former NFL fullback Tony Richardson. Current Patriots players were unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict.
The youth-based conversation was facilitated by Wade Davis, former defensive back and the NFL's first Diversity and Inclusion consultant. Wade also serves as the director of professional sports outreach for the You Can Play Project, which works to ensure the safety and inclusion of all in sports. Much of the conversation was about inclusion, challenges facing trans people and the barriers LGBTQ people face in the sports world. The youth leaders listened to the stories from Richardson and O'Callaghan, and also shared their own perspectives.
The You Can Play Project has been partnering with the NFL to do small events with teams and LGBTQ youth for the past four seasons. Tampa Bay hosted the first team event in 2014, followed by the New York Giants, Minnesota Vikings and the Atlanta Falcons. "[The NFL] really just wants players to engage with young kids," Davis said.
Back in 2015, the Patriots signed onto an amicus brief in support of marriage equality with 378 other organizations (including the San Francisco Giants and Tampa Bay Rays) before the Supreme Court hearing of the case that granted it nationwide.
The Patriots also sponsored Gay Bowl XVII, the championship tournament for LGBT flag football teams, which was held in Boston Oct. 5-8.
However, the Patriots' support of LGBTQ initiatives does not come without complication. For example, the Department of Justice (DOJ) issued new guidelines on religious liberty last week, which advocates say can be used to discriminate against LGBTQ people. Additionally, the DOJ was recently ordered to take the position that civil rights legislation does not bar discrimination based on gender identity. It remains to be seen how and if sports teams that have been active in supporting LGBTQ people will respond to changes such as these on the federal level.
"I hope other franchises will follow [the Patriots'] lead in the future and become more active in the community," O'Callaghan said.
"Whether other owners want to believe it or not, there is a very good chance that there is a gay player in their locker room struggling with his sexuality as well. Seeing support of the LGBTQ community from their team may be what it takes to help that gay player make it."