Support Of LGBT Athletes Continues To Grow

As LGBT rights increase, the sports world is following suit.


Martina Navratilova

The outlook for LGBT athletes in professional sports is good, my friends. It really is.

As Curve’s resident sportswriter, I can honestly say that with a straight face. Why? Because I’ve seen the evolution firsthand. I’ve written about it. I’ve told numerous stories of lesbian athletes who were once forced to shelve their true sexual identity, and recounted tales of sexual discrimination and unfair treatment in the sports world too may times to count.

But, things change.

Those same lesbian athletes now wear their sexual identity like a badge of honor. The tales of discrimination and unfair treatment are decreasing, and stories of support are taking their place.

Nike has already made a public commitment to support LGBT athletes within and outside of their brand, worldwide. Their #betrue campaign, launched in 2014, is a line of LGBT-inspired sportswear with rainbow colors. It was designed to celebrate the passion of sport by all athletes, regardless of sexual orientation. After signing WNBA All-Star Brittney Griner to an endorsement deal, Nike has used Griner as a vehicle to help spread the word about the campaign. She is often seen wearing #betrue apparel on and off the basketball court. Additionally, Nike also donates hundreds of thousands of dollars to a variety of non-profit LGBT organizations.

Last week, Adidas officials added a new clause to its endorsement contracts stating that sponsorship will not be affected if athletes publicly announce they are gay, lesbian, bi or transgender. This is huge.  As the world’s second-largest sportswear company, Adidas has a great deal of influence. The fact that they are dedicated to improving the visibility of LGBT people in sport cannot be overstated. Many athletes have openly admitted to staying in the closet longer than they should have because they feared losing sponsors and endorsement deals.

It happened.

When Martina Navratilova came out, she lost a ton of sponsors and support. And corporate sponsors often make up a great deal of an athlete’s livelihood, especially female athletes who don’t make as much money as their male counterparts. But thanks to companies like Adidas and Nike, LGBT athletes don’t have to worry about that anymore.

Nike recently took things a step further. They have decidedly distanced themselves from athletes who openly discriminate against the LGBT community.  Boxer Manny Pacquiao made homophobic comments last week, claiming that gay people were worse than animals. 

“We find Manny Pacquiao's comments abhorrent. Nike strongly opposes discrimination of any kind and has a long history of supporting and standing up for the rights of the LGBT community,” Nike said in a statement. “We no longer have a relationship with Manny Pacquiao.”

A few short years ago, Pacquiao spoke out against gay marriage. Nike responded by issuing a public statement, saying they strongly disagreed with him and believed in equality for all. But they didn’t drop him.

My, how things have changed.

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