LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Las Vegas is changing with sports, and sports is changing with the inclusion of all its fans. One of the largest LGBTQ+ organizations in the county says the NFL has come a long way in this realm but still has work to do.
That was the focus of a discussion during the NFL’s and GLAAD’s third annual “A Night of Pride.” The panel is held the week before Super Bowl Sunday to spotlight the football giant’s advancements in LGBTQ+ inclusion to its family of brands and partners.
As NFL Brand Ambassador Ryan Mitchell puts it, there weren’t always advancements that existed to celebrate.
“Sports, you know, historically has never really been a space that has been safe for queer people,” Mitchell said. “Queer fans have poured their money, their time, their love into this sport in ways that I don’t think a lot of people talk about.”
It’s also a night to celebrate its LBGTQ+ players, both past and present. Former Cowboys and Buccaneers Defensive End R.K. Russell didn’t come out until after his playing days.
“Football for young people is a lot of times telling them how they shouldn’t be, how you shouldn’t run, how you shouldn’t throw, how you shouldn’t walk,” Russell said. “That’s why we’re seeing such a disparity in the professional level, because we lose a lot of LGBTQ+ youth going into sports and coming up in it.”
While he’s one of several former players living authentically after the NFL, Carl Nassib just recently became the first openly active gay player in 2021. He’s since retired, and no other active players are openly out of the closet.
“I think most football players get a bad rap. Most football players I know are pretty inclusive dudes,” Nassib said. “Life is better when you’re being yourself and people love you more when you’re yourself.”
While the NFL has made strides in this realm – like uplifting businesses diversely owned in Super Bowl host cities and donating thousands of dollars to the Trevor Project – GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis says the league still doesn’t have everyone on board yet.
“I think the leadership is there, and I think we need to get more people on board within the NFL. The coaches, the owners, the teammates,” Ellis said. “I just need them to participate in creating open and welcoming environments.”
Despite that work ahead, signs lining the Caesars Palace ballroom Wednesday night indicate the message both NFL and advocacy leaders indicate is a common goal: Football is for everyone.