This year, more corporations than ever before painted their logos in rainbow colors to support Pride Month. Valid criticisms of so-called “corporate Pride” points out how dubious their support is, but it’s having an impact. And now, places like the NFL that have been reserved for traditionally “manly” men are stepping up and speaking out – in support of the LGBTQ community. CELEB takes a look back at Pride 2021 to see what progress the year has wrought, and how far there still is to go. 

Carl Nassib and the Confession Heard ‘Round the World

Carl Nassib

On June 21st, Las Vegas Raiders’ defensive end Carl Nassib did something simple, with extraordinary impact. Simple, but brave. Nassib, with a single social media post, became the first active NFL player to come out as gay. On Instagram, the 28-year-old shared, “I just want to take a quick moment to say I’m gay. I’ve been meaning to do this for awhile now, but I finally felt comfortable enough to get it off my chest.”

Nassib continued, “… I just think that representation and visibility are so important. I actually hope that one day, videos like this and the whole coming out process are just not necessary. But until then, I’m going to do my best and do my part to cultivate a culture that is accepting, that is compassionate.” Nassib then went on to announce he was donating $100K to The Trevor Project, an organization that provides suicide prevention resources to LGBTQ youth who are at risk. 

Nassib’s decision to come out as an active NFL player shattered norms that have been in place since the NFL’s inception. Often times, these spaces that are viewed as ultra-“manly”, mainly professional sports leagues, have kept talk of LGBTQ members under the table. Although members belonging to these sports do come out after retiring and talk about feeling supported by teammates, they remain silent in the face of a fan-base that often leans towards White, Christian, cis-gendered men. Nassib’s decision to shatter the ceiling has broad implications for LGBTQ members currently in the NFL who may not be openly out, and for those who will follow the path he has blazed. Now, this ultra-masculine space is making room for more inclusion and diversity. 

Initially, Nassib shared that his coaches and teammates were supported. And behind their rainbow-wrapped logo, the NFL tweeted, “The NFL family is proud of you, Carl.” But their support didn’t stop there. 

NFL Says, ‘The NFL is Gay’

If particular fans of the NFL were uncomfortable with Nassib’s revelation, what would soon follow shattered more than a few fragile egos. The NFL released an official video, with a text-only message. The message began with, “Football is gay.” Gay was replaced with Lesbian, and other words including bisexual, transgender, queer, American, and freedom. It concluded with, “Football is for everyone.”

The video ended with a message reading, “The NFL proudly supports The Trevor Project. LGBTQ+ youth with at least one accepting adult have 40% lower risk of attempting suicide.”

Although it was a simple message – “we accept and affirm everyone” – like Nassib’s announcement, it was monumental. Now fans of the sport could no longer consider it a single player issue – the entire league openly took a stance.

NASCAR, Minor League Baseball, and Aston Martin Have a Say

Nascar Pride Month

Although the NFL certainly launched the loudest and clearest volley, they are not the only traditionally “masculine” sport to make waves by taking a stand. 

Major League Soccer recently made their stance clear in a wash of rainbows and an announcement; “As part of Major League Soccer’s long-standing support of the LGBTQ+ community, and in celebration of Pride month in June, the league will make a contribution to Athlete Ally, an organization supporting equal access, opportunity, and experience in sports — regardless of sexual orientation. gender identity or gender expression.” MLS was the sports trailblazer when in 2018, Collin Martin became the first active player in a major North American sports league to come out openly as gay. And in women’s soccer, a number of players are out – including soon-to-be Victoria Secret ambassador Megan Rapinoe, who was also the first gay woman to pose on the cover of Sports Illustrated

Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball both sell Pride merchandise and have been participating in Pride-related events for years now. 

And in the world of Formula One, Aston Martin has raised a rainbow flag high, partnering with Racing Pride to promote LGBTQ+ diversity and inclusion. Racer shares, “Racing Pride is an LGBTQ+ rights charity working to promote inclusivity across motorsport, and has entered into a partnership with Aston Martin – supported by team sponsor Cognizant – to deliver a series of initiatives throughout June. Racing Pride has already conducted a review of Aston’s existing policies to try and improve how it can be a more diverse and inclusive team, and its co-founder Richard Morris says the collaboration is a major development.”

Even NASCAR – known as the stomping ground of the Southern “good ol’ boy” –  has donned rainbow colors and tweeted in support of The Trevor Project. “NASCAR is proud to support the important work of @TrevorProject this month and all year long. If you’re struggling right now, remember that you’re not alone. The Trevor Project is always here to help LGBTQ young people.” And Ally Financial driver Alex Bowman hit the Sonoma Raceway earlier this month with a rainbow “a” decal that read “better together.” 

Corporate Pride = Progress?

This wash of rainbows does have some crying foul, however. While visibility and representation matters, some accuse corporations of capitalizing on the rainbow for financial gain. Many of the companies who paint it rainbow during June consistently contribute money to anti-LGBTQ organizations. 

Marker explains, “Many companies with pride collections at least give financial support to pro-LGBT+ causes (see: H&M). Many others however, fail to do anything beyond selling rainbow t-shirts and bags to support the marginalized community. The worst offenders, don’t just fail to substantively support LGBT+ rights, but do the opposite. ‘JetBlue’, for instance tweeted their support of ‘#Pride’ this week, but simultaneously gave $1000 to Nicole Malliotakis — A Republican representative who opposes the right of Trans people to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender. Facebook meanwhile changed their logo to incorporate the Pride colours and added a banner to their page donning the words ‘Black Trans Lives Matter’. At the same time, pro-conversion therapy content is being promoted to millions of people on the site. In cases like this, corporate pride isn’t just largely unhelpful, it’s actively harmful; it’s used to disguise a repeated pattern of anti-LGBT+ behaviour.”

Ultimately, though, the exposure from corporate Pride gestures helps push the consuming public closer to acceptance. If your favorite brands are suddenly turning rainbow in June and you’re homophobic, you have a decision to make – boycott with your bucks, or get used to it. Every year as more corporations and now sports teams get on the rainbow wagon, the criticisms of corporate Pride remain valid – but the overall atmosphere of acceptance is a step in the right direction.

What Still Needs to Happen?

A step in the right direction is far from the end of the journey. In Florida, a recent bill prevents transgender athletes from performing in sports categories that align with their gender identity. And just recently, legislation across the country has been addressed to protect sexuality and gender identity from workplace discriminations. 

In Washington, President Joseph Biden and his administration are pushing for a pro-LGBTQ Equality Act to pass that tackles workplace discrimination. Biden acknowledged Pride month and  scolded Republican states that are passing transgender sports bans like Florida. While it’s refreshing to see the powers that be taking a stance on LGBTQ issues, the fact that there’s a need for them to do so speaks volumes about how far the country still has to go.

Maybe with more sports teams and corporations normalizing Pride and the LGBTQ community, more people who are on the fence will fall firmly into the camp of affirming. Division and exclusion have been a dark legacy in the past of the United States; the rainbow offers a hope that maybe the future will instead be one of diversity and inclusion. And athletes like Nassib are paving the way.