In the past, you’ve probably seen me talk about efforts in some corners of the sports world to help build acceptance and inclusion towards those in the LGBTQ community, including the “You Can Play” movement in hockey and Canadian football, the use of rainbow-colored tape for hockey sticks, and even recognition of LGBT people from the Olympics to baseball’s first pitch. But they’re not the only sports or sporting organizations to advance toward LGBTQ inclusiveness, as this image helps prove.
Those, as if you couldn’t tell, are a pair of rainbow-colored laces on a pair of cleats. (Hey, nice colors there, and I’m not just talking about the laces.) The “Rainbow Laces” are being put forth by the British LGBT organization Stonewall as a way to help promote LGBT inclusiveness in organized sport (“Acceptance Without Exception” is Stonewall’s overall tagline). Homophobia and transphobia in sports, regardless of the level of sport, is a real concern for Stonewall, whose website expresses the following statistical research:
- 72% of football fans have heard anti-LGBT remarks at games over the last five years
- One in five 18 to 24-year-olds say they’d be embarrassed if their favorite player came out as LGBT
- Young people are twice as likely to say anti-LGBT language is harmless if it’s just meant as ‘banter’
Soccer (or football, as the rest of the world calls it) has been a sport that’s been prone to incidents of intolerance and prejudice, and not just toward the LGBT community. That overall negativity is a leading reason why very few English LGBT footballers have felt compelled to come out of the closet and disclose their sexuality. Even the niece of late English football player Justin Fashanu, who blazed a still-mostly-untrodden trail in 1990 by becoming the first professional footballer in England to come out, has fretted that she may not live to see the day when a footballer will come out and not have it be a big deal.
It’s that need for LGBT acceptance and inclusion in English football and sports in general that makes efforts such as Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces so important. And this weekend, that movement is seeing its biggest endorsement:
The Premier League, the highest level of football in England and arguably one of the highest-regarded soccer leagues on the planet, has given its full endorsement to Rainbow Laces and is joining Stonewall’s TeamPride coalition of LGBT-accepting businesses and organizations. This weekend, all 10 Premier League fixtures (that’s soccer-speak for “matches”) will see some sort of display that includes pre-match ceremonies, advertising, and the such “to highlight the hard work undertaken by clubs and their supporter groups to welcome fans in their stadiums, regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation” (that’s a direct quote from the Premier League website). And, yes, several (though not all, it appears) Premier League players will be threading Rainbow Laces through their cleats.
This endorsement by the Premier League is a great one for sure. There’s a bit of regret, though: For one, it was only a few short years ago that some Premier League clubs declined to participate in Rainbow Laces. Sure, they supported the sentiment, but they cited lack of consultation in their move back then. It sounds like there were conflicts with club sponsors, which really should’ve been ironed at that time). Now, presumably, all those conflicts are in the past and the clubs appear on-board in unity.
Of course, there’s also the lingering issues of phobia and intolerance among football fanatics towards not only the LGBTQ community but other genders, nationalities, and ability levels. At least it’s good to know that the Premier League is also tackling that issue. The PL and other lower-level English football leagues are supporters of an organization called Kick It Out, whose aim is to promote equality and inclusiveness in football and to call out incidents of racism, prejudice, and hate of any form in English football, up to and including educational initiatives and use of an app designed to report any harmful and demeaning incidents toward minorities and LGBTs at football matches.
Some of you out there are probably thinking that all of this is just for show… that the displays are just a way for to make the Premier League look good… that the rainbow-colored laces and captain’s armbands are rather infinitesimal in the grand scope of things. (Side note: The match I’m tuned into right now had at least one of the captains wearing a rainbow armband.) But the way I see it, homophobia, transphobia, and prejudice are serious issues in English football. And, no, Rainbow Laces may not be the magical wand that will make all this hate go away. But the first step in dealing with the issues of hate and prejudice is admitting you have an issue with hate and prejudice. The Premier League knows this, and thank goodness they’re acknowledging it and dealing with it head-on. Good on them for endorsing Stonewall, TeamPride, and Rainbow Laces. Good, too, on Stonewall and other supportive organizations for facing the evils of hateful prejudice with even the simplest of displays.
And now that you’ve gotten this far in the post, please view the below promotional video from Stonewall that promotes Rainbow Laces and the need for LGBT inclusiveness in the football world. Make note, too, of the statistic posted near the end of the video. If 63% of sports fans surveyed feel more steps should be taken to make LGBT people feel accepted in the sporting world, wouldn’t you agree it’s too important an issue to turn a blind eye towards?
** 11/29/2016 UPDATE ** I wasn’t kidding about the captain’s armband being in rainbow colors this past weekend. Here is a screenshot of Chelsea F.C.’s Gary Cahill, who served as team captain in last Saturday afternoon’s game broadcast by NBC. Sure enough, the armband is in full rainbow effect. Cool!