In our ever-changing culture, equality and acceptance have always been fluctuating societal factors. This fluctuation has occurred in all walks of life, including sports. In today’s sports world, we see punishment allocated to players guilty of discrimination, harassment, and other malicious forms of abuse. But aside from the punishment and reprimand of actions already committed, many are working internally to mandate order. Major League Soccer has certainly taken the initiative. The league has not followed in the shadows of other American sports; instead they’ve been paving the way for others. From games honoring equality and diversity, clubs celebrating pride nights, flags, campaigns, and players/fans pledging support, MLS is setting an example for the rest of the sports world.
On Saturday, July 23, 2011, Major League Soccer held it’s first ‘Equality Night’ for a game between Chivas USA and Houston Dynamo. Since then, many clubs including LA Galaxy, DC United, Chicago Fire, Real Salt Lake, and the Colorado Rapids have hosted similar events, including “Pride Nights”. Portions of the profits from ticket prices and sales that evening are donated to organizations that support diversity and equality.
In April of 2007, Major League Soccer launched MLS WORKS; an outreach initiative program that is dedicated to addressing social issues throughout the league and nation. MLS WORKS serves as a platform for both the league and club philanthropic programs. The overall objective of the program is to improve the lives of people throughout the sport of soccer.
In May of 2013, Robbie Rogers became the first openly gay male athlete to compete in a North American professional sports league when he played his first match with the Los Angeles Galaxy. Rogers announced his decision to return to the sport in April of 2013, after admitting he “felt like a coward” for having removed himself from the game.
“These kids are standing up for themselves and changing the world, and I’m 25, I have a platform and a voice to be a role model. How much of a coward was I to not stand up to the plate?” Rogers told USA TODAY Sports in an interview following his announcement to return. On May 26, Rogers played his first match for the Galaxy, coming on as a substitute, making him the first openly gay man to play in a top American professional sports league. Contrary to popular belief, that designation is given to Rogers. Many believe that NBA player Jason Collins was the first, coming out earlier in the month, but he was a free agent at the time of his announcement, not tying him with the league during that time. It was Jason Collins who credited Rogers with having “blazed a trail”. Collins reached out to Rogers for advice on dealing with the media following his own announcement.
Following Rogers’ return to the sport, MLS announced a new campaign, “Don’t Cross The Line”, before the 2013 AT&T MLS All-Star Game. Don’t Cross The Line is an anti-discrimination initiative that urges the refrain of abusing or excluding anyone because of age, race, gender, sexuality, or ability. The promotions for the campaign feature the league’s top stars like Thierry Henry, Kyle Beckerman, Landon Donovan, Dwayne De Rosario and others. The campaign is displayed before the game as a public service announcement on the video screens and sidelines reels.
“Major League Soccer is committed to supporting the communities where we live and play our games, and to providing an environment in which our staff, clubs, players, partners and supporters are treated with dignity and respect. We will not tolerate discrimination, bias, prejudice or harassment of any kind… “Don’t Cross the Line” promotes unity, respect, fair play, equality and acceptance throughout the soccer community.”
MLS asks fans to join the movement by going online to take the pledge against discrimination.
Aside from the league’s own initiative, individuals have stepped up and made their own voices heard through various player-endorsed campaigns. One of those campaigns is “NOH8”; a campaign promoted through photographic, silent protest. The protest is integrated with the charitable organization whose mission is to “promote marriage, gender, and human equality through education, advocacy, social media, and visual protest”. With Robbie Rogers now involved and leading the charge, other players have been apart of the organization long before the 2013 announcement including Mike Chabala, Chris Wingert, Brian Dunseth, Jay DeMerit, Jordan Harvey, Michael Boxall, and many more.
This past June, international soccer’s most renowned name, former LA Galaxy star David Beckham, took to social media recognizing individuals for celebrating pride around the world.
During a 2013 interview, Rogers explained that it was often times the harsh atmosphere of football, often times the homophobic banter throughout locker rooms, that gave him anxiety of coming out earlier in his career
In March of 2014, Major League Soccer announced that it was expanding training for players by posting a Player Code of Conduct in both home and visiting locker rooms. The Code of Conduct strictly prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and race.
It’s been Major League Soccer’s mission to make certain that opportunity is given to all, regardless of age, race, religion, or sexual orientation. Over the past four years, Major League Soccer has taken a major initiative in the acceptance and equality of its athletes and the overall sport of soccer. The league has paved the way for others, setting an example for the rest of the sports world. It hasn’t followed the public relations scheme of other sports or leagues; it’s begun to revolutionize American sports on it’s own. For a league rising in American popularity, which less than 10 years ago was almost folded, to take it’s luck on this initiative with such force the past four years truly speaks volume of the persons behind the league and what it stands for.
Who knows, maybe the next Robbie Rogers is out there reading this, or was in the stands for ‘Pride Night’ in Colorado against LA last week.
Below: Two Videos from the DC United Pride Night on Saturday June 28 vs. the Seattle Sounders
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