Two days before the Canadian Football League held the 104th Grey Cup — the league’s title game, for those not in the know — the league co-sponsored a party at a gay bar in Toronto designed to welcome and embrace the LGBT community. It was the first of its kind hosted by a major pro-sports league in North America at its title game or series.
The event was held at the gay sports bar Striker, in conjunction with the You Can Play project. It brought together people across communities, including a mayor and a drag queen, as CFL exec Paulo Senra tweeted:
Some of the attendees included Toronto Mayor John Tory, CFL commissioner Jeffrey Orridge and former CFL player Jon Cornish, who has two moms. The Grey Cup itself even made an appearance!
Until now I’ve always been conservative about the impact these kinds of events have on gay players in these leagues. The effect on LGBT fans is great — The message of inclusion hits squarely there. Various efforts our movement puts forward in these pro leagues have different results, and these “gay days” or gay events to me have always had limited impact on the athletes themselves. For the fanbase — which makes up many multiples of the numbers of athletes in any league — they are a great touchstone for the connection between our community and sports. But for the athletes in those leagues?
You Can Play staffer Jillian Svensson provided some important perspective for me in our chat earlier this week.
"You never know when you're going to get to somebody when they need you the most,” she said.
That’s right. We have to pursue every opportunity, every avenue. That this event was in the official CFL program and seen by players, coaches and fans is important. You never know when someone is watching or who that person is. This event may have been the impetus for a player, coach, fan or media member to come out to someone in their life. That’s the power of all of these events.
Besides that, it’s fun. These celebrations are a good time. Letting our hair down and having fun with people across communities — and within the LGBT sports community — is fun.
The Ottawa Redblacks went on to beat the Calgary Stampeders in overtime, 39-33. It was Ottawa’s first title since the Rough Riders won in 1976. The Redblacks had lost to Edmonton last year in the Grey Cup. Don’t feel too bad for Calgary as the Stampeders have won five championships in that 40-year span.
Congratulations to all of the people who brought the event together! I only wish I was there for it.
Some other photos from the LGBT event, courtesy of Jillian Svensson at You Can Play: