The NBA and WNBA marched in the New York Pride parade last Sunday, the first major pro-sports league to have its front office march in a pride parade. In attendance were NBA commissioner Adam Silver, WNBA president Lisa Borders and out former NBA player Jason Collins. These people didn't have to show up, but they did - That's a real statement of support.
So why am I having a lot of trouble getting too impressed by this?
On the one hand, they are the first two American pro sports leagues to participate in a pride parade at a league level. Yet many NHL teams and players have marched in pride parades, sometimes holding the Stanley Cup and often in conjunction with the You Can Play project. Major League Baseball teams have participated in various Prides, and the league's Billy Bean is becoming a staple at the events.
Still, a pro sports league doing this is something we haven't seen before. The NBA has another LGBT claim to fame.
Amazing! Groundbreaking! Historic!
Except, how lame is that? It took until 2016 for an American pro sports league to shell out a few thousand dollars, build a float and participate in a Pride parade. The NBA can certainly take a bow for being the first, but it's just a little... overdue.
Golden State Warriors president Rick Welts, who came out publicly as gay five years ago, shared his pride in the move by his league:
Proud of Adam Silver and NBA & WNBA leadership on being the first league to march in the NYC Pride Parade. #OrlandoUnited— Rick Welts (@RickWelts) June 29, 2016
I get that. Welts struggled with being gay in the NBA for two decades before he found the courage to come out to his friend and former boss, David Stern, and the public at large. I understand how this nod by the league can spur a lot of pride in Welts, and others like Collins, who also struggled with being gay in the league until recent years.
Last month marked my 20th anniversary of being an out gay man. I expect a lot more.
We have marriage equality across the nation. Gay people can serve openly in the military, and an openly gay man is Secretary of the Army.
Yet our collective expectations of professional sports leagues are so discouragingly low that we applaud one of them for showing up to a pride parade.
This year Outsports marched in the Chicago Pride parade with about 50 LGBT athletes and coaches. Plus, Nike sponsored Outsports' parade entry. Nike has been marching in pride parades for over five years, often featuring the company's CEO, Mark Parker, and other high-level executives. Adidas and other sports brands have been popping up in pride parades.
Who else marched in the Chicago parade? The Chicago Cubs were there, as they have been before, this year including MLB great Ryne Sandberg. Other major national corporations showed up: Hyatt, Bloomingdale's, Boeing, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Walgreens, Tesla, Orbitz, Starbucks. There was also a contingent of dozens of churches coming together to demonstrate their collective support for the LGBT community despite the long history of persecution by Christian doctrine.
In the New York Pride parade, the list of corporations marching to celebrate the community was a veritable who's-who of Wall Street and Fortune 500 companies. Major politicians from the state's governor to the Democratic nominee for President walked the route through Manhattan. Churches, Boy Scouts - Hell, the FBI marched!
And we're going to applaud a sports league for finally landing in 2007?
Welcome to the party. You're only decades late.
We have gotten so used to minimal expectations from our professional sports that the idea of a couple of the league front offices choosing to show up for an LGBT event makes us giddy. We have bought into a mindset that so many sports executives, including some who are LGBT, have sold us: It's just so difficult to be out in pro sports that our expectations must remain as low as possible. We have to celebrate every little leaf of any olive branch extended to us by the sports world.
The NBA has not created an environment in which LGBT athletes feel they can come out. The league has no out active player, head coach or assistant coach. The one out player they did have - Jason Collins - struggled to get signed after he came out and before the Brooklyn Nets, for whom Collins played years earlier, came to the league's rescue. While no one believes Derrick Gordon - the openly gay guard who came out publicly two years ago - should have been drafted by an NBA team last week, he could not even get a workout from a team and has not gotten an invitation to play in any of the NBA's summer leagues.
The league extends the welcome mat for fans and are completely failing their players and coaches. Their public overtures certainly don't hurt. Creating a line of rainbow-colored T-shirts for every team is a lovely gesture, and it brings encouragement to people suffering from homophobia. Positioning the league commissioner on a Pride float is a welcome nod to the fans.
These are also declarations that the league has finally caught up to where much of corporate America was a decade ago.
The move does give me some inkling of hope. Silver is 26 months into his tenure as league commissioner. He has made overtures to the LGBT community, like he did on Sunday, that demonstrate even more of an embrace of the community than his predecessor. While this was another step for Silver, his real tests will be the handling of the All-Star game in the discriminatory state of North Carolina, and how soon we see a long-term out gay NBA player or coach.
Sorry if I don't pop the champagne bottle quite yet.