Once again this year, the Rainbow Laces Campaign connected the highest levels of competitive sports with the LGBTQ community all across Great Britain.
With the proliferation of gay, trans, bi and non-binary symbols (among others), throughout the U.K.’s sporting industry, some of the country’s most famous athletes went above and beyond to spread a message of inclusion and welcome.
Such was the case with Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson of the Premier League, who was inspired by the campaign to show how much good a straight ally could accomplish with a simple gesture.
According to The Times of London (Note: story is behind a paywall), Henderson showed solidarity with the community by donning a rainbow armband on the pitch and tweeting “Football is for everyone.” This caught the attention of a 24 year old LGBTQ fan named Keith Spooner who responded:
At 17 I came out, I struggled through my teenage years but the one thing that always made me feel at home was Liverpool. Seeing this means the world to me, it truly does!— Keith Spooner (@KeithSpooner96) December 5, 2020
If Rainbow Laces did nothing more than provide a forum to let LGBTQ sports fans know how admirable some of their favorite players are, it would still be successful and totally worth it. But Henderson took his message a step further by connecting directly with Spooner and letting him know how appreciated he was as both a fan and a person:
You’ll never walk alone Keith. If wearing the #RainbowLaces armband helps even just one person then it’s progress. Everyone is welcome at Liverpool Football Club. Hope you enjoyed the game tonight. #YNWA https://t.co/TfIhASribZ— Jordan Henderson (@JHenderson) December 6, 2020
Henderson later reflected to The Times’s Henry Winter that while sending one tweet might have felt like a basic human response, he understood the magnitude of it:
“It’s the truth, especially at this club and I’m sure at all the clubs in the Premier League and Football League. It took me 30 seconds to do and means the world for him. It would have been wrong not to. A big part of leadership is listening and helping. If I can do that and I feel strongly about it, then why wouldn’t I say something or reply to people?”
It’s commitment like that from prominent stars like Henderson that will help to turn the tide of the Premier League’s relations with LGBTQ sports fans. As we discussed during last year’s Rainbow Laces campaign, some English soccer fans have created an atmosphere of homophobic chants and slurs to the point where it’s almost viewed as a tradition.
So every player like Henderson who puts in the effort to make known that he values LGBTQ people as part of the soccer fanbase helps push back against this entrenched culture. In a star studded organization like the Premier League, the players are the attraction and what they say can have tremendous influence.
Henderson further declared, “I look at LGBT or Black Lives Matter and listen to people that are affected—whether friends, teammates, or family—and if I can help even just one person, then it’s important to do that.”
Thanks to his position in the sport, helping one person also means that he’s helping thousands along the way. Which is exactly how Jordan Henderson is using his position to do as much good as he can.