No NFL player has ever chosen an LGBTQ-specific cause for their My Cause My Cleats support, and that continues with this year’s installment of the league-wide fundraising and visibility effort. Various players are supporting groups that generally focus on bullying and civil rights.
Three players, however, have chosen an anti-gay organization that bars out LGBTQ people from leadership.
My Cause My Cleats is an annual initiative that allows NFL players to design their cleats for a game to celebrate a cause. About half the players in the league are participating this season. Some coaches and other personnel also choose to participate.
It’s a positive effort that arose out of more and more players wanting to elevate causes important to them. The league worked with them and created this initiative, which has a lot to celebrate.
While Outsports has regularly heralded the many efforts the NFL, its teams and players have put forward to advance LGBTQ acceptance — most recently an embrace of National Coming Out Day — it’s also disappointing that again there are no LGBTQ-specific causes included by any player in this year’s My Cause My Cleats.
Celebrating LGBTQ causes
It’s not as though there aren’t LGBTQ organizations to support. NFL Pride — the league’s LGBTQ employee resource group and an increasingly visible part of the NFL’s push for equality — has highlighted its partnerships with You Can Play, GLAAD and The Trevor Project. Other worthy nonprofits include GLSEN, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Transgender Law Center.
“When non-LGBTQ professional athletes publicly show their support for LGBTQ people and issues, they can help inclusion of LGBTQ athletes at all levels, from professional leagues to local sports teams and student athletes across America,” GLAAD spokesperson Spencer Harvey told Outsports. “The NFL players who spoke out for marriage equality years ago had a hugely positive impact and today’s players have a similar opportunity to grow understanding of other LGBTQ issues.
“Just a few weeks ago, the NFL powerfully addressed LGBTQ people on National Coming Out Day and stood with LGBTQ youth on Spirit Day. It is time for more players to join the NFL in publicly standing with the LGBTQ community and seizing the opportunity to use their platforms to grow LGBTQ acceptance.”
While none of the LGBTQ-specific causes were chosen this year, 10 players have named Stomp Out Bullying as their cause, and that’s certainly a positive. Stomp Out Bullying is an organization that more broadly tackles bullying and cyberbullying and does list homophobia as one of the issues it is working on. Bengals DT Mike Daniels also includes an anti-bullying message as his cause.
Other players are embracing causes that include, in part, the push for LGBTQ equality as broader social-justice efforts. Four players chose the ACLU, which includes LGBTQ rights and HIV as priorities. Seven players’ causes focus on suicide prevention. According to the NFL, this year 20.5% of the participants have chosen a social-justice cause.
Some people may take the lack of embrace of LGBTQ-specific causes as reinforcement that NFL players are homophobic; Yet there’s zero correlation there. Just because no player has made LGBTQ equality their top cause of choice doesn’t mean they reject gay people.
What does it mean? For no NFL player is the advancement of LGBTQ acceptance their top priority.
Part of that can be seen in who chose Black Lives Matter specifically as their cause of choice. All told, 33 players list BLM as their cause.
While 30% of NFL players are White, only 9% of the athletes who name Black Lives Matter as their cleats clause were White. Why? Because despite a year in which racial equality has been top-of-mind, it’s simply not the top priority for most White athletes. That’s reality.
Similarly, it’s often an uphill battle to convince straight athletes to make LGBTQ causes their top priority. MLB has Sean Doolittle, the NHL has Kurtis Gabriel and the NBA has Reggie Bullock. The NFL just doesn’t have that player.
“All of us who advocate for LGBTQ+ issues remain hopeful that individual players will pick up this cause, as has happened so often in other leagues,” said Brian Kitts, co-founder, You Can Play. “Each of these causes carries a personal and emotional meaning for the players and we know that some of them will one day think it’s important enough to support their LGBTQ siblings, friends, fans and teammates.”
Fellowship of Christian Athletes
On the flip side, three players decided to support Fellowship of Christian Athletes. While their support is undoubtedly focused on the group’s support of coaches and the advancement of Christianity in sports, it’s also a national organization that continues to include specific anti-gay language about marriage and sex in the core statements-of-faith of its leadership:
We believe God’s design for sexual intimacy is to be expressed only within the context of marriage, that God created man and woman to complement and complete each other. God instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman.
The three players supporting the anti-gay Christian organization:
- Cody Davis, S, New England Patriots
- Koda Martin, OL, Arizona Cardinals
- Case Keenum, QB, Cleveland Browns
Davis and Keenum supported the group in last year’s MCMC campaign, and Keenum did in 2018 as well.
Their support of FCA does not necessarily mean these athletes are anti-gay. Frankly, a lot of people don’t realize how anti-gay and damaging FCA is for the community. Of course, they may know this is part of the group and simply don’t care.
Here’s hoping we see an LGBTQ-specific cause show up in the 2021 My Cause My Cleats.