Jerseys are prime communication tools in sports, providing a colorful and boisterous avenue to express core beliefs and messages through an on-field product.
The United Soccer League is taking that tool to the next level on this International Pronouns Day, announcing its Pronoun Numbers Pack as part of a larger effort to engender LGBTQ and gender-diverse inclusion and acceptance.
The Pronoun Numbers Pack introduces new designs for numbers on USL team kits that embed various pronouns within the numbers. The designs include “he/him”, “she/her” and “they/them” as well as combinations of the three, lining the inside of the numbers in gender-affirming messages that encompass a wide array of gender identities.
The initiative makes the USL possibly the first pro sports league to implement pronouns into its jersey designs, a fact in which Lizze Seedhouse, USL senior vice president and head of the league’s Forever Proud Project, takes pride.
“We wanted to make something that recognizes people of all different genders because they should be recognized,” Seedhouse told Outsports. “There are a lot of common misconceptions about gender identity and how gender-diverse people define themselves, including those that identify with multiple gender markers. We want to show that pronouns are important and create a gender-affirming atmosphere at the USL.”
For #InternationalPronounsDay United Soccer League is unveiling optional new uniforms with an athlete's pronouns embedded in their jersey number @USLChampionship @USL_HQ players can use them for 1 match up to an entire season pic.twitter.com/xEJzziPQma— Outsports (@outsports) October 20, 2021
Founded in April 2021, Forever Proud has developed programs and resources within the USL aimed at raising awareness for LGBTQ causes and fostering a commitment to inclusion as the league continues to expand.
International Pronouns Day is one of the key dates Seedhouse, who is part of the LGBTQ community herself, wanted to highlight in the league’s continued push to build itself into a more welcoming environment for LGBTQ fans and players.
The USL made such a statement in its handling of then-Pheonix Rising player Junior Flemmings after he directed homophobic comments toward the San Diego Loyal’s Collin Martin, the only out gay male player in the league, during a match last year. Seedhouse felt hurt when that occurred but that the league held up its responsibility to Martin and the wider LGBTQ community by being forthright in its action.
The new jersey numbers will be available to all USL teams, from the academy level all the way up to the USL Championship and the USL W League, the USL’s revived women’s league that kicks off play next year. Teams have the option of using the inclusive kits for anywhere from one match to the entire season and also have the ability to put them on sale to fans in various capacities.
When using the kits, players will have the choice of wearing any pronouns they desire, whether it be their own signifiers or a collection of some or all available options.
That flexibility is important in Seedhouse’s mind as it gives teams in different regions of the country where acceptance of LGBTQ, trans and gender-diverse identities may not be as ubiquitous the ability to join in the conversation and make a statement in support of those communities.
To Seedhouse, this gives clubs “space to work” while continuing to “remove barriers.”
Seedhouse also celebrated the Pronoun Numbers Pack as another outreach path that can have an “individual impact” for all fans. It represents the league’s continued commitment to active advocacy for the LGBTQ community, which Seedhouse took to heart from the very beginning.
“We wanted to stay away from just changing a social media profile picture or a rainbow logo because the USL’s commitment to creating more welcoming spaces for LGBTQ communities isn’t surface level,” Seedhouse said. “That, of course, comes with the responsibility to continue doing substantive work and upholding those values throughout the league.”