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As NFL and others in sports embrace Pride, some fans lash out with threats of boycotts

Two gay former NFL players talk about the importance of the league’s support, as most fans seem to understand the gesture.

As the NFL and its teams celebrate LGBTQ Pride, some fans are unhappy with the gesture while many others are fully supportive.

The NFL, WNBA, MLS and so many others across sports kicked off Pride Month by changing social-media avatars to rainbow colors. The Minnesota Vikings changed their avatar too, as the San Francisco 49ers announced a virtual Pride conversation. Pride month has come to sports.

The NFL went as far as sharing all of its teams logos in rainbow colors as well:

While many fans have endorsed the display of support for the LGBTQ community with many thousands of likes and shares, others have resorted to some old tropes pushing back against the LGBTQ community with threats of boycotts and other annoyed expressions.

A common theme amongst the naysayers on the NFL’s Instagram post was questioning what Pride has to do with football. This comment got over 15k likes:

Former NFL player Ryan O’Callaghan, who played three seasons with the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs, thinks supporting Pride has everything to do with the NFL.

“The response shows people’s lack of understand and ignorance,” he said. “I’m glad the NFL does it. Small gestures like that add up.”

He should know. Throughout his NFL career and time playing football at Cal, O’Callaghan hid he was gay, assuming everyone in football would reject him if they knew. He didn’t think he could ever live as an out gay man. He now knows otherwise.

Another popular meme has been pointing out that another team’s fans are so gay (because being gay is bad) that they must love Pride month:

Comments like that weren’t just pointed at the Philadelphia Eagles — It seems at least somebody from most teams’ fan bases got in on that incredibly “original” act.

This creative fan turned himself into a “dislike button” and got over 10k “likes”... or dislikes, whatever the case may be:

Other fans said they would leave their NFL fandom behind, at least temporarily during Pride month, as a form of boycott:

Of course, fans like this almost never leave after their toothless threats.

The reactions haven’t sat well with former Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jeff Rohrer.

“It’s a shame for people to reject the NFL for embracing the gay community,” Rohrer said. “The gay community is a huge supporter of all sports, there are a lot of gay athletes in every sport, football being one of them. It makes no sense for people to be upset at the league for showing some pride and respect for the ex-players in the NFL who are gay.”

Rohrer came out publicly in 2018 shortly before marrying his husband, skin and beauty expert Joshua Ross.

O’Callaghan was quick to point out that, while it’s important to continue to point to corners of homophobic nonsense in sports, this doesn’t mean a gay NFL player would be rejected by the league, its teams or most fans.

“A lot of people are going to say this is proof pro sports aren’t ready for gay athletes, but I think it’s proof the NFL is ready,” O’Callaghan said. “It’s just some fans who aren’t. And out of millions and millions of people who follow the NFL’s Instagram, how many negative comments are on there? It’s a pretty small percentage.

“But that’s still a lot of people who have some learning to do.”

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen negative reactions to sports’ support of the LGBTQ community. Smatterings of this kind of rejection are part of the path toward inclusion. Most recently, social media lit up with praise for the Texas Rangers for their refusal to host a Pride Night this season.

Some argue that sports teams and leagues should keep their support of Pride out of the public view because “politics don’t belong in sports.” Even if you think that, Rohrer argues supporting the LGBTQ community isn’t political.

“It’s not left, it’s not right, it’s humanity,” Rohrer said. “And we’re all part of humanity and we all need to be respected. Society is evolving, and anything we can do to move that forward is important to all of us regardless of race, color, creed and sexuality.”