For LGBTQ sports fans and athletes, this Pride Month has seemed different from previous celebrations.
The embrace by the sports world has ben far-reaching and deep. An NFL player came out. A trans athlete will compete at the Olympics. Tons of pro wrestlers expressed who they truly are. Stadiums lit up in rainbow colors, professional teams and leagues changed their logos to rainbows and the NFL said, unequivocally, “football is gay.”
CBS Sports has been part of that full embrace.
Viacom’s sports arm in May identified a desire to make sure that the LGBTQ community felt complete acceptance in sports, and they did their part telling the stories of LGBTQ people in and around sports.
“Coming out, no matter who you are in or out of sports, is hard. But what isn’t hard, for the vast majority of people: being out.”— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) June 1, 2021
As CBS Sports celebrates Pride Month, we are featuring “Out in the Game" to highlight issues facing LGBTQ+ athletes across the sports world. pic.twitter.com/g9CbXhflCP
A big part of the impetus behind the programming was Michael DeFusco, a director of creative at CBS Sports’ marketing department, who had a vision for how to execute a series of vignettes and programming that covered the entire month.
“It was a big deal for me personally as an LGBTQ employee to pitch an idea that was well-received by all levels,” DeFusco told Outsports. “Our vision, and the message we sent out, was one of pride and inclusion where we led the conversation as a sports division that, in sports, LGBTQ athletes are athletes first, and we need to acknowledge them.”
As the tone of the series took shape, CBS Sports and DeFusco realized that telling the stories of acceptance in sports could have a powerful impact, particularly on youth struggling to find their place in the sports world.
“We wanted to talk about how the sports world was ready for LGBTQ athletes,” DeFusco said.
Some of the people featured in the series include NFL players Ryan O’Callaghan and RK Russell, boxer Patricio Manuel, hurdler CeCe Telfer, sports media personality Jared Max and NFL executive Scott Pioli.
In addition to a series of vignettes, CBS Sports committed an episode of We Need To Talk to sharing these LGBTQ stories in sports, including a feature on local LGBTQ sports leagues in New York City.
“This special episode of WE NEED TO TALK, produced by Julie Keryc, allowed us to explore a variety of stories at the intersection of sports and LGBTQ+ culture,” said Emilie Deutsch, CBS Sports’ VP of Original Programming and co-coordinating producer of WE NEED TO TALK. “The athletes whose stories we told — professional, amateur and recreational — gave us the opportunity to document the courage with which they live their lives.”
For Suzanne Smith, CBS Sports director and co-coordinating producer of WE NEED TO TALK, producing the episode was personal and rewarding.
“When I started at CBS Sports in the ‘80s, I had hoped there would be more prominent positions both on the air and behind the scenes for women, and through the years, those things happened. As a gay person, I never even dreamed that CBS Sports would air a full month of LGBTQ+ content,” said Smith. “I am always so proud of our WE NEED TO TALK shows but especially after the Pride show, which was thoughtful, insightful and overall fantastic. I am proud to be a member of the ViacomCBS family.”
Theo Rabinowitz, part of the production team behind CBS’ NFL shows and other properties, expressed pride in seeing the company he works for embrace the LGBTQ community so strongly.
“I am so proud of my CBS Sports family and the Pride content they put out, both externally through WE NEED TO TALK and the LGBTQ+ vignettes, and internally through initiatives for our fellow ViacomCBS employees,” Rabinowitz said. “This month’s efforts emphasized the importance of LGBTQ+ inclusion in athletics. I love that you can be your most openly authentic self at CBS Sports, regardless of your sexual orientation or gender identity.”