Nike to host anti-LGBT bias in athletics summit
By Allan Betterman
A year ago, Nike served as host for a first-ever summit of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender sports leaders from across the country.
They met at the Tiger Woods Center at the Nike headquarters campus to discuss ridding the sports world of homophobia. They left with leaders saying the event could be a tipping point in transforming cultural attitudes.
Little did they know at that time, but three Nike-affiliated athletes would help prove them right in the year since.
Next weekend, Nike is hosting the second conference. This time, the group meets just months after soccer star Megan Rapinoe and basketball star Brittney Griner said they are lesbian and basketball player Jason Collins and Major League Soccer’s Robbie Rogers said they are gay.
That’s a step in the right direction, LGBT Sports Summit organizer Cyd Zeigler said Friday.
The biggest step, though, may have been meeting in the first place.
"I believe the LGBT sports movement has galvanized," said Zeigler, a journalist who co-founded Outsports.com 14 years ago. "We were a bunch of people working independently and now we’re working together. Our effectiveness in targeting homophobia in sports has transformed because of that."
Zeigler, Helen Carroll, the National Center for Lesbian Rights Sports Project Director, and Pat Griffin, regarded as an LGBT sports pioneer, have been the key organizers for the Nike summits.
This year’s Nike LGBT Sports Summit, set for June 12-15, will bring together college and professional athletes, coaches, athletic administrators, political figures, LGBT advocates and sports organizations.
Attendees this year are expected to develop a strategy that embraces LGBT issues in sports, examining best practices and discussing common problems.
A central focus will be developing projects targeting anti-LGBT bias that starts as early as kindergarten.
High schools are of special concern, Zeiglar said, noting that while there are 6,000 professional athletes, there are more than 7.5 million high school athletes.
"Tackling homophobia there is our next great challenge," he said. "It’s in so many corners, it’s (present with) so many coaches. It’s just not a big focus in the media. I see that as being a big focus of our conversation next week."
The group will also formalize the creation of the LGBT Sports Coalition, aiming to end anti-LGBT bias in sports by 2016.
The attendee roster also will expand from last year’s 25 attendees to 100.
While the smaller number may have allowed a more-focused discussion, Zeiglar said, more participation is expected to add to the diversity of opinions.
In addition to Rapinoe’s, Griner’s, Collins’ and Rogers’ announcements, several universities have recently formed LGBT/Straight Athletic Alliances and national and local sports bodies have implemented LGBT-inclusive policies. Along the way, Zeiglar said, the sports media has focused more attention on the issue.
Nike speakers at last year’s event included Hilary Krane, vice president and general counsel for corporate affairs; and Robert Goman, global direct to consumer product presentation manager and chairman of an LGBT employee group at Nike.
"We are a company committed to diversity and inclusion and we believe if you have a body, you are an athlete," Nike spokeswoman Mary Remuzzi said in a written statement. "Nike believes in a level playing field, where an athlete’s sexual orientation is not a consideration."
Like last year, many of the participants will march with Nike’s contingent in the annualPortland Pride Parade, to be held June 16, the day after the summit ends.
And some of them may be wearing the rainbow-hued Nike Free Run 5.0 #BETRUE shoe, introduced this week.
The shoe was not released to coincide with the summit, Remuzzi said. The timing was coincidental.
Shoe-sale proceeds, however, will be donated to the LGBT Sports Coalition, a Nike news release says, adding, “For nearly 15 years, Nike has partnered with the LGBT community.”
— Allan Brettman