Recently, I caught an article from the other blog that I write for, Gay4Soccer (something I haven't done in a while...more on that later) where a commentator noted that by rejecting their deal with the Boy Scouts of America, Major League Soccer has become the most progressive pro sports league in North America.
A number of teams have allied themselves with the LGBT community in their home markets, such as sponsoring events like soccer tournaments (like the Columbus does), and holding Pride Nights at matches like Houston, Kansas City and Chicago. (Ironically, all three teams chose to host these Pride Nights when Toronto is visiting. A testament to Canada, perhaps?) The league's charity W.O.R.K.S. program is involved with a number of pro-equality groups, and has recently signed up with the You Can Play foundation.
This mass shift towards progressive values in a pro league is unprecedented, but I believe it stems from the sport's inherent inclusiveness. It may be the right thing to do -- but there is a reason for the madness.
Think about it: soccer at its most basic form is a ball kicked around by a few players, into two goals. You don't have to be fit (but it is recommended -- I know that from personal experience) to play. It doesn't matter who you are, as long as you are able to kick a ball, and keep it away for a little bit, hey -- you're not bad at it. And chances are, there's people that are probably at the same level as you are.
The game has been known to transcends borders, and breaks down barriers between people: As a Western TFC supporter, I've been welcomed into the family like I was one of of your own -- because no matter where I am, I am one of you: a TFC supporter.
In a place like North America, where the professional version of the game is still gaining ground with the mainstream, the unity between supporters of all genders, races and orientations are perhaps the most pronounced in all the world. Granted, there are places like Eastern Europe where the sport has been known to be less inclusive -- but the value of inclusiveness still stands in that case -- for better, or for worse, but it is still there.
But it's on the field, that's progress in soccer has excelled above all else. Every day during these Olympics, I have been checking up on Outsports founder Cyd Ziegler's news feed on SB Nation's Games page, and every day he updates the progress of all out athletes at the London games -- and out of all the sports, the football players are perhaps the ones that stand out the most to me. It's the only team sports (except for team handball) that have openly out athletes at the games.
You look at the list -- Sweden's Lisa Dahlquist, Hedvig Lindahl and Jessica Lindsrom, the USA's Megan Rapinoe -- these are all players who are publicly out (Rapinoe being the most recent of the four), and I believe are the new wave of inclusiveness in sport: a solid testament of sexuality not being an issue in the locker room. All four play for pro teams in Europe and America, and so far have not experienced any outright homophoia (like their sisters in South Africa, according to an E:60 documentary done by ESPN).
The most beautiful fact out of it all? Is that all four are extremely talented, and are important parts to their teams. Rapinoe being a striker, and Lindahl the Swedish national goalkeeper. This once again boils down to the whole idea of inclusiveness -- these players are accepted as highly skilled players, and are accepted as just that: who they choose to love has not enter into the equation.
It's in this vein of thought, that I find funny whenever I hear a player come out saying that they can't accept a gay teammate (I'm looking at you, Antonio Cassano). If it works in soccer, then why not in any sport at all? Field hockey, team handball, volleyball...they are out there, we are out there. Sport is not immune to the realities of life: and who we love is one of those things.
At the end of the day, soccer will lead the way in equality and inclusiveness because of its simple mantra. If you can kick a ball around, well, you're not bad at it. If you can run for a full 90 minutes doing it, or you can stop someone else from getting that ball into your goal, then you're pretty good. But if you can do all of that and represent your country...then why the hell does it matter who you go home to after the game? And chances are, they're probably too focused on winning as a team, than to check you out or to turn you gay.
(Having some attractive players does help the cause, for sure -- but that's just part of the appeal...but that's perhaps another story)
So maybe it's not everywhere that soccer is so inclusive -- but as least here in our little corner of the world it is, and for us MLS supporters, we love our sport in a league that doesn't care whom you love, and your fellow supporters don't give a damn either. Maybe it's all about the Benjamins at the end of the day, but that's still a a pretty good start, don't you think?
(And for those of you in the TFC head office reading this -- this doesn't mean you're off the hook, you've still got a lot of work to do to catch up to the rest of MLS.)