Equality, Openness and MLS: A Q&A with Cyd Ziegler

Diversity. The last bastion of sport...or is it? (Photo Credit: Ludovic Bertron)

There's been a lot of talk lately in MLS circles in regards to equality and openness (especially with the very public outcry for the deal between the Boy Scouts of America and the league, and the subsequent divorce after less than one season), and also within the sporting world in general. The recent London Olympics have seen a number of openly out athletes compete (and even win medals), and in the process, both of these cases has pushed the debate on LGBT athletes a little closer to the forefront.

In light of this, I had a chance to trade a few questions with the co-founder of Outsports and SB Nation contributor Cyd Ziegler about the state of MLS and its recent moves towards equality, what the divorce from the BSA really means, and other questions relating equality and the game that we love, to the Olympics.

John Leung: A number of MLS teams are openly reaching out to the LGBT community. What does that really say about MLS as a whole?

Cyd Ziegler: It says they want to make money. We've seen sports teams reach out to the LGBT community for 10 years, and it's always about selling tickets. They reach out to Pakistanis, the Irish, parents, single straight people and every other group they think they can sell tickets to. In this particular case, they're also helping to undermine homophobia that has had a stranglehold on sports for decades. But if they couldn't make money off of it, they wouldn't do it.

JL: There are cynics out there in MLS land that say that the move to partner with You Can Play is a cynical ploy to sell tickets (ergo, signing a deal with the Boy Scouts) -- what do you say to that?

CZ: That's part of it, for sure. If MLS didn't think they could sell more tickets by partnering with a group, they wouldn't do it, and that's OK.

The fact is, they do think they can sell more tickets by partnering with You Can Play - and they can do a lot of good along the way. Money talks. The guys at You Can Play and LGBT centers across America are super smart - they know they can do good and help build a strong business relationship with MLS. Everybody wins.

JL: Most of the teams that have reached out are mostly in "red" or "purple" states (Columbus, Houston, Kansas City are three major examples), why is this?

CZ: I'm not sure that's the case. DC and Chivas are in very "blue" areas. But red, blue or purple - it doesn't matter. More and more people across America are waking up and realizing that gay people are Americans too. We deserve equal treatment. And our money is as green as everybody else's.

JL: Expanding on that question, why do you think Canadian teams have yet to do so?

CZ: Probably nobody has asked them to. The vast majority of these gay sporting events happen because someone in the community approaches the team about it. I've hosted gay nights at the New York Mets and Los Angeles Clippers. They both happened because I approached the team. I also hosted an event at Chivas USA - that happened because word got about about the success of the Clippers event. If someone approaches Montreal or Toronto or Vancouver, they'll have a "gay night." If no one approaches them, they probably won't. You just have to ask.

JL: Given these moves, it appears that the league is all for equality; so is there some teams slower to embrace that? And why?

CZ: Really? I don't see it that way. If the league was all for equality, the commissioner would release a statement saying that all gay players and coaches are invited to come out. He would declare that he would stand behind them if they did. And every team owner would do the same. But they won't. Why? Again...money. They don't want to piss off any potential ticket-buyers. So they have gay nights or have players appear in the NOH8 campaign...but the league has yet to demonstrate that they are "all for equality".

JL: There is an article out there that says that MLS's move to drop the BSA makes the league one of North America, and even the world's most progressive pro sports league. What's your take?

CZ: Again, MLS didn't say why they are ending their relationship with the Boy Scouts. Maybe they didn't sell enough tickets. Maybe the BSA was just annoying to work with. They want to have it both ways. If they truly wanted to show they're for LGBT equality, they would explain that they will not work with the BSA because of their position on gay members. Remember, they entered into the agreement with the BSA while the Boy Scouts were openly discriminating. Nothing has changed there.

JL: Why is soccer much more accepting?

CZ: Again, I don't agree with the premise. The most homophobic sports leagues in the world are soccer leagues. European and South American soccer are far more openly homophobic than any other league in the world (maybe outside of the Middle East). And I haven't found MLS to be any more accepting than the other North American pro leagues. The biggest difference is that MLS has a harder time selling tickets than the NFL and NBA, so all the teams are looking for ways to sell more tickets - and MLS is now tapping into that market. It's smart of them.

JL: In a team environment, especially at the Olympics, does who a teammate love really matter? What are some of the inside talk you have heard?

CZ: Olympic teams are often mish-mashes of folks who come together on occasion to play as a team. E.g., the USA basketball teams - those players rarely play together. So it's new faces, new personalities, all coming together for a month or two. If anything, that different dynamic could shift the answer to that question - but I'm not sure in which direction it shifts.

JL: The US, the UK, France, Australia and the Netherlands have openly out athletes during the 2012 Olympics. Why not Canada? Is it something we're doing wrong?

CZ: Ha, no. Canada has a rich history of supporting LGBT people. Mark Tewksbury is one of the most well-known out gay Olympians. You all are doing just fine.

JL: Are the Olympics going in the right track on being more open to LGBT athletes? Or is that still an internal matter?

CZ: They aren't going in any direction. The Olympics are being left behind on this issue. More athletes are coming out - and they certainly aren't standing in the way of that. But when almost a third of the member countries criminalize homosexuality, I wouldn't expect the IOC to take a strong position anytime soon.

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