Rainbow Cleats For a Rainbow Clause
Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib, the first out gay active player in NFL history, hasn’t been shy about his identity since coming out prior to the 2021 NFL season. He aided fundraising efforts for The Trevor Project after giving $100,000 to the organization when he came out. Nassib and boyfriend Erik Gudzinas have been a hit on Instagram, with the two showing their love publicly.
Nassib’s advocacy streak continued recently when the NFL’s My Cause My Cleats campaign rolled around this season. The program gives NFL players the ability to design custom cleats supporting a charitable cause or organization of their choosing. The cleats were worn during week 13 of the NFL season earlier this month and are currently being auctioned off for charity.
Nassib designed a custom pair of cleats highlighting LGBTQ advocacy, rainbows and all. His cleats supported The Trevor Project, featuring the colors of the Pride flag along the laces, The Trevor Project logo starkly displayed on a navy background and both the organization’s suicide prevention lifeline (1-866-488-7386) and the message “Protect LGBTQ+ Lives.”
Seize The Power
The design continues Nassib’s connection with the LGBTQ youth-focused nonprofit. His donation to The Trevor Project when he came out in June inspired more to support the organization’s focus on LGBTQ youth suicide prevention.
“People talk about the importance of allies and I say all the time that we can’t wait for allies to show up, that LGBTQ people have to push for our own visibility and our own equality,” Zeigler told NBC News. “This is a historic year for LGBTQ athletes because of LGBTQ athletes – not because of the allies, not because of the people standing beside us.”
Nassib’s My Cause My Cleats choice represents LGBTQ people seizing the advocacy power of organizations like the NFL for the benefit of their own community instead of waiting for allied NFL players to step up in their stead. Prior to 2021, only one other player used the My Cause My Cleats initiative to support an LGBTQ organization. Miami Dolphins receiver Preston Williams supported Miami-based LGBTQ group Pridelines on his cleats in 2019.
Browns’ Stanton Joins Nassib
While Nassib wasn’t able to don his outspoken footwear on the field this year, missing the Raiders’ week 13 matchup against the Washington Football Team with a knee injury, another player, Cleveland Browns fullback Johnny Stanton, made sure the rainbow made it onto the field.
Stanton, a self-described LGBTQ ally, wore cleats decorated in the colors of the Progress Pride flag in support of LGBTQ athletics advocacy group Athlete Ally. Stanton’s statement of support made 2021 the first year that multiple NFL players used the My Cause My Cleats initiative to highlight pro-LGBTQ organizations.
According to Outsports, Stanton chose Athlete Ally out of a desire to help LGBTQ people feel more welcomed to participate in sports. “The fact that some people don’t feel comfortable enough in their own identity to participate in sports breaks my heart,” Stanton said. “No one should feel unwelcome on the field or court. If just one person being an ally can help them feel more comfortable, then I’m happy to be that person.”
Stanton’s uncle, Patrick Stanton, was an Olympic-level swimmer who remained in the closet during his athletic career. “He never felt comfortable enough to come out while he was swimming,” Stanton told Outsports. “I don’t want the athletes coming out today to feel like they can’t be themselves.”
Visible messages like those of Nassib and Stanton represent the changes in how LGBTQ communities interact with major male sports leagues, and specifically the NFL, in recent years. And the rest of the NFL is listening.