WASHINGTON (USA TODAY)--The Minnesota Vikings will become the first NFL franchise to host a large-scale summit focused on the inclusion of LGBTQ athletes in sports.
The event, scheduled for June 21 at the Vikings’ new practice facility, will include panels featuring gay, lesbian and transgender athletes and coaches, including Olympic diver Greg Louganis, triathlete Chris Mosier and former NFL defensive tackle Esera Tuaolo, who played five seasons for the Vikings. The audience is expected to include 200 athletes, high school and college coaches and members of LGBTQ organizations from the Twin Cities.
“I think it sends a message that we at the Vikings, and others, believe in being inclusive,” Vikings chief operating officer Kevin Warren told USA TODAY Sports. “My hope and desire is that this inspires individuals, this inspires businesses and corporate entities, and inspires sports teams, in all sports, to really sit back and say, this is a fact of life. This is reality. We have individuals who may be in pain on our teams. They may not feel they have an opportunity to talk about these issues, and hopefully this is the spark to get some of these issues out on the table and allow people to become more comfortable in addressing these issues.”
Former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, who has been a longtime advocate of LGBTQ rights, has advised the team during the planning of the summit and will also participate in the event. Kluwe in 2014 threatened to sue the Vikings after he said an assistant coach made homophobic remarks. He also alleged that his activism led to his release in 2013. Kluwe settled with the organization in 2014, and the two sides have worked in the years since to mend their relationship.
“Ideally, it's not just one team doing it — it's something that a lot of teams are looking at it and saying, ‘Hey, we can do something like this,’” Kluwe told USA TODAY Sports. “Hopefully it goes off really well for the Vikings. Regardless of my situation with them and how that ended, the big goal is to make sure that other athletes don't have to go through that situation and that LGBTQ athletes are able to be who they are.”
The NFL has not had an openly gay player on a roster since former Missouri defensive end Michael Sam was drafted by the St. Louis Rams in 2014. Sam did not make the Rams’ regular-season roster, but briefly spent time on the practice squad of the Dallas Cowboys and in the Canadian Football League.
“Hopefully the big take away is that having LGBTQ individuals in your locker room isn't the end of the world, right? This is something that lots of teams are dealing with, especially at the high school and college level, and it's hopefully something we see teams starting to address more at the professional level,” Kluwe said. “For me, that’s particularly the NFL, but the other major organizations as well, it’s that we want openly out gay players to be able to play. It shouldn't be that you're frightened to be who you are while you're trying to pursue this immensely difficult athletic career.”
Samantha Rapoport, the NFL’s director of football development, said the summit is the first of its kind for any team, though other franchises have worked with LGBTQ organizations like You Can Play in the past. She said the Vikings’ event, which also includes a fundraiser for local and national LGBTQ charities, is the latest step in the league’s effort to be more inclusive of LGBTQ athletes and employees. The league will also have a float in the New York City Pride parade this year for the first time, and it recently established an NFL Pride Affinity group.
“I think the unknown is what hinders progress in general as it pertains to including any minority group, so I think that what this event is going to do is it will normalize the discussion around LGBTQ inclusion," Rapoport said. "I think the power that football has in this county to do that, the fact that the Minnesota Vikings are leading this, I think will hold a lot of weight and certainly advance that in people's minds."