Hosting Pride games may reduce anti-gay language used by athletes

Over the last 20 years Pride Games, Pride Nights and other incarnations of LGBTQ celebrations have increasingly become staples at professional sporting events. Today almost every team in MLB, NHL, NBA, MLS and the WNBA host at least one during their non-pandemic season.

Yet there hasn’t been much evidence that beyond a fun night at the park and fans feeling more included that these nights move the needle in the clubhouse.

Now two new studies out of Australia suggest that athletes playing during these events — particularly when they are hosted at lower levels of sports — see their use of homophobic language reduced in the long-term because of the Pride events.

One study looked at teams in the semi-pro Australian Ice Hockey League and found that players on teams that had hosted Pride Games — aimed at overtly welcoming the LGBTQ community — were 40% less likely to use homophobic language than players on teams that had not hosted such matches.

What’s more, the study suggests that simply hosting events like this has long-lasting effects on the players.

“The study found pride games seemed to change the language used by the players on the teams that held the events, but the events did nothing for the visiting teams or the spectators,” researcher Erik Denison told Outsports. “There seems to be a benefit from an entire team doing something together to demonstrate to each other that they think homophobic behaviour is wrong. This may help to shift the culture of a club, and it also may make the individual players notice the homophobic language they use regularly as part of their banter that now conflicts with the group decision to say this behaviour is wrong.”

The results were a surprise to Denison and others, so the Victorian government in Australia asked researchers to conduct a broader study across sports to see if it was all true. They found the same result, with players on teams that had hosted some form of pride game reporting they use less homophobic language, and they hear less of it from their teammates.

One tidbit that Denison shared with Outsports is that they focused their studies on semi-pro and amateur teams, not professional teams.

Pride games are widespread in American pro sports, and the events have caught on in the U.K. and Australia, as well as some other countries. Today relatively few amateur, high school and college teams host similar events.

“We need high school and college teams throughout North America to start holding pride games,” Denison said. He added that the two studies are a powerful tool to bring to team “coaches and captains and ask them to start holding pride games.”

Denison’s belief is that these events have a greater impact on athletes in non-professional leagues. Some reasons could be that the amateur stadiums and arenas generally host fewer theme nights, and amateur athletes are pulled in fewer directions than their counterparts in pro sports.

It’s all encouraging insight. It very well may be that athletes’ use of homophobic language is more effected by these pride nights than having a speaker from outside the team come into the locker room and tell them not to use the language.

On Sept. 6, we’ll celebrate the 20th anniversary of what is believed to be the first “Gay and Lesbian Night” (as it was called at the time), which was hosted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in response to two lesbians being kicked out of Dodger Stadium weeks before.

Outsports is slated to co-host a virtual conversation about this topic and hosting Pride games at amateur sporting events later this autumn. Stay tuned.


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