Why the 49ers’ gender-neutral Pride apparel line is important

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These days, it’s not unusual for pro sports teams to sell LGBTQ Pride apparel. In fact, it’s the norm. But the San Francisco 49ers are the first NFL team to unveil gender-neutral gear.

That’s a very big deal.

The 49ers debuted their new line of rainbow-colored tanks, tees and tops just in time for Pride Month, working in concert with 49ers PRIDE, the team’s official LGBTQ fan club. It is believed to be the only such group in the NFL.

“Supporting the LGBTQ+ community in sports is a priority for the 49ers organization because sport has not always been inviting,” 49ers executive and general counsel Hannah Gordon told the Los Angeles Blade.

Bingo. And if sports haven’t been inviting to the LGBTQ community as a whole, they largely haven’t even acknowledged gender-neutral and non-binary people. Growing up, we were always separated into two teams during gym: “boys” and “girls.”

The precedent is set early.

“We just get fed this narrative that sports need to be segregated by gender, which isn’t really true,” said Sports Illustrated’s Julie Kliegman, who identifies as non-binary. “But that’s the narrative we get fed.”

The 49ers are strong supporters of the LGBTQ community, like every team in the Bay Area. For example, members of the San Francisco Giants will be wearing commemorative caps featuring the colors of the Progress Pride and Transgender Pride flags Saturday. In addition, they’ll be wearing an SF Pride logo patch on their uniform sleeves, becoming the first MLB team in history to rock Pride colors on-field during a game.

Given the widespread assault on transgender athletes, it will be especially powerful to see the Transgender Pride flag colors (light blue, pink and white) alongside the rainbow on an MLB diamond.

Pride organizations across the country are undergoing long overdue reckonings about their inclusivity, and sports teams should face similar scrutiny. Male pro sports are dominated by cisgender men. The challenge is showing sports are welcoming to other members of the community, too.

This year, an increasing number of clubs are expanding their LGBTQ Pride offerings. For years, the WNBA has embraced alternative sexual and gender identities as an integral part of its Pride initiatives. Slowly, we’re seeing other leagues and teams catch up.

Every Seattle pro sports team, including the Seahawks, is supporting gender-inclusive youth sports. They will promote a gender-inclusive toolkit for all youth coaches, parents and administrates in Washington State.

Of course, one gender-neutral NFL apparel line isn’t going to change the landscape. But it could start a trend. After all, pro sports teams sell merchandise to make money. Genderless muscle tanks are definitely hot.

There is also symbolism attached to these gestures: They show people they belong. On the official website of a marquee NFL team, genderless swag is positioned next to men’s t-shirts and women’s v-necks. Every piece of validation matters.

You can’t have validation without recognition.

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