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NFL, MLB to join NYC Pride March for first time

Major League Baseball and the National Football League will participate in the annual LGBTQ pride event, joining the NBA, NHL and Major League Soccer.
Image: People cheer for marchers walking down 5th Avenue in the annual New York Gay Pride Parade
People cheer for marchers walking down 5th Avenue in the annual New York City Pride March on June 25, 2017. Spencer Platt / Getty Images file

New York City’s Pride March is expected to make history on June 24 as the biggest — and now most athletic — in the city’s history. For the first time ever, Major League Baseball and the National Football League will participate in the annual LGBTQ community event, joining the National Hockey League, the National Basketball Association, Major League Soccer, the Women’s National Basketball Association and the National Women’s Hockey League.

“The news that the MLB and NFL will join this year’s NYC Pride March marks an important moment in the fight for LGBTQ inclusion in sports,” Hudson Taylor, executive director of LGBTQ sports advocacy group Athlete Ally, told NBC News. “These displays of allyship are an important symbol of support for the LGBTQ community and send a strong statement that the leagues are willing to use their platforms in the fight for equality.”

Billy Bean
Billy Bean, MLB's vice president of Social Responsibility and Inclusion, throws out the ceremonial first pitch before a baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the San Francisco Giants, Friday, June 17, 2016, in St. Petersburg, Fla.Chris O'Meara / AP

Both leagues will send floats, studded with pioneer LGBTQ professional athletes, coaches and staffers. The MLB expects more than 200 employees to participate in the march, among them Billy Bean, a retired outfielder and current league executive who came out publicly in 1999, and openly gay former umpire Dale Scott.

"We have such a great buy-in with the message of inclusion and acceptance around the league," Bean, the MLB’s first Ambassador for Inclusion, said in a statement. "I couldn't be prouder of baseball — we're really leading the way.”

Image: Katie Sowers
Katie Sowers during the first half of an NFL preseason football game in Kansas City, Missouri on Aug. 11, 2017.Terrell Lloyd / via AP

On the NFL side, San Francisco 49ers assistant coach Katie Sowers and retired New England Patriots offensive tackle Ryan O’Callaghan will helm the float. Both came out publicly last year, with Sowers becoming the first openly gay NFL coach ever.

“There are so many people who identify as LGBT in the NFL, as in any business, that do not feel comfortable being public about their sexual orientation,” Sowers told NBC News in 2017.

Former NFL player Wade Davis, who came out after he retired from the league, called Sowers’ decision to publicly come out “a revolutionary act.”

While there have been a few high-profile coming out stories in the world of professional sports, LGBTQ player representation is practically nonexistent in men’s professional sports. When soccer star Robbie Rogers retired from the Los Angeles Galaxy last November, the five largest North American professional sports leagues — NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL and MLS — were left with zero out players, according to Outsports. The online sports news site also found that over the past four decades, only 11 NFL players have come out — and none did so until after retirement.

Wade Davis
Wade DavisRob Kim / WireImage

Despite the lack of LGBTQ athlete representation, professional sports leagues have gained symbolic ground over the past few years.

Last August, for example, the NFL launched NFL Pride, an LGBTQ employee resource group aimed at fostering “an inclusive environment in which all employees are welcome.” The group held a 150-person kickoff party at NFL’s New York headquarters last year to celebrate its debut.

“I’m proud to be a part of the many steps the NFL has made around LGBTQ Inclusion,” Davis, who retired from the NFL in 2003, said. “I’m excited for what we have coming up next, including an LGBT event on June 21 with the Minnesota Vikings. Stay tuned, and I’ll be waving from the float on Sunday.”

As for the MLB, the league has been hosting LGBTQ pride events in ballparks across the U.S. for more than a decade. The Chicago Cubs are thought to be the first team to host such an event back in 2001. This year, two dozen teams are expected to host pride events, according to Outsports.

On Sunday, the NFL and MLB with take the next steps toward LGBTQ inclusivity by participating in the 49th annual NYC Pride March. The event is expected to include tens of thousands of participants and more than 2 million spectators. Openly gay tennis icon Billie Jean King will be among the march’s Grand Marshals.