Sports Marketing and the Struggle for Gay Rights: Made for Each Other!

In this July 28, 2012 photo, Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe is shown at NFL football training camp in Mankato, Minn. NF
In this July 28, 2012 photo, Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe is shown at NFL football training camp in Mankato, Minn. NFL punters are only seen on fourth down, and heard from less than that. But with a constitutional gay marriage ban on Minnesota's ballot this fall, Kluwe has emerged as a high-profile gay rights champion _ and a symbol of changing attitudes toward homosexuality in the sports world. (AP Photo/Genevieve Ross)

Sports, in particular baseball, is about to give itself a huge, public pat on the back with the theatrical release of 42, a highly anticipated biographical film on the life of Jackie Robinson -- the first African American to play Major League Baseball in the modern era, and, of course, one of the most important civil rights champions of the 20th century.

In an American culture which primarily worships celebrity for the sake of celebrity, this is a good thing. Jackie Robinson changed America for the better through his actions on and off the field. Though we still live in a country plagued with racism, as evidenced by the undeniable vitriol spread on every conceivable communicative platform solely based on the skin color of President Barack Obama, Robinson's heroics, along with those of his supportive teammates and fans, is a tale worth retelling. You do not have to give a hoot about baseball to have been affected by the courage, determination, and sacrifices made by Jack Roosevelt Robinson and his family.

Now we must turn our attention to the most important civil rights struggle in the present tense: gay rights. Akin to racial discrimination, progress is being made, albeit slowly, especially as we work and play in a digital world which also demands and receives instant gratification. I could opine that gay equality is proceeding at a "glacial" pace, but by way of climate change, gay rights is lagging behind the melting of Greenland and the North Pole in more ways than I'd care to document.

As a white male in a blissful interracial marriage, I look forward to the day when the idea that two adults of the same sex are legally prevented from engaging in matrimony is considered as absurd as a Caucasian and an African American being denied the same right as folks of identical skin pigmentation when professing "I do" before the county clerk or religious official of their choosing. Sports icons Billie Jean King and Maria Navratilova feel the same way. On that note, when someone drops the word "fag" or criticizes something/anything as being "gay" -- it is just as insulting and offensive to heterosexuals of conscious as it is to gay Americans.

Withholding rights from gay Americans is un-American, and unsportsmanlike! Sport is meant to be our national forum for tolerance and equality. Treating gay people differently implies that being gay is abnormal! Does anyone still believe that the Earth is flat? Or that the Mets have a shot at the playoffs in 2013?

As such, a growing number of contemporary American athletes have come forth to show support of gay rights -- and, more importantly, they have done something about it. Most notably Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, who made a fool of Baltimore County Delegate Emmet Burns Jr.; retired hockey star Sean Avery who has teamed with All-American wrestler Hudson Taylor for Athlete Ally, which encourages "all individuals involved in sports to respect every member of their communities regardless of perceived or actual sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression," and Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo in his video for Marylanders for Marriage Equality, among many others. Even Charles Barkley's benediction "God bless the gay people... they are great people" and his statement that he would have had no problems performing on the basketball court with an openly gay teammate resonated with millions of fans. These are the sports stars that are continuing the work of the great Jackie Robinson.

On the flip side, how foolish did retired baseball star Mike Piazza appear on recent his book tour to promote Long Shot, as he uncomfortably answered questions about old, false rumors that he was gay? Or the San Francisco 49ers' Chis Culliver, who's gay bashing comments were so misinformed and rude that they actually elicited sympathy for his abject ignorance?

Like it or not, sports does, in many ways, reflect the values our society. As America has devolved from a functioning democracy to a dysfunctional corporatocracy (an economic and political system controlled by corporate interests -- i.e., the all powerful, omnipotent profit margin taking precedence over civic, social, and moral responsibilities), you'd think that the sports marketing industry would wake up to the tremendous profit potential of embracing gay rights, aside from the stark fact that it is the right thing to do!

With regard to the force that truly drives America -- the almighty dollar: gay is cool, and therefore marketable. Glee, Will and Grace, and Modern Family are just three examples of television programming which, in addition to accurately portraying select aspects of gay life in America, have reaped massive advertising revenues. Their vast ratings are especially impressive in a television era dominated inane reality programming. Though the myth of gay affluence has been debunked by actual statistics (boring, I know), LGBT folks are a market force to be reckoned with.

For brevity's sake, I'll concentrate on men, especially since they're the gender guilty of wearing replica sports jerseys the most in what I can only describe as an extreme and bizarre manifestation of "bromance."

Follow the money. According to a recent Experian Simmons study on the topic of individual income: gay and straight men's earning are on even keel, however married or partnered gay men's take home paycheck averages $8,000 more than their heterosexual counterparts. The average household income of a married or partnered gay man is $116,000 as opposed to $94,500 for a straight married or partnered man. Experian also notes that gay males have more discretionary income for non-essentials than guys who dig girls. Gay dudes reside in households that fritter away $6,256 per capita annually stuff they don't really need which is almost $1,000 more than what the households of heterosexual men spend per person.

That's more money to buy sports product. And in an economy wherein the entertainment dollar is rapidly shrinking -- every cent counts. Not only will sports marketers directly reap the benefits of catering to a gay market, the residual effects from citizens of conscious who support gay rights will also yield profits -- do you really think my wife and I need all those PBS tote bags or ACLU, Democracy Now! coffee cups? Of course not! But we support them because they further the progressive liberal agenda we believe in.

So, get on board with gay rights, sports marketers! We know you're only in it for the money, but it's the moral, patriotic, and profitable thing to do! It's a marriage made in marketing heaven...