A LGBTQ+ Guide for Navigating the Sports Industry
Participation in sports instills life-long values for children from an early age about the value of teamwork, sacrifice, hard work, and responsibility. Through adolescence, playing sports often leads to enduring friendships and memories and teaches the importance of balancing the responsibilities of a busy schedule. In adulthood, sports help athletes maintain the gift of a healthy lifestyle, and the sports industry makes up a substantial portion of the economy, providing jobs and careers for millions of people in the US and around the world. Despite all of these positive factors – and the very universal set of values that the sports industry holds dear – equity remains a serious issue in sports.
One group that has been seriously underrepresented and appreciated is the LGBTQ+ community. While things have begun to shift in recent years, much work remains to be done. This guide was created to highlight the challenges that exist, and to serve as a resource for LGBTQ+ individuals who are hoping to gain a foothold that could lead to an exciting career in sports.
Thanks to changing societal norms, the LGBTQ+ community has seen a number of professional athletes individuals who are breaking the mold and publicly coming out in recent years. Michael Sam became the first openly gay person to be drafted, and Megan Rapinoe made waves as an openly gay star on the World Cup winning US women’s soccer team. Megan in particular has been able to transcend boundaries as a high-profile star athlete on her way to becoming an inspiration and advocate for other female athletes struggling to find their way.
Despite the emergence of celebrity LGBTQ+ athletes, the sports industry at large remains woefully homogenous and long overdue for an inclusivity overhaul. Social movements are steadily affecting change, and the paradigm may finally be shifting for LGBTQ+ individuals seeking careers in the massive – and growing – sports industry.
While not required, the best way to set yourself up for success is by getting a good education that will provide you with the foundation you will need to put yourself in the top-tier of candidates.
For those in pursuit of a degree to build their academic foundation, there are a number of scholarships out there that could help that dream become a reality. The Stonewall Foundation and the Human Rights Campaign are both excellent places to start, while those currently enrolled in a degree program should take full advantage of LBGTQ+ resource centers.
Fear not if you are a professional person with a degree in a field unrelated to sports–many skills are transferable and the rest can be learned on the job. If you discover that you do need further education to become qualified, there are a growing number of online courses and certificate programs available at a reasonable cost. Be sure to check out our complete master’s degree listings as online programs are more affordable than ever.
Initiating a career in the sports industry
Getting started in any career field can be challenging, whether it be fresh out of college or making a career change later in life. Fortunately there are many resources available for individuals seeking a career in sports. The best way to find your niche is to speak with those who currently hold a position you would like to have.
Make sure your LinkedIn profile is up to date, and you are open to recruiters. Leveraging the resources and networks available through organizations like Athlete Ally and You Can Play can lead to connections with members of the LGBTQ+ community in your area who would welcome the chance to serve as a mentor. Send clear, professional messages to people in roles that you are curious about seeking a conversation to learn what a day in their life looks like.
Presenting yourself as a humble individual who is eager to learn can lead to more opportunities, including shadowing opportunities. Even if in-person shadowing might be limited for a while, remote opportunities do exist and can be an excellent way to gain insight into what certain roles look like.
Perhaps nothing is more valuable than advice from members of the LGBTQ+ community who are currently working in a given field, as their observations can shed light into recent trends and challenges from their seat on the bus. You may learn about positions in the sports industry that you might never have thought of and you will be surprised at how much people enjoy talking about their role, especially if they enjoy their occupation.
Get your foot in the door with an internship
If you do happen to make some connections that lead to a shadowing opportunity for a role that intrigues you, don’t be afraid to be bold and ask if an unpaid internship opportunity might be possible. The chance to learn on the job and prove yourself far outweighs a lack of pay in the short term, especially if it leads to a promising opportunity a bit farther down the road.
People who have been in sports a long time always talk about how frequently internships and proven candidates get more opportunities than anyone in a pile of resumes, so be sure to keep this in mind before getting hung up on titles or salaries. If you welcome every opportunity as a chance to learn, you will always be moving in the right direction. Keep in mind that the sports industry is incredibly competitive, so you may need to get your start with a job or department that is not your preferred destination.
Make the most out of your networks
Regardless of where you are in the process – whether you are a current student, or a new professional – the two things you should never stop doing are making the most out of your opportunities and leveraging your networks. Join an LGBTQ+ Professional and Student Association and attend LGBTQ+ Professional Recruitment Events if at all possible. Explore LinkedIn groups specific to your interests, such as the Sports Psychology Professionals Network or the Sports Professionals. There are many avenues to locate and build your professional network, so stay persistent and you will find your way.
During the interview process, remember to be yourself
Once you finally do find yourself in an interview situation, it is time to relax and remember your unique journey. The best way to approach these situations is to play to your strengths and be yourself throughout the application process. Practice shaping your thoughts and verbalizing how your strength in character would make you an asset to any team.
Every organization wants team players who can understand the big picture and how their role would contribute to the greater good. Don’t be afraid to emphasize how your perspective as a member of the LGBTQ+ community can help foster the type of welcoming and inclusive environment that all companies are hoping to create and sustain.
The tide is turning toward diversity and inclusion
The LGBTQ+ community has long been underrepresented in the sports world and beyond, which naturally presents challenges and barriers of entry. As companies and organizations create more diverse and inclusive teams, they are discovering an impressive number of positive improvements including easier recruiting, better innovation, and improved employee engagement. Results like these speak for themselves, and opportunities for the LGBTQ+ community should only increase in the years to come.
Since many sports organizations – commonly known to be on the more homogenous side of the spectrum – have significant ground to make up, there should be significant opportunities for diverse applicants throughout the sports industry. Although there is still much room for progress, the years to come will prove that there is a place for everyone in the sports industry.