Just in time for the biggest football game of the year, the LGBTQ Institute is starting a conversation about how society views LGBTQ athletes. The “Breaking Barriers: Sports for Change” exhibit launched on January 23 with former pro-athletes telling their own personal stories that created social change.
“We need to understand that sports have a huge role to bring people together,” Ryan Roemerman, Executive Director of the LGBTQ Institute at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in downtown Atlanta. “It can break down many barriers.”
Athletes like Michael Sam, who made history after he came out as gay ahead of the NFL draft, shared his journey as an openly gay football player battling stereotypes in sports. Three other athletes: Layshia Clarendon (WNBA basketball player), Pat Manuel (professional boxer), and Phaidra Knight (former rugby player), all were part of the panel conversation on how to keep change coming.
“What’s going to change next, specifically in the NFL?” asked Roemerman. “It’s going to be harder for the city as well as the state to secure more and more sporting events as more and more of these sports organizations and governing bodies have revisions that ensure that whatever venue they’re going to is inclusive.”
The exhibit includes interactive pieces, athlete biographies, and powerful imagery through the eyes of current and former professional athletes who’ve been confronted with social injustices through their careers. Through a one million dollar grant from Coca-Cola, visitors will get in free while the exhibit is in town at the LGBTQ Institute.
“People recognize the power sports have to create change. I think our visitors who go will easily make that connection and be inspired about it,” he said.
Roemerman expects student-athletes from across the state to visit to learn more about how change affects their own sport and how they can be part of the movement. The one-floor exhibit is just a small part of a more significant purpose for the LGBTQ Institute: to keep sports all-inclusive regardless of gender, race, or sexual orientation.
The traveling exhibit, in partnership with ESPN, will be in at the institute through April. Its next stop has yet to be announced. For more information on the exhibit, visit sports4change.net.