Best of 2021: The NFL says 'football is gay'

Following player Carl Nassib's coming out and in time for Pride month, the league shows its support for The Trevor Project

Published On
Jun 28, 2021

Editor's Pick

Through New Year's, we will be counting down our picks for 2021's 30 best ads and creative marketing ideas.

At No. 2: The NFL in recent years has taken deliberate steps to become a more inclusive and modern marketer, helping it to earn the honor of Ad Age's 2021 Marketer of the Year.  This spot created with 72andSunny, which debuted in time for Pride Month, was perhaps its boldest move in that direction with its simple but powerful statement that "Football is gay."  

Last week in time for Pride Month, National Football League player Carl Nassib of the Last Vegas Raiders announced on Instagram that he was gay, marking the first time an active athlete in the NFL has come out publicly. Now, the NFL has come out with a declaration of its own: “Football is gay.”

See the full list of 2021's Best Ads.

In a new typography-driven ad from 72andSunny, the NFL turns on its head what has typically been a pejorative and discriminatory use of the term “gay,” using it as just a descriptor to illustrate how inclusive the League is.

The spot opens with white type against a black screen presenting a litany of other “unexpected” descriptions of the NFL.

Football is gay.
Football is lesbian. 
Football is beautiful.
Football is queer.
Football is life.
Football is exciting.
Football is culture.
Football is transgender.
Football is heart. 
Football is power.
Football is tough.
Football is bisexual.
Football is strong.
Football is freedom.
Football is American.
Football is accepting.
Football is everything.
Football is for everyone.

The ad then presents a rainbow-colored version of the NFL logo and announces the League’s proud support of The Trevor Project, the nonprofit dedicated to preventing suicide among LGBTQ+ youth. 

The ad aims to promote the impact of representation in sports. According to research from The Trevor Project, LGBTQ young people who were less “out” about their identity were more likely to participate in sports (1 in 3 LGBTQ sports-active youth were not open about their sexual orientation compared to 1 in 5 sports-active youth who had made their sexual orientation public). However, the Trevor Project research also found that young LGBTQ athletes reported nearly 20% lower rates of depressive symptoms compared to those who didn’t participate in sports.

“This spot is about celebrating Pride, and the importance of inclusion,” said Tim Ellis, NFL EVP-chief marketing officer in a statement. “It’s imperative that we use our voice and leverage the NFL platform to drive positive change, which includes supporting what our players care about and what they stand for.”

In an additional statement to Ad Age from the NFL, the organization said that it had a full communications strategy for Pride content for the entire month, but this new spot was not planned. "We were incredibly inspired by Carl and his bravery and honesty, and he is the impetus behind the spot where we channeled his inclusivity and boldness," the statement said. "This spot ladders up to our broader mission to always support and stand behind causes that are most important to our players—like the Trevor Project for Carl."

The simplicity of the ad, with just white text over black, is meant to emphasize its point. "We wanted to make it clear for everyone— especially LGBTQ+ youth—that the NFL both accepts and welcomes you to football," the NFL added. "So we put it in black and white."

Even before Nassib's announcement, the NFL has stood up for LGBTQ rights alongside The Trevor Project. Last fall, it debuted a website Pride at NFL, which showed its commitment to better supporting LGBTQ employees, fans, and football players. The League also worked with the organization on a National Coming Out Day PSA.

Sam Rapoport, the NFL’s senior director of diversity, equity and inclusion, added, “We still have a lot of work to do, but by partnering with organizations like the Trevor Project and GLAAD, we’re working towards letting the LGBTQ+ community know football is for them and we’re committed to making the game inclusive for all."

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