Welcome to the first month of the CFL regular season! And welcome to Pride Month 2023!
And while we’ve heard the term “football is for everyone” many times, one of the main messages in 2023 is simple: football is for you.
It’s important to recognize the sport hasn’t always lived up to those words and hasn’t always been welcoming for everyone. But the league is working to change that, looking to engage new fans, and looking to make football spaces more inclusive.
» Diversity is Strength: Conversations and much more
» Subscribe to the CFL’s newsletter for exclusive offers and league updates
» In Case You Missed It: Jon Cornish preaching importance of inclusivity in sport
This league is great. It has incredible athletes, fast and high-flying action, and passionate fans. If you identify as part of the LGBTQI+ community and you’re already a fan, that’s awesome. And if you’re a new fan, or have your interest piqued by the league or the sport…welcome aboard!
That applies during Pride Month and every other month.
“Football and our league can be a little bit of a microcosm of our society,” says Edmonton Elks offensive lineman Mark Korte. The 2018 first-round pick knows the CFL can, and needs to, be at the forefront of inclusivity in Canadian sports.
“When people feel welcome, and they feel they can be who they truly are…we can bring out the best of what we have in our community groups and our teams and our cities and across our country. Having people be who they really are and express themselves in that way allows them to be the best self they can be. Anything we can do to encourage that is something we should pursue.”
For Ottawa REDBLACKS receiver Nate Behar, making inclusivity a priority is important from multiple perspectives.
“One is that it’s the right thing to do,” the 2017 first-round pick says. “Spaces should be open for everybody at all times, sports should be open. Sport can be so meaningful and impactful and have such a huge impact on people’s lives and in so many different ways. It’s just the right thing to do to have inclusivity intertwined with everything the CFL does.
“And then there’s the other side of, which is…it’s the right business thing to do. There are so many people out there with different backgrounds that a lot of traditional spaces haven’t always worked to make feel welcoming. There’s just so much opportunity there. If you’re not being inclusive, you’re missing out on so many people you can engage. People you can make fall in love with this beautiful game that we’ve got.”
Players like Korte and Behar are two of many CFL players helping to change the culture of football in this country. That starts in the locker room at the highest levels and filters down to all levels of the sport in Canada.
“I think even in just anecdotal experiences,” Behar says. “Being around teams, being around guys, the way that conversations used to look or sound to the way they do now has changed.
“I think that’s one of the most important things imaginable is the fact the people on the field, the guys in the locker room, the stance and the stigma has changed for the better. Even just to see that on more a human level that shift in locker rooms, it’s been really exciting and really positive.”
“I think the growth has been huge through some of the initiatives we’ve done,” Korte adds. “Pride Month, having Pride theme nights at different home games. I think it’s really helped to advance the movement and to help people continue to feel welcome and to sort of open that door to have people express themselves and be who they are.
“I think I’ve seen a lot of change. I’ve seen changed attitudes, I think people in the LGBTQ+ community have felt a lot more welcome to come to football games, to play football, to coach football, to get involved in whatever way they feel comfortable.”
Change isn’t linear and doesn’t happen overnight. But things are changing, which means it’s more important now than it ever has been to keep driving forward.
“It’s hugely important to me to welcome the LGBTQ+ community to come out and be part of football,” Korte said. “Whether it’s playing football, whether it’s coming to games as fans. I think it’s hugely important to welcome that, to bring those people into the fold, and to make them part of our CFL family.”
Part of being inclusive is ensuring current fans who may feel like they don’t fit subjective and outdated criteria of what a “football fan” is feel welcome and part of the CFL family. This league has so much to offer and it’s awesome to have fans from all backgrounds and walks of life be a part of it.
The next part is engaging new fans. That very much includes people in our LGBTQI+ community who have felt like sports or football isn’t for them in the past. As we kick off June, the 2023 CFL season, and Pride Month, Korte’s words above ring true.
As does Behar’s final message.
“If there’s anybody out there interested in the sport, they see the speed of it, the physicality of it, and thinks this is something they want to be a part of, they need to know beyond a shadow of a doubt, whether they’re in the stands, whether they’re grabbing a beer at concessions, whether they want to be a part of a staff or they want to be playing…they have a place here to be a part of what we do.”
Happy Pride Month friends!