Launched three years ago, Homefield Alliance has quickly become a major voice and resource for LGBTQ+ professionals in the business of sports and entertainment. The group features a strong network of individuals across the country that have taken advantage of the resources and tools the group has provided, and has worked to create industry awareness and conversation around LGBTQ+ issues in the workforce.
As part of our series focusing on the partners in the United Soccer League’s Forever Proud project, we spoke with Homefield Alliance President Nicholas Cottrell on a variety of topics, including why the network the group has created for professionals has been key during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the power of numbers in building better sports businesses and organizations.
Q: There have been areas of society where the LGBTQ+ Rights movement has made significant progress in the past decades, why do you think the sporting world has been slower to change despite the numerous world-class gay and lesbian athletes that have been at the top of their sports during that time?
Nicholas Cottrell: I must believe that it’s fear. Fear of change for one, but also fear of knowing that LGBTQ+ athletes may be just as good, if not better than their heterosexual counterparts. I think society, especially American society, has placed these athletes in a box.
Q: It’s been 10 years since Canadian soccer player David Testo became the first North American men’s soccer player to come out after the end of his playing career in the USL with the Montreal Impact. How far do you think we’ve come since then, especially given the subsequent coming out announcements from players like current San Diego Loyal SC midfielder Collin Martin?
NC: Since 2011, the world of professional sports has made some strides, but I wouldn’t say we are halfway through the metaphorical race of acceptance in sports – North America or anywhere else. There is acknowledgement of various issues, but the actions taken towards queer, racial and gender equity are inauthentic or layered with problems. But projects and programs like Forever Proud are here to disrupt the normal for a more equitable world of sports.
I challenge all professional organizations if there is action to take, take it. If you feel the need to speak out, make sure you’re doing so with the right intentions and a proper plan in place (aka bring marginalized groups to the table and let them lead the action steps). But please don’t make dramatic public statements you don’t plan on keeping. Fans see that, and both the athletes and fans alike deserve better.
Q: What momentum do you believe the USL’s Forever Proud initiative can provide toward creating a more inclusive atmosphere firstly in soccer, but also potentially in other sports?
NC: Many, including myself, consider soccer to be a universal language. There is no place in the world where you won’t find a soccer ball and people to play the beautiful game with. Much like math and music, the international “language” of soccer allows us to bring everyone to the table. Simply put - Forever Proud is the beginning of a ripple effect that I believe we are genuinely seeing in sports around the globe.
Q: What message would you like to send to LGBTQ+ athletes or those involved in sports reading this?
NC: If you are out – thank you for shining your light and being visible. Visibility of out LGBTQ+ people in sports is severely underrated, and you are my hero even if we have never connected because I promise you someone somewhere may still be with us because they discovered you exist. So, thank you.
For those who are not ready - I see you. We see you. You are loved, and you are here with purpose. No matter if you’re out, coming out, or too scared to peak through the closet door; there is an entire world of humans excited to shower you with love and support, and get you to your greatest potential. Do not give up, and please reach out – personally or professionally – I and HFA are here to see you through to all your goals and dreams.
Q: As the core of Homefield Alliance’s work is providing the opportunity to build networks within the sporting and entertainment communities that can help make clubs and organizations better as a whole. What has been the focus of growth post-pandemic?
NC: The COVID19 pandemic is history changing for a lot of reasons, but the isolation has damaged most people, especially marginalized groups like queer people. HFA looks to rebuild our community culture by creating new events, working on virtual and in-person meet ups, collaborating on queer-centric presentations, and celebrating business growth via several new partnerships, like our new partnership with Forever Proud and the USL. We look forward to continued growth, and we are grateful to have grown beyond this period with our members.
Q: What have your own paths through the sports business taught you about the importance of openness and being true to yourself in addition to the opportunities it has brought to build better organizations?
NC: Find others like you and never be afraid to ask for help - there truly is power in numbers. Because I’ve worked for several rainbow washing employers, I want to share something a mentor said to me during the pandemic - you’re allowed to make change, be a part of change or invoke change, but you are also allowed to walk away to protect your person. You can’t grow and develop, much less impact the world, if you are pouring from an empty cup. Be sure to make time for you, then go paint the town rainbow!