Last year in our sports issue, we wrote a profile about Orlando City Soccer Club, the newest expansion team into Major League Soccer. Their commitment to equality was pioneering in many respects, and their model has been replicated by a number of sports teams across the country wishing to reach out to the LGBT community. They were honored with a special award at last year’s MBA Orlando Pride Gala, and this year they are also nominated for an award.

This year, Hotspots reached out to a number of supportive organizations across Florida, and we’d like to profile five of them. Many of them have worked with the community in the past and some of them are established community allies. Others are just beginning LGBT outreach. Here are five sports teams, committed to equality, that you should watch out for in the next 12 months.

TAMPA BAY RAYS

The Tampa Bay Rays was one of three original SportsSupportsEquality_copy6Major League Baseball teams that pledged to support and further the cause of LGBT equality all the way back in 2008. They have worked with a number of local organizations already, such as Equality Florida, Metro Wellness and Community Centers, and many others. In June, the Rays organization participated in the St. Pete Pride.

Their last Pride Night, which was held on June 12, was a major success. A portion of each ticket’s proceeds was donated to the LGBT charity of the ticketholder’s choosing. Nadine Smith of Equality Florida threw out the first pitch.

Rays President Brian Auld is very committed to equality; as director of planning and development, he was the person who spearheaded the Rays’ first-ever community outreach initiatives. He is also an active voice in the development of Major League Baseball’s Diversity and Inclusion program.

MIAMI MARLINS

The Miami Marlins, the Major League Baseball team for South Florida, is also committed to SportsSupportsEquality_copy2equality for all. Angela Smith, the community outreach director for the Marlins, made sure to tell me all about it. Their diversity outreach program began with the African-American and Latino community, and the Marlins, with the help and mentorship of Billy Bean, the MLB’s first-ever ambassador for inclusion, started reaching out to the LGBT community this year.

The Marlins are very involved in the community and Ms. Smith told us about the Marlins’ special partnership with The Miami Foundation. The Marlins were a large supporter of last year’s Give Miami Day, which raised $5.2 million for over 500 local non-profit organizations. Last year, the Marlins hosted the Give Miami Day Community Block Party at Marlins Park, the first time the team hosted a special event in partnership with Give Miami Day. They were so happy to have worked with HIV/AIDS service organization CARE Resource, which provided rapid HIV testing during the block party. 

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

The Buccaneers is another team that is making huge strides in such a short time. Their LGBT SportsSupportsEquality_copy1outreach program began just last year, but they have since boasted a presence at last March’s Tampa Pride and they held their inaugural LGBT fan day last autumn. “Our franchise has a history of supporting the principle that that everyone should be able to take pride and feel invested in their team,” Buccaneers COO Brian Ford told Hotspots. “As a high profile organization, we hope our broad outreach inspires others to value both diversity and equality.”

Originally under the direction of Bree Parker, the LGBT diversity initiatives are now being organized by Allie Lewis, who hopes to grow the Bucs’ good relations with Florida’s LGBT community even more.

“We actively seek to reach out to all parts of our fan base…If you want to see how welcoming football is, join us on game day. Our field staff, front office, and fan base is both diverse and welcoming of others. Everyone can play a part in helping us ‘Siege the Day’,” Brian Ford said to Hotspots.

MIAMI DOLPHINS

The Miami Dolphins, under the direction of coach Joe Philbin, have made it a priority to SportsSupportsEquality_copy5publicize their commitment to equality and to diversity and inclusion, which expanded to officially include the LGBT community two years ago. The Dolphins have participated in a number of diversity and inclusion initiatives hosted by GLAAD and other organizations in 2014 and 2015, and the Dolphins organization is a proud partner of the Miami-Dade Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.

Last year, the Dolphins organized a one-off event for LGBT fans during the preseason, aimed at welcoming then-St. Louis Rams player Michael Sam to South Florida as the Rams took on the Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium. The event was well-attended and the organization is considering planning a similar event for this football season.

ORLANDO MAGIC

The Orlando Magic has worked for many years to reach out to minority communities, beginningSportsSupportsEquality_copy4 in 2008. “The goal [was to create] an inclusive environment and [to recognize] the richness and diversity that each culture and group brings to the Orlando Magic,” Linda Landman-Gonzalez, vice-president of philanthropy and multicultural insights for the Orlando Magic, told Hotspots.

For the past six years, the Orlando Magic has worked with LGBT rights organizations in Florida and nationwide. The Magic has a long-standing partnership with MBA Orlando, Central Florida’s LGBT chamber of commerce, and one of the Magic’s staff members, Stephanie Allen, sits on the board of the Zebra Coalition. This past January, the Orlando Magic Youth Foundation granted the Zebra Coalition $75,000 to help them better serve LGBT+ homeless youth in the Orlando metro area. The Magic has also partnered with Equality Florida and the Human Rights Campaign.

FLORIDA PANTHERS

The Florida Panthers play their games at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, and the organization hasSportsSupportsEquality_copy3 been proudly committed to equality for the past few years. They made headlines in South Florida two years ago when they hosted their first-ever LGBT hockey night. The night is part of the “You Can Play” initiative, in which gay athletes and straight allies partner together to foster acceptance and understanding in sports. Like another Florida hockey team, the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Florida Panthers have been one of the biggest advocates of the You Can Play project.

Two years ago, Panthers defenseman Brian Campbell took part in a viral video that promoted the NHL’s (as well as the Panthers’) commitment to LGBT outreach. He told CBS Miami at the time, “It was something that I believe in, that everyone should believe in. No matter who you are, what you are, and what you believe in, if you’re good to go and play, then you should be out there playing. If it’s going to make our team a better team, then I think it’s a great program and I give a lot of credit to the people who started it up.”
For more information on the Panthers’ upcoming “You Can Play” nights, you can contact Rob Kristiniak at kristiniakr@floridapanthers.com.

To read our past profile on Orlando City Soccer Club, as well as all of last year’s sports issue features,