You don’t have to be a Seattle sports fan to appreciate the significance of this year’s ESPN Magazine Body Issue.
The annual publication features nude photographs of athletes and interviews about their bodies, lives and sports. And who’s on the cover this year? The Seattle athletics power couple Sue Bird of the Storm and Megan Rapinoe of the Reign.
“What better time [to have the first openly gay athletes on the cover] than when we need to be celebrating things that are different about us and accepting them and trying to understand them better?” Rapinoe said in her interview for the cover. “It's pretty incredible to be in this moment.”
I couldn’t agree more. I’m a queer athlete, and I nanny a questioning kid. Growing up, I had no idea that women, let alone queer women, could be athletic and/or out and happy.
I’m proud to model both realities for the kid I nanny, and I’m proud that they’re growing up in a time and place when people like Bird and Rapinoe are visibly crushing it in sport and in life.
It’s not just Bird and Rapinoe, either. This year also features figure skating darling Adam Rippon, who is gay, making this year’s Body Issue the first to include three out athletes.
Representation like this matters. It gives kids permission to imagine how different identities can intersect. In this case, seeing proud, strong LGBTQ athletes allows kids to see that people can be athletes *and* queer — two things that aren’t usually shown to intersect.
Representation like this matters. It gives kids permission to imagine how different identities can intersect.
It's also important that this representation is celebratory; this is the cover of a national magazine that has historically catered to men. With this cover, ESPN Magazine acknowledges the fact that sports fans and athletes are not just men but people of all genders.
“Having a gay couple on there hopefully just becomes the norm,” Bird said in a video interview with Rapinoe for espnW. “For us to be on it is the first step in that direction.”
Kids will see this magazine because it’s everywhere and the internet exists. I’ve already had multiple conversations around these topics with the kid I nanny. If that’s a precedent for you and your kid, ask them if they’ve seen the magazine and what they think of it; that’s a great way to keep communication on gender/sexuality open.
If you haven’t talked with them about gender and/or sexuality diversity, use this opportunity to bring up these strong, local, gay women who are excelling at their sports and being positively recognized for it. That conversation can help widen the context in which LGBTQ people are seen and give permission for LGBTQ kids to imagine themselves as athletes, professional or not.
Often, kids are ahead of us adults when it comes to ideas of gender and sexuality. In my experience, most barely give it a second thought that these things exist on a spectrum and would probably be surprised that this is the first time LGBTQ athletes have been featured on the cover.
The lesson: We and the kids we care for have a lot to learn from each other.