The National Football League held its LGBT pride night on Wednesday in Las Vegas, days before Super Bowl LVIII, as a petition calling the league to cancel the event amassed over 40,000 backers.
As part of a series of events leading up to Sunday's game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers, the NFL hosted a "Night of Pride" in collaboration with the LGBT advocacy group GLAAD Wednesday.
The NFL first announced its intention to hold "A Night of Pride with GLAAD" at Allegiant Stadium in a Jan. 22 statement.
"Our Third Annual A Night of Pride with GLAAD is yet another strong step to accelerating acceptance and demonstrating the NFL's unwavering support of the LGBTQ community," said NFL Senior Vice President and Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer Jonathan Beane. "We look forward to continuing and strengthening our efforts to ensure football is for everyone."
GLAAD CEO Sarah Kate Ellis praised her organization's relationship with the NFL as "committed to creating spaces where all fans can celebrate and to growing important visibility for LGBTQ fans at the Super Bowl and all season long." She cited the event as a necessary part of "continuing and strengthening our efforts to ensure football is for everyone."
The NFL also hosted a "Pride Flag Football Experience" earlier in the day in collaboration with "a local center that serves LGBTQ youth."
The pride night event received backlash in the form of a petition calling on the NFL to cancel the event.
The petition was spearheaded by Return to Order, a project of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, which describes itself as "an organization of lay Catholic Americans concerned about the moral crisis shaking the remnants of Christian civilization."
While "A Night of Pride with GLAAD" has come and gone, the petition accumulated 44,000 signatures as of Thursday afternoon.
Addressed to the NFL, the letter accompanying the petition condemns pride night as "a terrible sin of scandal" that "normalizes homosexuality" and "celebrates unnatural vice as normal and acceptable." It warned that "the social acceptance of this vice threatens the moral foundations of America" and constituted a "serious offense against God and His Law."
The petitioners asked the NFL to cancel the event and stated, "The NFL has long had the reputation of being a neutral venue, where politics and moral issues are put aside."
"[I]t is clear that this is no longer the case," the petition reads.
"Year after year the promotion of sinful behavior is becoming more prevalent. Worse, it is often done on live television. As Christians, we cannot settle for neutrality and lukewarmness. We must stand up and say no when such a supposedly neutral event pushes blatant immorality."
In addition to the NFL and GLAAD, other sponsors of the event were Smartfood, the clothing company Starter and CBS Sports. Details about the event on GLAAD's website indicate that its intended purpose was to "spotlight advances in and the future of LGBTQ inclusion in sports."
The itinerary for the event included a cocktail reception as well as a "panel discussion on the power of LGBTQ representation and visibility, how professional sports can drive LGBTQ acceptance today, as well as the NFL's commitment to LGBTQ players and fans." CBS Sports aired the "Night of Pride" festivities, which were also broadcast on the NFL and GLAAD's social channels.
The push for professional sports teams and leagues to hold pride night events and partner with LGBT advocacy organizations and the resulting backlash faced by them is not limited to football.
Last year, MLB's Los Angeles Dodgers canceled plans to honor the LGBT group the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence at its LGBT pride night in response to calls for a boycott of the Major League Baseball team for celebrating a group derided by critics as anti-Catholic.
However, the Dodgers backtracked and hosted the event with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence anyway. The advocacy group CatholicVote launched a $1 million ad campaign targeting the Dodgers in response to the reversal.
Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org