Third-year B.C. receiver Marco Iannuzzi is becoming more and more important for his team all the time on the field, but he's also helping their community outreach efforts off the field. Iannuzzi has been one of the CFL's most vocal athletes on the anti-homophobia front, participating in a You Can Play forum in Burnaby earlier this year and telling 55-Yard Line about his desire to make football a more comfortable environment for gay athletes ahead of that. He's also backed up his talk, helping to change the language in the Lions' locker room and helping to represent the team during the Vancouver Pride Parade Sunday. (The Lions did plenty of notable initiatives of their own in support of the Pride Parade as well, including changing their logo for the weekend and having Iannuzzi and others hand out mini-footballs during the parade.) As Lowell Ullrich of The Province wrote in June, Iannuzzi has already seen results in the locker room:
The third-year receiver led a panel discussion in March on homophobia in sports, co-sponsored by two Burnaby educational groups and You Can Play, the nationwide social advocacy program.
The married father of two daughters took on the project simply to better understand the issue, and was interested to see as a result if he would become more of a target in his locker-room for reasons beyond the usual questions he catches in his other job as a Surrey investment adviser.
Instead, Iannuzzi is winning over the room one homophobic slur at a time, pointing out to his teammates that he learned from the panel discussion that the biggest part of the problem is connected with the language embedded in society.
"It's tough because you don't want to be that guy who is calling everyone out. But whenever I do hear 'that's so gay', I say, 'why do you have to say that?' " said Iannuzzi.
"I can think of a couple of guys who say it and go 'oh, sorry' and they change their sentence. That's a victory.
"I don't think any of them have ever had malicious intent. I'm converted and I'm slowly converting them, even if they're not thinking about it."
Participation in the parade from Iannuzzi and the Lions also marks a notable step. Other athletes were on hand, including two Olympians (alpine skiier Mike Janyk and snowboarder Mercedes Nicoll), and over 650,000 people reportedly turned up to watch it. It's great for the Lions to be represented there, and that would seem to fit in with a rising tide of acceptance in the CFL: the Argos' Mike Bradwell and Joe Eppele took a prominent anti-homophobia stand ahead of last year's Grey Cup (Update: Eppele appeared in Toronto's Pride Parade last month, too), and Jon Cornish's speech about his mother (who is married to a woman) and stand against homophobic comments also drew plenty of attention that week. The message of tolerance and acceptance also fits in with several other impressive community initiatives the Lions are doing, including their campaigns to reduce bullying and violence against women. The CFL certainly could do more on the anti-homophobia front from a league-wide standpoint, but players like Iannuzzi and teams like the Lions are doing great work here, and they're hopefully changing attitudes to make football a more accepting environment for everyone regardless of sexual orientation. That should be commended.