The Best Good News in Sports from 2021

Illustrated athletic shoe with an environmental design

Ted Lasso may tell us to have the memory of a goldfish when it comes to the bad things that happen — but these moments of progress and hope in the sports world in 2021 we never want to forget!

There were at least a few historic "firsts" for women in sports: from the first woman NFL referee to officiate the Super Bowl, to an all-women team of broadcast reporters covering an MLB game, and the Red Sox hiring the first Black woman to coach in the history of professional baseball.

A record number of openly LGBTQ+ athletes competed in the 2020 Summer Olympic Games (held in 2021), and a Canadian soccer player became the first openly transgender athlete to win a medal.

And we became fast Forest Green Rovers and New England Free Jacks fans for their work to save the planet, too — the Forest Green Rovers are the world's first certified carbon-neutral soccer club, and the Free Jacks became the first pro sports organization to join 1% for the Planet..

And like Lasso, we BELIEVE these stories of sports doing good are a sign of even more good to come next year.

NFL referee Sarah Thomas became the first woman to officiate the SuperBowl

This year, NFL referee Sarah Thomas made history as the first woman to officiate the Super Bowl.

Thomas became the NFL’s first (and still only) woman referee in 2015. When she was hired, former NFL official Gerry Austin said, “I've always [stressed] understanding the spirit of rules and don't be technical. If there's a call to be made, have the courage to make the call, and she fit within that framework. And she has great communication skills. She has the ability to calm the coach down and to explain whatever the coach is questioning.”

Thomas was joined on-field with two women NFL coaches as well, both for the Buccaneers: defensive line assistant coach Lori Locust is a defensive line assistant coach, and assistant strength and conditioning coach Maral Javadifar.

Commenting on what she’d say to other women wanting to pursue a career in officiating football, Thomas had two words: “Do it.”

Representation at any level of sports is so important, and we’re especially excited for all the young girls watching today to see themselves represented in a way they never have before — at the highest level of football!

After two Black surfers were the target of racism in the water, the Los Angeles-area surf community came together in solidarity against racism

One morning at the Manhattan Beach Pier, two Black surfers were the target of racist comments and actions from another surfer out in the water with them. Gage (@gagemcrismond) and Brick (@____brick) Crismond, co-founders of said in a post on Instagram that they were subject to racial slurs and repeatedly splashed in the face.

The Manhattan Beach surf community (and surf community around the country) got wind of what happened, and quickly came together in solidarity against racism.

Photographer Pete Halvorsen recognized the two surfers targeted in photos of the incident, from photos he'd taken himself a couple months earlier. In a post with sentiments of solidarity echoed by so many others (including organizations like the @wsl and @surfrider), Pete shared the photos he'd taken of Gage and Brick, and said, "That surfer does not represent us, who we are and where we are going."

A few days later, and hundreds from the Los Angeles and Manhattan Beach surf community participated in a Peace Paddle, as an opportunity to address the reality of human rights issues that still exist in surf culture.

The event description said it best: "It's imperative for ALL surfers and humans to contribute to creating a comfortable space for black, Indigenous, and people of color. We must agree to hold our fellow surfers accountable and condemn ALL racist, homophobic, sexist, or hateful speech, and/or behaviors."

And in Brick’s words following the event, “We took the hatred thrown at us and turned it into comm(unity). Watching US come together in this way, for this thing that we all love (surf)... it was so beautiful. It felt like history was being made.”

Peace, respect, and accountability: In and out of the water.

Making NFL history, Carl Nassib announced he’s gay and made a $100,000 donation to The Trevor Project for LGBTQ+ youth suicide prevention

Las Vegas Raiders defensive lineman Carl Nassib became the first active NFL player to announce he's gay. Nassib made the announcement on Instagram, saying "representation and visibility are so important."

Nassib added that he was hopeful for a day when "videos like this and the whole coming out process" wouldn't even be necessary, but until then he planned to do his part to "cultivate a culture that's accepting, that's compassionate."

To that end, Nassib also announced a donation of $100,000 to The Trevor Project to support their work in providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services for LGBTQ+ youth. (We're *huge* fans of all the good they bring into the world, too!)

In the Instagram post, Nassib wrote, "Studies have shown all it takes is one accepting adult to decrease the risk of an LGBTQ kid attempting suicide by 40%. Whether you're a friend, a parent, a coach, or a teammate — you can be that person."

We're thrilled that Nassib felt comfortable to make this public announcement, and are celebrating both this history-making moment for the NFL (and sports in general), and all the good his donation will go on to do for LGBTQ+ youth in need of support through The Trevor Project!

For the first time in MLB history, a game featured an all-women broadcast team

History was made in Major League Baseball this year! For the first time in league history, a game featured an all-women broadcast team.

Five women were the on-air crew for the Baltimore Orioles game against the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Orioles' play-by-play announcer Melanie Newman did play-by-play calling for the game, baseball analyst and writer Sarah Langs was the analyst in the booth, Alanna Rizzo did the on-field reporting, and Heidi Watney and Lauren Gardner anchored the pregame and post-game shows.

“It can’t help but feel different,” Rizzo told The New York Times. “I’ve always had a male play-by-play voice in my ear during every game I’ve ever done. So, to do a game where those voices are Melanie and Sarah, that will be a unique feeling and a unique perspective of the game. It’s exciting to be a part of something like this.”

In a tweet, Gardner said it was a "pinch me moment" and acknowledged the work she and her colleagues have put in to reach this history-making moment.

This year, the NHL also made history when two of its games shown in the United States and Canada featured all women broadcast and production crews — from the announcers to the camera operators, and even technicians inside the production trucks.

Women serving in broadcast and production roles in sports is nothing new, but this is an incredible moment in history to celebrate for representation. We're celebrating with all the women who've worked hard to get to this moment — and go broadcast team!

After they were fined for wearing shorts instead of bikini bottoms, the world came together in support of Norway’s women’s beach handball team

Recently, the Norwegian women's beach handball team was fined by the European Handball Federation for "improper clothing" when they wore shorts instead of bikini bottoms for a game

International Handball Federation rules require men to wear shorts that fall no longer than 10 centimeters (about 4 inches) above their knees. For women, the rules state: "Female athletes must wear bikini bottoms ... with a close fit and cut on an upward angle toward the top of the leg. The side width must be of a maximum of 10 centimeters."

The team said the requirements are not only impractical for a sport where players regularly dive into the sand, but some players say they're degrading, too.

And the world is rallying behind them. After the news broke about the fine, people around the world took to social media to commend the team for bringing attention to the sexist rule, and working towards making a change. Pink even tweeted in support, offering to pay their fine. (The Norwegian Handball Federation had already covered them.) 

"This is an important battle, and I'm very proud to be a part of this," Norway's Martine Welfler told NPR. "This positive feedback is insane and I can't believe it to be honest."

This good news comes as a similar statement was made on the Olympic stage: Germany's women's gymnastic team competed in unitards that covered their legs.

The point isn't necessarily about modesty: but about women having a *choice* in what they wear to compete.

"We decided this is the most comfortable leotard for today," said Elisabeth Seitz, a member of the German team. "It is a decision day by day, based on how we feel and what we want. On competition day, we will decide what to wear."

We're celebrating what's surely only the beginning of this important conversation surrounding gender equality!

Making Olympics history, Canadian soccer player Quinn became the first openly transgender athlete to win a medal

There were so many history-making moments to celebrate at this year's Games.

Including the first-ever openly transgender athlete to win a medal! Quinn, a midfielder for the Canadian women's soccer team, won gold with their team teammates after beating Sweden 3-2 in a penalty shootout.

Quinn came out on social media last year, with they/them pronouns and going only by "Quinn." Ever since, they've helped advocate for trans athletes and inclusivity in sports. 

“I feel proud seeing ‘Quinn’ up on the lineup and on my accreditation,” Quinn posted on Instagram at the start of the Games. “I feel sad knowing there were Olympians before me unable to live their truth because of the world.”

And they added, "I feel optimistic for change. Change in legislature. Changes in rules, structures, and mindsets."

Quinn played for and won bronze with the Canadian Olympic team in 2016 during the Rio Games, but wasn't out at the time. 

Quinn came out last year because they were “tired of being misgendered” they told the CBC, and wanted to be “visible” for younger trans and nonbinary people who may be “questioning their gender, exploring their gender.”

This is certainly a phenomenal start, and Quinn's story gives us so much hope, too, for representation and the future of nonbinary and transgender athletes — in the Olympics, and in sports in general. 

The world’s first certified carbon-neutral soccer club has a vegan stadium menu and is powered by 100% renewable energy

FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, recently recognized the Forest Green Rovers as the greenest soccer club in the world. The United Nations has certified Forest Green Rovers Football Club as the world’s first carbon-neutral football club. It is also the first and only vegan pro soccer club on the planet.

“Every day we all make decisions about how we power our homes, how we travel, what we eat, and how we choose to spend our money,” says club chairman Dale Vince. “If we go in a different direction, we can get a different outcome.”

In addition to an all-vegan menu for fans and players, FGR’s stadium, “The New Lawn,” is powered with 100% renewable energy from the solar panels on its roof and windmills on a nearby hill. A solar-powered robot mows the lawn. 

The field itself is managed entirely without artificial fertilizer — the groundskeeper sprinkles Scottish sea algae and rips out weeds by hand, making it far greener than your typical pesticide-soaked soccer pitch.

“People told me I’d be killing the club, and nobody would come. I thought to myself, that means we’d be taking our message, our work in sustainability, to a new audience, one that’s relatively untouched by this kind of stuff, the world of soccer fans. Soccer gives us a fantastic platform to promote sustainability.”

A California organization is fighting racism in surfing by offering free surf lessons to Black, Indigenous, people of color

A California based organization, Color the Water, is fighting racism by offering free surf lessons to Black, Indigenous, people of color. While surfing is a great way to move the body, it hasn’t always been accessible to everyone.

Historically, there aren’t a lot of Black, Indigenous, people of color who surf due to deliberate exclusion and hostile environments in surfing, as reported in Color the Water’s documentary on racism in surfing. The nonprofit is hoping to encourage change both in and out of the water.

Color the Water began in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd. The organization started just by offering free surfing lessons to Black, Indigenous, people of color in the Los Angeles area, and now works as a diverse, anti-racist, inclusive and safe space year round for hundreds of BIPOC surfers.

“We are here to create equity, so that we can have a safe space to enjoy the ocean,” Color the Water co-founder David Malana told ABC7. “The ocean belongs to no one, and is a gift we should all be able to enjoy.”

Color the Water’s founders are passionate about what they do and have firsthand experience with discrimination in the sport. David Malana is a first generation Filipino American educator and creator and Lizelle Jackson is a former professional volleyball Their free surfing lessons for Black, Indigenous, people of color are just the start of their impact — and they’re funded entirely by donations which help keep their lessons completely free for those who want to participate.

A New England rugby team just became the first professional sports organization to join 1% for the Planet

The New England Free Jacks just became the first professional sports organization in the world to pledge 1% of all revenues to sustainability initiatives as a business member of 1% for the Planet.

Through 1% for the Planet, the 1% of revenue pledged will go to support nonprofit organizations focused on sustainability initiatives like food accessibility, clean water, waste reduction, and effective land management.

“At the Free Jacks we are committed to building a global community rooted in making the world a better place through the great sport of rugby,” Free Jacks CEO and Co-Founder, Alex Magleby said in a statement. “The values of our organization extend beyond the rugby field, and we are delighted to be a part of more sustainable solutions at home by supporting New England based groups actively making a better world for future generations. We look forward to sharing our time as volunteers as well as our resources to better learn about and share the ways we can work together towards a healthier world.”

Needless to say... go Free Jacks! We're celebrating with the team for making history for the sport of rugby... and sports in general! We're hopeful they'll be the first of MANY sports organizations (and other businesses!) recognizing their role in protecting the planet — no sports on a dead planet!

Article Details

December 23, 2021 5:32 AM
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