Like much of the economy, the future of sports and public sporting events is being determined day-by-day as states emerge from COVID-19 restrictions.
Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens — home to the Miami Dolphins — has taken proactive measures amidst the uncertainty.
The stadium was the first large sports and entertainment venue to earn a “STAR” accreditation from the International Sanitary Supply Association, for cleaning, disinfection and infectious disease prevention practices.
"When our fans, players and staff are able to return to Hard Rock Stadium, we want them to have a peace of mind that we're doing everything we can to create the safest and healthiest environment possible," Miami Dolphins and Hard Rock Stadium vice chairman and CEO Tom Garfinkel recently said in a statement.
The Dolphins’ organization, naturally, has a strong connection to South Florida and has been involved in several initiatives and relief efforts throughout the pandemic.
One of its newest charity arms with a direct line to South Florida’s LGBT community is Football Unites. Representatives from the Dolphins said they expect to continue the program’s mission as sports start to emerge from a nationwide pause.
The goal is to bring people together through football — especially young people of different races, genders and sexual orientations. Football is used as a hook to discuss social justice issues, race relations, and LGBT issues — a way to spark education and instill empathy.
Football Unites launched about two years ago with initial events — “cultural tours” — that were organized to show off the diversity that comprises South Florida and its large LGBT community. The tours included Dolphins players, students, community leaders and members of law enforcement.
The cultural tours have gone to Miami’s Freedom Tower, Little Havana, Overtown, the Holocaust Museum and the Jewish Museum of Florida. One group met at a “rainbow crosswalk” in Miami Beach and visited the Palace Restaurant, interacting with the LGBT community.
Sports fans could see it in real-time last year as Hard Rock Stadium was lit up in rainbow colors for “Pride Lights the Night.” Football Unites has supported, for example, the South Florida Flag Football League (SFFFL) and it is a community partner on many parade floats at South Florida Pride events.
Jason Jenkins, the Dolphins’ senior vice president of communications and community affairs, heads up the program.
“Equality Florida is proud and grateful to be a part of Football Unites, the model of what a sports community program can be,” Equality Florida Miami development officer Robin Schwartz said in a statement. “Jason Jenkins leads with heart and shows us every day his sincere dedication to supporting LGBTQ people.”
Jenkins said Football Unites has partnered with at least 12 local organizations so far that are focused on LGBT issues.
He said the group also updated the “equal employment” section of its handbook and code of conduct to add gender identity with sexual orientation, after meeting with Equality Florida representatives.
Football Unites commitment can be seen in the list of organizations it has partnered with, including the Alliance for GLBTQ Youth, Aqua Foundation for Women, Arianna's Center, Stonewall National Museum, Hialeah Pride, 4 Ward Miami and the Gay 8 Festival, Miami Beach Pride, Pridelines, SAVE and the aforementioned SFFFL and Equality Florida.
“The Dolphins and Football Unites have made a tremendous impact on South Florida’s LGBTQ athletic community,” SFFFL commissioner Dominic Grasso said in a statement. “[They] have proven to all of our athletes, fans, referees, volunteers and athletic supporters that our community is important and valued. We look forward to working together further in 2020.”
Jenkins said the Miami Dolphins want to level the playing field “through the power of teamwork, to inspire a healthier, more educated and united South Florida community.”
“We believe it is important to be inclusive of the diversity and aware of the intersections that make up South Florida, uniting groups of different races,” he said in the statement.
Football Unites also engages with law enforcement through “RideAlongs,” with Dolphins’ players, alumni, cheerleaders and staff.
Jenkins said it’s a way to engage with youth and discuss community policing with facilitated discussions led by the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE). There are other law enforcement-related events, too, as a police and youth conference.
Other initiatives Jenkins expects to continue include:
- Project Change Scholarships: pays for a four-year college tuition for one high school student each year. The goal is to provide financial support to students who have made a commitment to leading social progress initiatives in their communities.
- Captains Program: a diversity and inclusion initiative that brings together 80 to 100 middle school students from various backgrounds once a month for a day of learning about tolerance, acceptance and leadership. Dolphin’s players and alumni join the students to share stories, perspectives and experiences.
- CommUNITY tailgates: the tailgates, funded by ownership and players, are an opportunity to unite groups of different races, genders, sexual orientations, identities and abilities. Diverse groups will attend Dolphins home games and participate in group activities designed to break down barriers and build relationships.
“The program helps us connect with others doing good work in their community,” Gay 8 Festival creator Damian Pardo said in a statement. “It's meant to bring people together where they are, in the issues that are important to them, in the communities they live in and in their comfort zones. By meeting and working together in these spaces, Football Unites creates the synergy necessary to move South Florida forward faster, smarter and kinder.”
Visit MiamiDolphins.com/community/footballunites for more information.