Sarah Hildebrandt poses for a photo in a Team USA Pride Month t-shirt.
Team USA for the first time unveiled a limited edition line of rainbow-themed merchandise to coincide with LGBT Pride Month in June, and for former national team gymnast Josh Dixon it was a welcome message of inclusivity and support.
“When an organization comes out in support of an inclusive environment or says, ‘We’re behind our athletes everywhere, no matter their race, creed, color, gender or orientation,’ it’s so powerful because everyone wants to be appreciated and to be part of something greater than themselves,” he said. “It instills that knowledge that whether you’re an Olympic champion or a national team member, we appreciate you for what you do and for what you contribute to this organization.”
The new merchandise includes T-shirts and hats, plus a pennant, magnet, flag, towel, decal, can cooler and garden flag all featuring the Team USA logo in rainbow colors and is available at TeamUSAShop.com. The collection is designed to show Team USA’s support for Pride Month, and a portion of the purchase price of the items will help support Team USA LGBTQ+ initiatives in the Olympic and Paralympic movements.
Dixon, a two-time NCAA team champion at Stanford, came out publicly in 2012, and as recently as last week served on a panel about diversity and inclusion at the United States Olympic Committee’s 26th annual FLAME (Finding Leaders Among Minorities Everywhere) program that was hosted at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
He said that it isn’t a stretch to think that something as simple as wearing a T-shirt or a hat with a rainbow-colored logo on it might make a difference in people’s understanding of the community.
“Who knows, there might be someone who has no clue what a rainbow symbol means and it might elicit a question,” he said. “And then an ally or a member of the LGBT community or, just frankly, a decent human being would say, ‘Oh hey, that’s a great question, here, let me inform you.’ And hopefully a conversation like that would illicit some type of introspection or thought by the person who had the question about some of the injustices in the country and the world and the lack of visibility in the sports world and why that is the case.”
A number of Team USA members, including Paralympic sled hockey gold medalist Jack Wallace, Olympic snowboardcross bronze medalist Alex Deibold and wrestling world medalist Sarah Hildebrandt, have taken to social media modeling the new swag and voicing their support.
“Honestly there wasn’t too much thought put into it, I was just excited Team USA was doing Pride stuff and I was glad to be a part of it,” Hildebrandt said. “If we can make one person feel more comfortable about who they are and feel more included and know Team USA supports them, then it’s doing its job.”
Hildebrandt, who was named USA Wrestling’s Women’s Wrestler of the Year and won the silver medal at 53 kg. at the 2018 world championships, has long considered herself an ally.
“It’s just right for people to be themselves, whoever that may be and whatever that is,” she said.
As an athlete, she said she values the ability to have a platform to further that message and let people know she supports them. She also knows that the response to that message may not always be favorable.
“That makes it even more important for people to know they’re supported,” she said. “It just goes to show how important it is that we unite and use our voices.”
Dixon said the support also helps with visibility. He and his two sisters were adopted, he’s half-black and half-Japanese, his father is white and his mother is Japanese. He grew up in a diverse and supportive environment, and that continued throughout his college, post-graduate and national team experience.
He also knows that isn’t the case for everyone.
“If someone is from a rural town that isn’t always the most accepting or open or progressive and they see a member of the LGBT community or some huge corporation or an ally of the community or someone who looks like them, the optics of that, let alone the messaging, is more powerful than any tagline or slogan,” he said. “If an Asian kid sees an Asian swimmer or Asian ally or someone who looks like them spreading this inclusive message, that speaks loudly, and we’ve seen that time and again with people who break ground in racial visibility in their sports. Seeing Pride and inclusive apparel can open eyes and spreads a positive and loving ethos of an organization.”