Marc Segal still remembers how difficult it was to be both a gay person and a football fan less than half a century ago.
“Forty-five years ago, when I was 18-years-old and became a gay activist, if you went to a football game and they knew you were gay, you could’ve been killed,” Segal said. “And here I am being applauded by the crowd.”
Segal, a gay activist, journalist and publisher at Philadelphia Gay News, was chosen to perform the coin toss during Saturday night’s Arena Football game between the Philadelphia Soul and New Orleans VooDoo at the Wells Fargo Center.
“It was the first time an openly gay person did a coin toss on national television,” Segal said.
The event, sponsored by AMTRAK, was also the nation’s first pro-football LGBT-awareness game.
"AMTRAK, a proud sponsor of "Out with the Soul", understands that diversity not only begins with respect for our customer, but for a social responsibility that extends into the community,” said Kecia Babb-Jordan, director of Sales and Marketing for AMTRAK’s Northeast Corridor. “Amtrak's belief in corporate citizenship begins at the top and filters through our organization. When put in perspective, its communities define us as a company. That is one reason we came on board to support the SOUL's LGBTQ night.”
Free tickets were given to residents of the John C. Anderson LGBT-friendly Senior apartments and the Attic LGBT Youth Organization. Leaders of the LGBT community made several appearances, rainbow colors were painted on the arena, and there were even LGBT-themed touchdown celebrations.
“Every time the Soul made a touchdown, a guy came out with a huge rainbow flag and ran around the arena,” Segal said.
For Segal, one of the most memorable moments occurred during and after the singing of the National Anthem.
“The Gay Men’s Chorus did the Star Spangled Banner,” Segal said. “As the members were leaving, the Philly Soul players lined up to thank each and every one of them. To stand there on the field and watch a professional football team thanking members of the gay community was a little overwhelming.”
Segal believes the event was especially relevant in light of recent events in the football world.
“As you know, Michael Sam was drafted into the NFL,” Segal said. “It was an appropriate night to have a gay equality night at a football event. Gay people are everywhere, and that includes sports.”
The Philly Soul ended up winning the game by a final score of 79 to 60. But for Segal, who has dedicated his life to fighting for LGBT rights, the team achieved an even greater victory beyond the scoreboard.
“I just kept thinking when I started all this activity 45 years ago,” Segal said. “A gay person wouldn’t even stick their head up at a football game. And here I was on the field doing the coin toss. That was a proud moment.”