Vince Lombardi is synonymous with football. The NFL's Super Bowl trophy is named after him, because he was a legendary coach and an even better leader. He's considered the gold standard, and not just because he won the first ever Super Bowl with the Green Bay Packers.
What many don't know about the great Lombardi is that he was an ally to the LGBTQ+ community long before corporations were redesigning their logos with rainbows every June. And considering it's Pride Month, we're highlighting a terrific story about Lombardi, who's brother was gay.
It's one that will make you love the Hall of Fame coach even more.
Vince Lombardi's Incredible Story of Allyship
Back in 1969, Lombardi was coaching the Washington Redskins, his final year as a head coach and general manager. He coached at least three gay players there, according to OutSports.
One of his players, running back Ray McDonald, was arrested the year prior for having sex with another man in public. The first-round pick's career never panned out — due to injury and experience with homophobia in the NFL — but Lombardi asked his assistants to help him make the team following the arrest.
It's what he told them that is truly awe-inspiring. According to David Maraniss, author of the Lombardi biography "When Pride Still Mattered," Lombardi told his assistant coaches, "And if I hear one of you people make reference to his manhood, you'll be out of here before your ass hits the ground."
Of course, Lombardi would go on to famously cut McDonald after he was late to a meeting. Still, Lombardi was accepting of gay players and against hate, something some coaches today don't even do. And this was in 1969, the same year as the Stonewall Riots in New York City.
Lombardi's daughter, Susan, spoke candidly about her father's allyship with ESPN, saying he would've "embraced" a gay player on his team.
"My father was way ahead of his time," Susan Lombardi said. "He was discriminated against as a dark-skinned Italian American when he was younger, when he felt he was passed up for coaching jobs that he deserved. He felt the pain of discrimination, and so he raised his family to accept everybody, no matter what color they were or whatever their sexual orientation was. I think it's great what Jason Collins did, because it's going to open a lot of doors for people. Without a doubt my father would've embraced him, and would've been very proud of him for coming out."
Lombardi's Brother Was Gay
Vince had a gay brother named Harold Lombardi who died in 2011, 41 years after Vince's death in 1970.
When Harold died, he was survived by his partner of 41 years — Richard Nicholls. Vince knew Harold was gay, and he was extremely supportive of him. In the biography "When Pride Still Mattered," Nicholls spoke highly of "Vin" and his acceptance.
"Vin was always fair in how he treated everybody...a great man who accepted people at face value for what they were, and didn't judge anybody. He just wanted you to do the job," Nicholls said.
Vince Lombardi Jr. agreed with that sentiment about his father, per ESPN.
"I take a great deal of pride in the fact that, at a time when this was still cutting-edge stuff, my father was able to see through all of that and treated people as they deserved to be treated," Vince Jr. said. "He saw everyone as equals, and I think having a gay brother was a big factor in his approach."
There have been numerous gay NFL players, almost all of which have come out after their careers. Carl Nassib and Michael Sam were simply the first to be openly out while playing. Not every coach would welcome someone part of the queer community these days, which makes the fact that the great Vince Lombardi did it more than 50 years ago truly remarkable.
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