As an athlete who is serious about competing but also needs a real job to feed myself, I’m always looking for sponsorship opportunities and companies to support me. I’m not a pro, but sponsorship and acting as a brand ambassador for companies provides me with ways to offset my training. I work full-time and I’m not making money from being an athlete, so anything that I get from companies in terms of products or support is helpful. In the past, this has come in the form of financial support, training equipment, gear, race entries, and nutritional products.
Since coming out, I’ve been fortunate enough to find companies that have supported me as a person and as an athlete. I have not shied away from the fact that I am a trans* guy. I write about my identity on my applications, and as the founder of transathlete.com
, my bio is on the website and the content itself is a pretty clear reflection of who I am and what I stand for.
I know with sponsorships that “you win some and you lose some.” That is, some companies will be a good fit and some companies will have values that do not align with mine and we won’t be a good match. In those cases, I’m pretty happy to not promote their company or their products. But usually this comes as a surprise to me; I typically don’t apply for things that I don’t think I’m a good fit for (who wants rejection?). However, I’ve been surprised a few times, although wisely, few will outright name my identity as a reason and I can’t tell why I don’t get chosen.
It’s similar to applying for a job and being a highly qualified candidate and not getting the position. It could be my identity and it could also be that someone just doesn’t like me. It could be any number of things but when I don’t know the answer, and nothing else seems really clear, I can’t help but to wonder if my identity as a trans* guy played a role in me not getting the position.
Such is the case with a recent sponsor opportunity. My triathlon club has a long-standing relationship with a large sports nutrition company, which I had been great about promoting online and at events – I’ve volunteered to work their table at expo events and posted prolifically on social media for them. About six months ago there was an opportunity to be a part of a photo shoot for their national advertising campaign for posters and print ads, and the casting company was working specifically with my triathlon club to find folks for the shoot. The requirements were to send in photos of yourself, a brief bio, and a short video introduction. I completed all of the requirements; there was a very small number of us who replied. I was excited about the opportunity for myself, but I was also excited about what it would say about the company to have a trans* guy in their marketing. It seemed like progress; it seemed like it would be a major breakthrough.
Just before the date of the shoot, I received a brief email that said they would not be able to accept me. I started to hear from my friends on the team about how happy they were that they had been accepted to be a part of the shoot. I didn’t want to steal anyone else’s opportunity to be excited about it. I was, as far as I know, the only person rejected from the photo shoot.
When I spoke to someone on the phone about it they plainly said, “You have to think, what would it say about our company to have someone like you in our ad? We just can’t have someone like you.”
I was devastated. What exactly is “someone like me?”
I was upset about it for a while. And then I let it go and found a great nutrition company who presumably read my application for sponsorship and therefore knew about my identity. I didn’t say anything else about it for a while and didn’t really tell my club about it; I felt ashamed. I also wasn’t sure if I had been speaking with the actual company or their casting agency. I didn’t want to put anybody publicly on blast by name if it wasn’t them.
Several months have passed since the photo shoot and admittedly I have thought about it a few times when applying to new things. I thought I made my peace with it until the company released the ads that my teammates are in – they are awesome. They are amazing professional photos, great quality, good imaging, and a great marketing campaign. They are online and in magazines and were on banners at the Boston Marathon. An overwhelming rush of sadness sweeps over me every time a teammate releases one of these photos (they’re being released in stages not all at once).
Rejection sucks. Rejection for who I am and who I will unapologetically continue to be sucks. But it’s a take it or leave it deal: I definitely do not want to promote a company that can’t have “someone like me” represent them.
I am a hardworking, dedicated, strong, and fast athlete. I am a fierce competitor and contender. I give back to the multisport community and devote time to helping other athletes succeed. I am a teammate, a leader, a coach, and a trans* guy.
Anyone willing to sponsor “someone like me”, please contact me.