It’s Time For Gay Pro-Athletes to Come Out of the Closet

In other historical struggles for equal rights, sports have not only played a role, but led the charge.

It’s an article perfectly crafted to set the blogosphere alight, an L.A. Times story about homophobia in professional sports. Of course, there isn’t a lot in it that we don’t already know or haven’t read before.

We’re still waiting for the first active athlete competing in one of the four major professional sports leagues in North America to come out as gay. We know they exist. I mean, statistically they have to exist. If best estimates tell us that anywhere from 2% to 10% of the general population is gay and, as the Times story points out, there are roughly 4,000 athletes who spent time this year on the roster of at least one of the teams in either Major League Baseball, the NFL, the NBA or the NHL, then that means there should be anywhere from 80 to 400 gay athletes competing in one of the four sports. But there aren’t, at least publicly.

I’ve written at The Good Men Project before that I believe that having a popular athlete, say Lebron James or Brian Urlacher, come out would be one of the best things that could happen to the gay rights movement in this country.

But it’s sad that it hasn’t happened yet. In other historical struggles for equal rights, sports have not only played a role, but led the charge. As I noted in my previous post, Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier 7 years before the Supreme Court handed down its landmark school desegregation decision in Brown v. Board of Education, 10 years before President Eisenhower sent federal troops into Little Rock, Arkansas to enforce that decision, and 17 years before passage of the Civil Rights Act.

There is a public service campaign mentioned in the Times article called the You Can Play Project. One of the campaign’s messages is, “If you can play, you can play.” How true that is.

♦◊♦

I spent a year after college playing professionally in the Irish National Basketball League. The town I played in, Dungannon, is located in County Tyrone, in Northern Ireland. The year I started playing was the same year that the Good Friday Agreement was signed after thirty years of civil strife there between Protestant and Catholic factions.

As part of my responsibilities, and to earn a little extra cash – the Irish SuperLeague doesn’t pay quite what the NBA does – I ran a program to try and bring Protestant and Catholic children together through basketball.

Another American teammate and I traveled all over the County teaching basketball. Invariably, the children’s reactions were the same wherever we went. The initial suspicion they had for each other gave way to the desire to win. When choosing up sides to scrimmage, it mattered less whether another kid was wearing a green or maroon jersey. It only mattered whether he or she was any good.

After all, if you can play, you can play. It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white, Catholic or Protestant, gay or straight.

Photo: Keoni Cabral/Flickr

 

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About Liam Day

Liam Day has been a youth worker, teacher, campaign manager, political pundit, communications director, and professional basketball player. His poems have appeared at Slow Trains Apt, and Wilderness House Literary Review. His op-eds and essays have appeared in Annalemma Stymie, the Boston Globe and Boston Herald. He lives in Boston, where he works as a public health professional. He is the Sports Editor at The Good Men Project. You can follow him on Twitter at @LiamDay7.

Comments

  1. I agree that it would be a good thing if any gay man or woman would feel free enough to be open about his sexual orientation. Personally, I think that better than an athlete coming out if would be awesome if the Pope came out of the closet. But that aside.

    I wonder, and this is a question to gay readers, would it be possible that there are REALLY no gay professional athlete’s in team sports?

    I am from Amsterdam, I am straight and I work out. In my gym the majority of the men are gay and it has been like that since the 90’s; AIDS made them want to feel strong. So they have been my gym buddies for 2 decades. Many of them are vain, train super hard, eat right, everything. Great athletes. I know them as great dancers too. So they can be competitive, disciplined, talented, muscular, flexible, everything. Still, I can’t imagine them in the Dutch national football team. Because I can’t imagine them spending their complete childhood and teenage years being happy and motivated in a straight environment. If I was gay I think it would make me unhappy. Is this true for gay men?

    If you can play, you can play. But do you WANT to play in an environment that you don’t really relate to?

    I do believe that for individual sports like swimming, gymnastics, running the threshold might be lower. Don’t know if these sports have more gay athletes or not.

  2. Richard Aubrey says:

    It’s nobody’s business.

  3. John Anderson says:

    I never understood why that was a problem with the four major sports leagues. There are openly gay people at my work and I don’t feel any more self conscious around them in front of the urinals than I do with straight guys. In the military or another setting, I could understand the embarrassment of showering with openly gay people some might have. I’d imagine it would be similar to the embarrassment one might feel showering in front of a woman. In professional athletics, there are women and cameras in the locker room (I don’t agree that they should be in there, but they are.) so what’s the big deal?

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  1. [...] I’ve written on The Good Men Project before, openly gay professional athletes are about as rare as Yetis. As the AP notes, “Although a [...]

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