Sports World Still Won’t Accept Gays

Gay SportsNew Jersey will very soon become the third state to allow civil unions between same-sex couples. “Queer Eye”, a reality show that features five openly gay men, is one of the more popular programs on television. Some mainstream newspapers, including this one, now include same-sex commitment ceremonies in their wedding announcements.
In many ways, it is easier now than ever to be a gay person. Easier, that is, unless you are a gay person who plays a big-league sport.
For two weeks, the Web has been crawling with a rumor that an NBA player has started coming out to his friends and family as bisexual. The original report, which appeared on a gossipy site, quotes an anonymous friend of the player as saying the player has been involved in a long-term homosexual relationship. The lead to the story says the NBA is about to be “rocked by one of the biggest scandals in league history.”
Whether or not this particular item is true, maybe it is about time the NBA and the rest of the major-league sports world was rocked. It is about time that sports caught up to the rest of us, and that one’s sexual orientation doesn’t rank as a big-time scandal.
What sports really needs is a gay Jackie Robinson, someone to shake up the bigoted attitudes that seem to be both prevalent and tolerated in male team sports.
Yes, there are players who have admitted after retiring that they are gay, among them NFL running back Dave Kopay, Giants linebacker Roy Simmons and major-league outfielders Glenn Burke and Billy Bean (not the Oakland general manager).
But hard as it is to believe, no active player in the NBA, NHL, NFL or Major League Baseball has ever come out of the closet.
And there are plenty of reasons why.
“The biggest reason is that no one else has ever done it,” said Dan Woog, who has written several books on openly gay athletes, including his most recent “Jocks II: Coming Out to Play.”
“People have come out in every other area of life: business, education, the arts, even the military. Right now, no one has done it because no one knows what will happen.”
That’s right, sports ranks behind even the military as far as proliferating a culture that is openly hostile to gays.
In fact, nearly every month there seems to be another headline about one athlete using a homosexual slur to insult another. The most recent came last week when Steelers linebacker Joey Porter, upset by what he thought was a cheap shot by Browns tight end Kellen Winslow, called Winslow weak, soft and “a fag.” (To the NFL’s credit, he was fined for the remark, making it possibly the first time a league has fined one of its players for making a homosexual slur.)
In many sports, calling someone gay still passes as the ultimate insult.
“Sports is still one of the last great bastions of what we think is masculine culture,” said Eric Marcus, who writes extensively on gay issues and was the co-author of diver Greg Louganis’ autobiography. “People treat being gay as if you are an ax murderer. I say, ‘What’s the big deal?’ But if you’re someone in sports, it’s a very big deal.”
Louganis, who came out after his Olympic diving career was over, spent years denying rumors that he was gay. “He was tortured,” Marcus said. Now, however, diving is one of those sports, like figure skating and gymnastics, in which no one seems to care about a competitor’s sexual orientation. Women’s team sports, for a variety of reasons, also have plenty of athletes who are openly gay.
Yet in the big-money world of men’s team sports, it isn’t so easy. A gay player who might consider coming out has plenty to consider: What will be the reaction of his teammates, his league, his owners, his fans, his sponsors and – maybe most of all – his teammates and fellow competitors?
In contact sports such as football and hockey, living openly as a homosexual could be downright dangerous. In all team sports, it will be a distraction for at least a while. If an athlete is on a good team, or is having a particularly good season, does he want to take away from the focus?
Of course, Robinson faced all that every day, and now he is heralded as a pioneer, an important figure in both sports and civil rights history. The bet here is that there is a gay player in the game today who is capable of doing the same.
from Newsday / Barbara Barker

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