Society has come a long way in accepting gay athletes

This piece, which appeared on Boston.com, shows just how far society has come in accepting gay athletes. For the most part, fans, teammates and front office personnel now view a gay athlete’s announcement as an insignificant event that has no bearing on how they view that teammates or opponent. As long as they help the team win, most athletes believe that a man’s sexuality is their personal business. Their life off the court, including their sexuality,  is none of their business.

Fans, meanwhile, have begun “anticipating a new normal”, meaning that they believe athletes that have come out should be “respected and treated with the dignity they deserve.” Thanks to a “winning streak in the courts, and a societal epiphany on gay rights,”  discrimination based on sexuality is becoming, in the author’s words, “taboo.”

But the resistance to gay athletes entering professional sports hasn’t gone away. Teammates who have bonded over “testosterone-fueled locker room talk,” will make it difficult for athletes to feel respected and accepted. But, the author points out, there’s no question that the overwhelming majority of athletes and executives have accepted the  “small, but growing, fraternity of the brave.”

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Athletes face less resistance than they think they will in being accepted

This piece, which appeared in USA Today shortly after Derrick Gordon came out publicly as the first openly gay Division 1 men’s basketball player, explores the resistance a gay athlete faces in coming out and being accepted in their team’s locker room.

Photo courtesy of MCT Campus.

Photo courtesy of MCT Campus.

Cyd Zeigler, a manager at OutSports.com, a site that routinely covers LGBT issues in sports, believes that gay athletes like Gordon, Michael Sam and Jason Collins are afraid to come out publicly because of the fear of being alienated in the locker room. Gay athletes are so worried about rejection that they overlook the fact that many teammates are more than willing to accept a gay man in their locker room.

In fact, Ziegler has talked to many athletes and front office executives, who have all said that they’d welcome a gay teammate with open arms. Further, most of the players and executives Ziegler talked to said that it was the media who had a hand in blowing each announcement out of proportion. Most of the subjects Ziegler talked to believed that the “changing attitudes on gay rights in the wider culture have accompanied changing attitudes in locker rooms.”

Photo courtesy of MCT Campus.

Photo courtesy of MCT Campus.

Most gay athletes, Gordon included, were afraid to come out because they viewed the coarse, often homophobic language in locker rooms to mean that their teammates “hated” gay people. But, more often then not, their teammates stop using offensive language  when they decide to come out and make their sexuality public. Which, to Ziegler, means that gay athletes should take the widespread acceptance of gay athletes in locker rooms as encouragement that they too can feel comfortable in their own skin.

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Group Helps Encourage Gay Athletes to Come out

Photo courtesy of MCT Campus.

Photo courtesy of MCT Campus.

This NPR piece highlights the good work being done by “You Can Play,” a group whose mission is to encourage gay athletes to come out so that in the future an athlete’s sexual orientation will no longer be a polarizing topic in American professional sports. The group hopes that through support and guidance, athletes like Michael Sam and Derrick Gordon, who both drew courage from the group before making their announcements, will feel more comfortable in making their sexuality known.

It’s tough, the group admits, for an athlete to make their decision because of the backlash they know will come with their announcement. But “You Can Play” hopes to break down those perceived barriers and help athletes like Sam and Gordon realize that for every detractor they face, there are as many supporters who are in full support of their decision.

Photo courtesy of MCT Campus.

Photo courtesy of MCT Campus.

Over time, the group hopes that enough gay athletes have come out that the issue has disappeared from the public’s consciousness entirely. When a gay athlete coming out is no longer a story, the group says, they will have reached the goal the organization had set out to accomplish from day 1.

In my opinion, groups like “You Can Play” are vitally important for gay athletes because, as the group points out, many gay athletes grappling with whether or not to come out publicly are afraid of how they will be perceived by those against such an announcement. A group like “You Can Play” acts as a support system for an athlete to lean on until they are comfortable with their decision and the way it will be greeted by the American public.

 

 

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CBS’ Gary Parrish on why Derrick Gordon’s Announcement is Significant

Photo courtesy of MCT Campus.

Photo courtesy of MCT Campus.

CBS’ Gary Parrish wrote an interesting piece on why UMass guard Derrick Gordon’s decision to come out as the first openly gay men’s basketball player is a significant milestone in the movement toward a more welcoming environment in professional sports for homosexual athletes.

Parrish gets frustrated when people on Twitter say that they “don’t care” whether Gordon and other gay athletes who came out before him are gay, as long as they can “contribute to the team.” But to believe that, Parrish says, is to miss the entire significance of all three recent announcements that have been made. Jason Collins and Michael Sam’s announcements, which both came earlier this year, paved the way for Gordon to feel comfortable in coming out.

Hopefully, Parrish says, Gordon’s announcement will continue to pave the way for others to come out. In the same way Gordon looked to Sam and Collins and followed their lead, other gay athletes will now look to Gordon for guidance on how and when to come out themselves.

In the future, Parrish hopes, a gay athlete entering the professional sports ranks will be a non-issue and a non-story. But for now, with so few gay athletes paving the way for younger generations of players who are still sitting on the fence as to whether or not to come out, leaders like Collins, Sam and now Gordon will be important trailblazers for change.

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New York Magazine Piece on the Significance of Sam and Collins’ Announcements

This piece, which appeared in New York Magazine, looks to dispel the notion that Sam and Collins’ announcements have little significance to the future of professional sports. As the author, Will Leitch, points out, it’s the talking heads on radio and television that forced Sam and Collins to have to make their sexuality public in the first place. By saying that they “didn’t care” whether Sam and Collins were gay, what they were really saying was that they were going to pretend everyone was the way they wanted them to be, meaning straight, so that it would look like they were accepting of Sam and Collins’ sexuality.

Photo courtesy of MCT Campus.

Photo courtesy of MCT Campus.

In other words, these commentators, as well as the athletes that Leitch mentioned that had a similar reaction to Sam and Collins’ announcements, were hoping that they could ignore Sam and Collins’ sexuality and treat them as they did any other teammate in order to appear as though they had accepted them without fully accepting their decision. That way, they could be opposed to Sam and Collins’ decisions without coming out publicly against their decision, which would’ve brought criticism their way. Unfortunately, that, in my opinion, is why the plight of gay athletes is so difficult and is still at the forefront of the media’s reporting.

Photo courtesy of MCT Campus.

Photo courtesy of MCT Campus.

Hopefully, the author says, there will be a time in the near future when a gay athlete entering the professional sports ranks is a non-issue. But, Leitch says, that won’t happen until trailblazers like Sam and Collins have the courage to come out and pave the way for others to follow. For that reason, Leitch says, Sam and Collins are heroes. They’ve paved the way for the next “step”, as Leitch refers to it. Which would be the next crop of gay athletes following in the footsteps of Sam and Collins and creating a large presence of gay athletes in professional sports. At that point, a gay athlete entering the league would be commonplace, and not worthy of media scrutiny.

To me, the overwhelmingly positive reaction to both Sam and Collins’ announcements was proof that sports, which has lagged behind most other aspects of society in embracing the gay community, has moved ever closer toward acceptance. There’s no doubt that other gay athletes will have to follow in Sam and Collins’ footsteps in order for gay athletes to be universally accepted, but their announcements have made that vision a plausible goal for the near future.

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Maverick’s Owner Mark Cuban on Gay Athletes

This Bleacher Report piece analyzes Dallas Maverick’s owner Mark Cuban’s interview on CNN’s Piers Morgan Live about Jason Collins, and the significance of Collins’ being the first openly gay athlete in one of America’s “big 4” professional sports.

Photo courtesy of MCT Campus.

Photo courtesy of MCT Campus.

As Bleacher Report points out, Cuban downplayed the significance of Collins’ entering the league, calling it a “non-event”. To him, the gay community has become more “accepted,” evidenced, for instance, by a handful of states legalizing gay marriage, indicative of a more tolerant society. The “real world,” as Cuban described it, has advanced and evolved to the point of de-sensitizing the hostility toward a person’s sexuality.

Photo courtesy of MCT Campus.

Photo courtesy of MCT Campus.

While I think Cuban is right that society is becoming increasingly tolerant of the gay community, I also think he’s being unrealistic in his thinking that everyone has embraced Collins since he’s entered the NBA.  That, in my opinion, is giving the league’s fans and its players too much credit. There will always be a sector of the fan base who are vehemently against gay athletes finding success and will therefore do whatever they can to make Collins’ experience as miserable as possible.  For that reason, Collins’ announcement was very significant for gay athletes because he is blazing the trail for other gay athletes who were too intimidated to deal with the firestorm that is associated with being the first to make such a historic announcement.

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What it Means to be Gay and African American in Sports

This is an interesting piece written by ESPN’s Farrell Evans on the significance of Michael Sam and Jason Collins coming out as gay, African American athletes. Evans believes that their announcement should be celebrated, especially by the gay community but also by the black community, because both groups will benefit from Sam and Collins’ decision.

Hopefully, Evans says, Sam and Collins’ announcement will bring increased tolerance toward gay athletes and their communities. With increased tolerance, Evans points out, comes less significance being given to each additional athlete, professional or otherwise,  that comes out. If that were to occur, Evans says, than Sam and Collins should be looked at as trailblazers. Not in the same breath as men like Jackie Robinson, who Evans says should always stand on his own when it comes to evoking social change, but to a lesser, but still quite significant effect. In the future, Evans hopes that gay athletes of any race are judged solely on the talent they possess, and not on their sexual orientation or race.

Photo courtesy of MCT Campus.

Photo courtesy of MCT Campus.

To me, though, Sam and Collins’ announcements alone will not evoke a groundswell of support for increased tolerance toward gay athletes. As Evans correctly points out, others will have to follow suit and find the courage to come out themselves. That way, each announcement will be less unique and, therefore, less ground-breaking, because there will have been trialblazers like Sam and Collins who will have already taken the brunt of the controversy.

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