When athletes come out, does it advance the conversation?

    In recent days, the American sports media have seen an unusual trend in stories regarding the presence of homosexuality in sports, causing a sobering reflection of the kind of culture that American sports have implicitly encouraged. We have stories about two men who came out publicly: former Villanova basketball player Will Sheridan, who revealed his own personal experiences as a gay student and teammate, and Phoenix Suns president Rick Welts, a man in a position from which news of a personal nature almost never comes out.

    But as much as the Monday morning water cooler discussions have veered away from D-Rose and the Bulls or the NFL lockout, the most interesting aspect from this recent surge in news about homosexuality in sports isn’t that they’re here. We’ve already heard examples in the U.S. of former players that have come out, such as NBA alumnus and former Penn State center John Amaechi or controversial figure skater Johnny Weir. No, the most interesting thing about this entire uptick is that it may not change public opinion at all. And that would be a very sad ending indeed.

    Highlighting both of these men’s stories is the fact that they are men. Talk to most people in America, maybe even yourself, and you’ll realize that there’s a double standard that silently pervades this country; that in sports such as softball or women’s basketball, it’s easy for some to snicker and joke about lesbians on the playing field, but when it comes to men’s sports, you won’t find any such blatantly open preconceptions. Except, of course, for figure skating. I mean, who are you kidding?

    No, coupled with New York Rangers forward Sean Avery’s bold video message about his support for same-sex marriage, Lakers all-star Kobe Bryant’s “faggot” aside last month in a playoff game and then the stories behind Sheridan and Welts is the underlying taboo that being a gay man in sports is simply bizarre, if not outright unacceptable, depending on whom you ask. One hockey agent begged to differ with Avery, going on Twitter to voice his opinions.

    But should it be that way? There are plenty of stories of teammates that step up to defend or support their gay peers, and seldom is their rationale ever so “bold” or “inspirational,” No, their comments typically follow this line of thinking: He’s my teammate, my friend and probably someone I respect. Why should his sexuality make any difference?

    Of course, there are those who are innately ignorant to the news. And it’s not their fault — they’re not intolerant, they’re just not accustomed to it. So you have the predictable comments from athletes who say foolish things because they just don’t know how to process the fact that their boss or their teammate is gay. And it’s those sorts of people that reflect the side of America that holds those misinformed ideas, to say nothing of the ugliest faction of people who are downright hatemongers. When Amaechi came out in 2007, NBA legend Tim Hardaway made some of the uglier comments ever stated in public against homosexuality in sports, and it cost him the respect of millions. He’s since come around, and Kobe’s looking to come around in the same way. The truth is that, fundamentally, there are some people who will never be swayed, and there are others that simply need to understand the breadth of the issue at hand.

    So we have two guys that are out. We have one hockey player -– mostly known for his own past idiotic comments -– stepping out in support, and another superstar who made the mistake of mouthing off at the wrong time. What about it? What’s going to happen besides just sweeping it under the rug? It remains to be seen whether or not this can open welcoming doors to those who have spent their lives hiding a part of themselves despite a public spotlight, whether or not they can ask the public to please accept this one part of himself or herself. Will it ever happen? Or is next Monday’s chat during coffee break just going to be about the Bulls again?


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