I would like to just preface this by saying that this article says a lot about “it would make things easier” but by no means do I mean to imply that coming out is an easy task. I am not gay, so I have no idea what kind of life decision that is except that its an important one, and I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea that I think this is some easy solution. This is just a thought in my head that I wanted to get down. So I did.
There is a lot of news these days outlining the questions and concerns surrounding the prospect of a professional athlete coming out as gay, from the Vikings Chris Kluwe continuing his fervent support for a potential gay teammate in the NFL to Sean Avery doing the same in the NHL. All of the big four sports leagues have joined the It Gets Better Project, and with the national prominence being afforded the subject right now in the Supreme Court and the political sphere, this issue promises to stay at the forefront until something big happens.
There have been rumors here and there about players recently, with both the NFL and the NHL kind of putting out weather balloons about “reported players” coming out. Whether done to gauge public opinion or actually based in fact, there seems to be some consensus about what the effects of such an event would be.
Some people have thrown around that coming out would be detrimental to locker room mentality, but the strides made publicly by people like Avery in the NHL and Kluwe and Brendon Ayanbadejo in the NFL seem to show that the support for an openly gay teammate isn’t nonexistent.
Another “drawback” is that the media frenzy that would surely ensue could be so much that it would drive the player to ground. The purported “selfishness” of being a standard-bearer isn’t exactly appealing to someone already trying to make a living in one of the hardest and most scrutinized professions in the country.
This draws a lot of comparison to Jackie Robinson, but to be blunt, Robinson couldn’t exactly hide the fact that he was black. The pressure is on because there will be a ton of fans and teammates that will be genuinely surprised. The gay athletes that are sure to exist do so in almost sleeper cell fashion. They’re there. We just don’t know who they are. And when it’s safe to come out, they will.
So far no one has come out publicly until after they have played. Glenn Burke, Billy Bean, Kwame Harris, Robbie Rogers either came out post-playing career or had their declaration bring about the end of their playing days.
And with the effects of coming out being widely publicized as they are right now, this writer feels that the best way to tackle the problem is, in short, grassroots organization. It may sound a little silly, but if the pressures of being “The Gay Athlete” are too much, then there has to be a way to disperse that pressure among a number of points.
In the movie “Spartacus”, there is a famous scene where Spartacus stands up and identifies himself, saying, “I am Spartacus.” to the soldier sent to bring him in. He stands alone, until one of the other slaves also stands, declaring “No, I am Spartacus.” The movement catches on, with one after another standing and stating their Spartacusness in a unified front.
Now, imagine it in this context: instead of one NHL player or one NFL player, what if there was a cross-sport group that came out? There are organizations that would facilitate communication between such athletes, like It Gets Better or the You Can Play Project. Instead of one man bearing the brunt of everything, trying to continue playing their career AND be the pioneer of gay rights in baseball/basketball/football/hockey, what if there was such a group of athletes? It would theoretically make it somewhat easier, spreading the media attention out instead of being the lightning rod or news cycle fodder.
And if those players identify themselves together while also showing support from their teammates and for each other, it could have a significant effect. Hopefully if there’s at least one in every sport like there is rumored to be, they can create the sort of unification that draws others on the fence about coming out to join the movement.
Will it work? Maybe. I sure don’t know. Of course it would be a lot easier if a prominent superstar came out, as having All-Star ability would certainly help mitigate the crush of the media. Although I claimed that it was a much different case, Jackie Robinson being a Hall of Famer on the stat sheet undoubtedly helped make his feat more meaningful. But purely from a statistical standpoint, it is much more likely that a more middle-of-the-road type player will be the one to take the big step.
So why not get multiple athletes to stand together? It may be difficult to do, but it would sure be a step in the right direction of easing the burden.