It’s an established truth in our movement that with higher visibility comes greater acceptance. As more people come out we change how the public views us and views the issues that affect us.
On a mass scale nothing can change perceptions like a high profile celebrity coming out. It starts conversations, both in the media and on a personal level, and raises visibility for our community unlike any other personal narrative we can tell. Lets face it: we live in a socieity obsessed with celebrity.
And we also live in a society obsessed with sports. From August to February its almost impossible to escape the NFL. Co-workers’ discussions, our social media pages, and schoolyard conversations are dominated by sports, especially those of young men. This is a great untapped resource and a fantastic way to change some minds and force conversation in this very straight world. Professional athletes coming out will propel our dialog forward. Just ask German soccer star Mario Gomez, who has urged his fellow players to go public.
Is the world of professional sports ready for openly gay players? Maybe not. One columnist in the UK has doubts:
Is football in the UK even ready for a player coming out? I do not think so. The football associations and the clubs need to ensure that match day officials, both on and off the pitch, are properly trained and ready to recognise and appropriately respond to instances of anti-gay abuse.
John Amaechi, a retired NBA star who came out in 2007, writes:
Homosexuality is an obsession among ballplayers, trailing only wealth and women. The guys I played with just didn’t like “fags” — or so they insisted over and over again. But they didn’t understand fags enough to truly loathe them. Most were convinced, even as they sat next to me on the plane or threw me the ball in the post, that they had never met one.
It’s entirely possible that some male dominated sports are not ready for this kind of change. Do the governing organizations of the NFL and NBA have policies in place that protect the athlete? Is the gay player prepared for taunting fans, entrenched locker room homophobia, and discriminating coaches and staff? Or have we reached a time where these issues might be eliminated with a few pigskin-throwing pioneers? We won’t know until someone comes out and tests the waters.
Whether the macho sports world is ready or not gay athletes need to consider the enormous affect they can have on the national dialog. Do they have an obligation to do so because of their status? Certainly not. The same respect for privacy we extend to all in our community should apply to them equally. We all know it’s hard enough to be gay without demanding careers be put in jeopardy too. That difficult decision lies with the individual, though the opportunity to be a role model, advocate, and game changer is there. Even though their coming out can do enormous good, at the end of the day closeted athletes have no more obligation to do so than the rest of us.
We just wish they would.
Maybe then I’d show up at an NFL game.