This past April, Rick Welts, CEO and President of the Phoenix Suns, had a meeting with David Stern, Commissioner of the National Basketball Association. Welts revealed he was gay and intended to go public with the news. Stern’s reaction threw Welts … he already knew. So far the team hasn’t fled for fear of Welts sneaking peaks at them in the shower, or of him potentially changing their uniforms to lavender short-shorts with pink piping up the sides.
A week later, Kobe Bryant had a technical foul called on him and responded by loudly calling the referee a faggot. Then on a June 30 call-in talk radio show, the Philadelphia Eagles’ DeSean Jackson referred to a caller as a “… gay ass faggot.”
Even though the 1-in-10 ratio is commonly accepted among gays, according to a recent UCLA study, anywhere from 3.5% to 11% of people in the U.S. are gay or gay leaning; but for the sake of argument let’s put it at 1 in 50 … and apply those odds to how many members of NCAA and professional sports teams there are. The issue is inevitably going to come down to this: Sooner rather than later a popular American athlete like Dartmouth’s Andrew Goldstein on a major team is going to come out of the closet while still an active player. When that happens the issues won’t be whether his teammates run like screaming virgins from the showers or if the fans abandon the team. The issues will instead be related to familiarity.
Firstly, almost without exception, most well-known gay figures like Esera Tuaolo, John Amaechi, and Rick Welts were shocked upon finally coming out to discover that their teammates/associates with few exceptions had already figured it out and/or accepted it. Secondly, it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t know and like at least one relative, co-worker, close friend or neighbor who is gay. How do you negatively judge a teammate in the same breath that you’d reluctantly belittle or condemn your much loved lesbian aunt, a brother’s gay son or your favorite basketball opponent in the office league?
Eastern Michigan track star Austin Hendrix decided he was tired of lying to cover up and found it emotionally liberating to tell the truth to his coach, teammates and friends. The same can be said for cricket star Steven Davies, who related that the dressing room fag jokes and his team’s whole attitude towards gays became so oppressive that he felt compelled to come out, rather than begin a life of constant lies and made-up girlfriends.
In an interview, Swedish soccer/footballer sensation Anton Hysen (who speaks American English like a native) was quoted as saying, “…I’m never gonna come to your games again because you got a faggot on your team,” while describing some of the hate mail addressed to his fellow players since he recently came out of the closet himself. Hysen admits to being caught up in the “jock mentality.” In school he often picked on or berated known gay classmates to cover his own secret. Like Hendrix, Goldstein and Davies, he was relieved that the expected backlash didn’t come and in fact they were flabbergasted by the messages of support that they’ve received from around the world.
Sports Illustrated surveyed 1401 professional athletes on whether they’d accept an openly gay team member in their midst. The response revealed positive results: MLB 61.5%, the NBA 59.6%, the NFL 56.9%, and the NHL 79.9%. NBC and the USA Network conducted a similar poll of sports fans for their reaction to the prospect of openly gay athletes, and 86% responded that they would have a positive reaction to an openly gay male participating in sports. 78% also disagreed with the notion that openly gay athletes would hurt professional sports.