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.
Perhaps the ultimate Major League sports heroes are the team members of the San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox who made videos for the “It Gets Better” campaign telling young gay people not to give up hope and that their future will get better despite the bullying and the verbal abuse that they experience in their daily lives. The Giants’ video can be viewed here, The Cubs can be viewed here, and the Red Sox here.
Blind hatred and ignorant prejudice are deadly in today’s sports world, despite the Bible-beaters who would scoff that the problem is being overblown and exaggerated in this day and age. Here are two prime and all too true examples taken from recent headlines of tough and popular current world famous sports heroes, told in their own words, who almost took their own lives more than once rather than crack open that closet door.
Gay sports hero Andrew Goldstein was at one time the only major team sports person to be out of the closet while still playing as an MVP/All-American goalie for Dartmouth. He tells in his video of times when suicide was preferable to being branded a faggot or worse by his teammates. Goldstein relates how he grew up in a time when athletes were taught that the word “gay” meant stupid or weak. Fags existed to be depantsed in high school hallways or to have their heads forcibly shaven. If you listened to the venom in your friends’ voices, to be queer was to be spat on, beaten up and verbally pummeled every day of your life.
Following in the ultra-masculine footsteps of Australia’s openly gay hero Ian Roberts, comes 36-year-old Welsh hero Gareth Thomas, proudly flashing a smile featuring his famous trademark – two missing front teeth to a stadium packed with thousands of his fans roaring, “ALFIE! ALFIE! ALFIE! ALFIE!!!” As a player he is the personification of the word “fierce.” He is a versatile rugby footballer at fullback, center or wing and is also one of only a handful of openly gay professional athletes to come out of the closet while still playing. In 2007, Thomas scored a legendary try during the Rugby World Cup that earned him his 100th rugby union international cap. Currently he is a star for the Crusaders in Europe’s Super League after playing for Wales and the Cardiff Blues.
He lived and breathed rugby from his youngest boyhood fantasies. Family genetics, a talent for tactics, and hard work gave him the magnificent body required to conquer a brutal game so tough that it made the American version of it with its pads and helmets look like a school kid’s match of flag football at a junior high school gym class. Within his mind, alternately real and imagined self-righteous, pious and judgmental monsters in the dark constantly threatened to sweep all of his rabid fans and athletic accomplishments away.
That menace was so real that it would eventually force him to lie constantly to those who trusted him, and to seek out a girl and convince her that he loved her, ever conscious of the fact that he was robbing her of lost years of true love that she’d never get back just so no one would suspect he was gay.
His guilt-ridden conscience could take no more after trying to take his own life several times, and he eventually broke down in tears in a changing room after a game and came out to his coach and teammates after first confessing to his wife of three years. He is a hero for sitting down alone in front of a camera in order to keep others from suffering his fate. In doing so, he’d have to retell the most heart-crushing times of his life. Gareth’s video session should be required viewing for every macho team athlete or coach who ever laughed and called someone a faggot, poof or worse.
He tells honestly and candidly of the multiple times he’d walk perilously closer and closer to the edge of the tall majestically high cliffs of his homeland hoping for a strong gust of wind to sweep him helplessly to his death. Pain crosses his brow as he recounts the day he sat at the edge of his swimming pool with a bottle of vodka trying to get drunk enough to close his eyes and topple silently into the water never to have to face himself again. He also knew that that was the coward’s way out that so many other closeted professional athletes had taken—both named and unnamed that’d come before him.
After his millions of worldwide fans found out he was gay, Alfie was astonished that he’d become such a figure of national pride that he was even included in an exclusive list of celebrities attending Prince William and Kate’s Royal wedding.
Rugby fans hope that Alfie’s courageous honesty will assure that other young athletes won’t have to face the hell that he did. Click here to view his video
Perhaps some American jocks don’t fear the limp wrested pansy in their locker room as much as the ever numerous homosexuals that bulk up in gyms to transform themselves into threatening hulks. Maybe his loud protesting is worry that a couple of Gareth Thomases in a vengeful mood over his latest fudge-packer joke might padlock him upside down and naked into his locker to be later rescued by a snickering janitor with a pair of bolt cutters.
As more and more well educated young straight athletes have taken over professional and college sports, the general attitude has shifted noticeably. Instead of having been led to believe that a gay athlete comes in the form of a swishing sissy, most of today’s college and pro jocks have experienced for themselves that the “faggot” on the opposing team is capable of painfully mowing him down and doing a humiliating victory dance on his head … just to prove a point. Just like black baseball players and female cops before them, gay athletes want it known that their grit and determination to go that extra mile and prove themselves athletically against the stereotypes is to be sought out, and not avoided.
Someday, America in general and American sports specifically will stop being held hostage by an old church lady fanning herself with the Bible and gasping for air every time a player scratches his crotch or cusses within earshot of her. If only the refs could ban her from the stadium, I think the game would be a lot more enjoyable for everyone.