Times are changing for gay inclusion in sports. Here are four stories from the month of April that demonstrate gay inclusion may soon be a non-issue.
1) Basketball Player Jason Collins Comes Out
Washington Wizards’ 34-year-old NBA center Jason Collins has come out as gay in a piece appearing in May’s Sports Illustrated, making history as the only openly gay active male athlete playing in any of the four major professional sports leagues in the United States.
The piece opens, saying:
I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.
I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation. I wish I wasn’t the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, “I’m different.” If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand.
Collins goes on to say in the three page editorial that recent events reminded him of the necessity of living his life authentically:
The recent Boston Marathon bombing reinforced the notion that I shouldn’t wait for the circumstances of my coming out to be perfect. Things can change in an instant, so why not live truthfully? When I told Joe a few weeks ago that I was gay, he was grateful that I trusted him. He asked me to join him in 2013. We’ll be marching on June 8.
He also points to March’s Supreme Court hearings and how personal it felt while “nine jurists argued about my happiness and my future. Here was my chance to be heard, and I couldn’t say a thing.”
Collins, who notes he presents “against the gay stereotype,” acknowledges that loyalty to his team and not wanting to overshadow the game did play a part in the timing of his coming out. He also notes that his “double-life,” hiding his sexuality from his teammates, has isolated him. Now, though, he seems mindful he has the power to change that isolation for other gay sportsmen, closing his article with:
Some people insist they’ve never met a gay person. But Three Degrees of Jason Collins dictates that no NBA player can claim that anymore. Pro basketball is a family. And pretty much every family I know has a brother, sister or cousin who’s gay. In the brotherhood of the NBA, I just happen to be the one who’s out.
Will more players from across the major leagues come out? Now that the taboo is broken, it certainly seems like change could be in the air.
2) NFL Hopeful Comes Out As He Waits to be Drafted
Alan Gendreau is a 23-year-old former kicker for Middle Tennessee State and leading scorer in Sun Belt Conference history. After time away from the game, Gendreau would now like to approach the big leagues in as authentic a way as possible. That’s why he went public last week as a draft pick hopeful who is, incidentally, gay.
The following is a video interview released by Outsports, who first published Gendreau’s story:
Sadly, Gendreau didn’t get picked this time around.
“Just an FYI. I am NOT a part of the NFL draft. I am training right now with hopes of landing a tryout at a training camp in a couple months!” he wrote on Twitter.
The very fact, however, that he felt he could come out prior to draft selection and still be in with a shot at being signed speaks to the changing landscape within major league sports where gay inclusion is now regularly a part of media and, crucially, policy discourse.
3) Female Basketball Star Comes Out (And The Media Shrugs)
She’s one of women’s basketball’s most formidable players, but when Brittney Griner came out on Wednesday of last week, the media barely managed to muster a whisper.
Griner discussed her sexuality, never a secret but until now not spoken of on the media stage, in a Sports Illustrated interview, and you could be forgiven for missing the moment. For that reason, I’ve added emphasis:
SI Video host Maggie Gray: “Another big topic in sports recently is sexuality, especially with the NFL. In football it was rumored that maybe one or more players were going to come out — that would become huge news in the sports world and in general. In female sports, women’s sports, in the WNBA, players have already come out, and it’s really accepted. Why is there a difference between men and women in that issue?”
Brittney Griner: “I really couldn’t give an answer on why that’s so different. Being one that’s out, it’s just being who you are. Again, like I said, just be who you are. Don’t worry about what other people are going to say, because they’re always going to say something, but, if you’re just true to yourself, let that shine through. Don’t hide who you really are.”
The contrast between the breathless reporting surrounding Jason Collins and Alan Gendreau’s stories and Brittney Griner’s shows the odd frenzy around gay sportsmen that perhaps speaks to why until now male homosexuality and being part of t0p-flight sports have been treated like oil and water. This, even while a number of top-flight sportswomen, Sheryl Swoopes and soccer’s Megan Rapinoe for instance, have been free to saunter out of the closet without fanfare for quite a while now.
Griner is still making headlines though, but for different reasons: the Phoenix Mercury has chosen her as a top pick in the WNBA draft and she has earned herself a lucrative sponsorship deal…
4) Nike to Gay Players on Coming Out: Just Do It, We’ll Support You
In a sporting world where money talks, the fear has always been that an openly gay player — while supported by members of their teams and coaching staff — might lose out on sponsors and thus render them unpalatable for selection. Few companies display open hostility toward openly LGBT players but, without explicit statements advocating for gay players to come out, the idea has persisted. But not anymore.
Former Phoenix Suns executive Rick Welts, who came out in a New York Times piece in 2011, revealed that prior to his coming out, he informed Nike representatives in order to give them adequate time to prepare for subsequent media attention. Welts, now president of the National Basketball Association’s Golden State Warriors, said in a phone interview with Bloomburg at the beginning of April: “They made it clear to me Nike would embrace it.”
Welts then went on to say, “The player who does it [comes out], they’re going to be amazed at the additional opportunities that are put on the table, not the ones that are taken off.”
And, indeed, Welts’ assertion seems to be on the money.
While Brittney Griner might not have made big headlines for affirming her identity, she is making headlines for being the latest Nike sponsor signing, becoming the first openly gay Nike endorsed player.
So what’s making the difference?
Sponsors getting behind LGBT athletes is certainly a strong factor. Also, vocal straight allies from within the sporting sphere such as former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo and Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, have all contributed to setting a new standard in respectful and openly positive discourse surrounding LGBT players, and even wider issues like marriage equality.
Also, there is now a concerted effort among sports governing bodies to tackle issues surrounding anti-LGBT bias and gay inclusion, with the National Hockey League (NHL)’s continued involvement with the gay-affirming You Can Play Project, and the National Football League meeting with LGBT groups to open a dialogue about discrimination.
Now that Jason Collins has come out, a watershed moment by any standard, the conversation around LGBT athletes looks set to change forever, and what a way to round out a largely very positive month for gay inclusion in sports.