What a difference a year makes! Last summer there were no out gay men in professional team sports. Suddenly there are two, each of whom has made a significant difference in the national conversation. Professional athletics, especially male teams, is one of the last closets to be pried open.
Former Baltimore Raven and outspoken LGBT ally Brendon Ayanbadejo indicated that at least four gay NFL players were considering coming out as a group and had talked to him about strategy. Before that could happen, NBA star Jason Collins and soccer player Robbie Rogers boldly burst the doors open.
Collins became the first non-retired, publicly out man on a professional team just a month ago. Coming out in a long interview in Sports Illustrated, he spoke eloquently about the crippling power of the closet and the desire to be accepted as a complete human being. Reactions were all over the map, but generally positive. With a couple of notable exceptions, other NBA players have been very supportive, setting the stage for more out basketball players in the near future.
Barely a week ago, Robbie Rogers broke two barriers. Signing with the LA Galaxy, he became the first out major league soccer player. The very next day, he joined his team on the field, becoming the first publicly out gay man to play a team sport. As with Collins, other than some grumbling from the usual “Family Values” groups, Rogers has seen nothing but support.
The courage of these two men does nothing to diminish the many out athletes that came before them. Tennis stars Renée Richards and Martina Navratilova were early out players. Baseball’s Glenn Burke was out to his team while still playing — to the detriment of his career. David Kopay, Billy Bean, and John Amaechi all came out not long after retiring from football, baseball, and basketball respectively. Every out voice counts!
The macho image of male team sports has contributed to the long-standing homophobia in that arena. Collins and Rogers, building on the brave men and women who preceded them, have helped change that dynamic. Let’s hope that soon there will be too many out players to list casually. Until then, every move forward must be celebrated.