It’s sort of remarkable that we still haven’t had a single recognizable gay athlete come out. After all these years, despite the country undeniably shifting to a “meh, who does it hurt?” attitude as it relates to equal rights for same-sex couples, not a single big name athlete from any of the major sports has come out of the closet. And we say that nobody has come out of the closet because, without a doubt, there are at least a few gay athletes in every sport right now.
According to a 2011 study by The Williams Institute, 1.7 percent of adults in the United States identify as gay. (All in all, 3.5 percent identify themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual.) So if we were to take that percentage of self-identifying gays in all of America and split it in half since the athlete pool is made up of a much smaller sample size – we’d get .85 percent. Round that up to one percent. Now compare that to the 0 percent of athletes who have come out during their playing days.
The math just doesn’t work. There are gay athletes out there, they’re just afraid to admit that they’re gay. And understandably so. Sports, for better or worse, is a macho thing. (Not really, but people think so.)The locker room is reserved for only the manliest of men and, thanks mostly to stereotypes, gay men apparently don’t qualify.
Nowhere is the need to put up a macho, tough guy front more prevalent than in pro football. So it would stand to reason that, if that’s the case, football players would be extra, really unwelcoming when it comes to the prospect of a gay teammate. Right? Wrong.
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Recently, OutSports conducted a set of interviews with a dozen players, all of whom said that they wouldn’t be at all opposed to having a gay teammate. Just a few blurbs:
“In the game of football, it’s like a war out there. Once you get out on the field, all that stuff is to the side. You’re on my side. I played in the NFL for 11 years, I’m sure there were at least one or two guys along the line that were gay.” - Jevon Kearse
“I just don’t care about that. If that’s what you do, that’s what you do. I don’t hate you because of it or dislike you because of it. That’s not my personal preference, but I respect your decision. I’m not going to like you less or not be your friend because of that.” – Eddie George
“As long as they competed on the field and gave it their all in practice, that’s all I care about. It’s not something that’s at the forefront of football. But especially at Stanford and in the Bay Area, it’s something you deal with on a regular basis, more so than anywhere else in the United States. So I’m very comfortable with it, whereas in other areas it might not be the norm.” – Coby Fleener
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“I never pay attention to it. They do what they do. I don’t have a problem with them. As long as they’re playing good football and contributing to the team, I don’t have nothing to do with that. It is what it is. I don’t have any problem with any sexuality or whatever they’ve got going on. That’s them. That’s what they want to do. That’s their life.” – Trent Richardson
So and so forth. OutSports has plenty of those sort of testimonials in their piece. And yet, even though the players that were interviewed showcased impressively tolerant stances, you have to wonder how real the picture of open-mindedness that you come away with after reading their responses actually is. Things are always easier in theory. A gay teammate is easy to deal with when you’re speaking in hypothetical terms. A gay teammate in reality, though, when he’s showering with the guys, or when he’s changing next to the ultra-religious dude who has a locker right by him, may not be met with the sort of welcoming attitude that was reflected in the article.
That’s the unfortunate reality. That’s why no brand name athletes have come out of the closet, despite the fact that we know they exist. Because they realize that, subconsciously, there are a lot more people who will treat them differently than would care to admit it in an interview with OutSports.
Still, all that said, this sort of stuff helps. No issue ever got resolved by not talking about it.
Make sure to check out this interesting interview that Cyd Zeigler, President of outsports.com, did with Amy K. Nelson of SB Nation on this very same topic: