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October 17, 2012

Coming Out as a Gay Athlete, Part Deux

Although I posted about this topic previously, there's a lot to say on it, so here's my second round (of...many?) with thoughts on coming out as a gay athlete in today's sports culture.

I guess it should come as no surprise that my current WIP features a jock. What can I say? What with Man-to-Man Coverage (parts one and two) and Into the Deep (in MLR Press's Going for Gold anthology), athletes just seem to be a thing with me. ;) With that said, the fact that there's no professional athlete who is gay and out is mind boggling.  I'm about to go math geek on you all, so please bear with me. *shameless grin*

Let's look at the percentages, shall we?

As far as I can tell, there's no real pinpointed data on how many LGBT people there are in the U.S., but I've seen estimates of anywhere from two percent to upwards of twenty.  Setting that aside for a sec, even more telling is to look at the number of professional athletes out there.

NBA (basketball, for those of you not versed in professional sports acronyms): 360-450 players*
NHL (hockey): 690-1500*
MLB (baseball): 750-1200*
NFL (football): 1696
*These numbers depend on whether you consider contracted and eligible-for-the-roster athletes (versus actually on the roster athletes) as professional players or not.

Okay, so even taking the lower end of those numbers, there are at least around 3500 professional male athletes out there.  And, again, NONE of them is an "out" gay athlete. How is this possible?  If we took the most conservative two percent estimate, that would mean that at least seventy gay athletes are closeted because of...the real or perceived negative reactions they expect to receive were they to come out as a gay athlete.

Normally, I'd point now to the progress that we've seen in professional athletes' thoughts on having a gay teammate and their support of gay rights.  In fact, I found a ton of articles with interviews for my previous post on this topic.  Since that time, there were even more supportive articles, most notably, in my opinion, NFL player Chris Kluwe's editorials on the subject of gay rights and gay marriage.  Just take a gander at his brilliant, funny, insightful, and scathing letter defending a fellow NFL player's support of gay marriage and his later witty, eloquent, and totally on point post for the Minnesota blog.  Note that Kluwe was also featured in OUT Magazine with a *fans self* scorchingly hot picture accompaniment.  With all of the publicity his letters and NFL players received for speaking out positively in favor of LGBT rights, it would seem the tides were turning.

But then a baseball player for the Toronto Blue Jays, shortstop Yunel Escobar, very publicly wore an anti-gay slur on his eye black for all the world to see. And the MLB said they were "investigating" this action.  And so I thought, Wow, maybe this is the time for professional sports to take a gay-friendly stance!

Nope.  Escobar was suspended for three games.

Three games.  In a sport where the regular season runs 162 games. To put that into perspective, the NFL season is 16 games, and the equivalent would be to suspend an NFL player for approximately one QUARTER of one game. That doesn't send a gay-friendly message; it sends an "I guess we should do something about this, but it's clearly not too important to us" one.

So after what felt like a positive leap forward with NFL players stepping up to support gay marriage, LGBT rights, and being open to having a gay teammate, professional sports, in my opinion, took two steps back when it (1) failed to chastise Escobar's absolutely ridiculous claim that it was "just a joke" and (2) then proceeded to give him the equivalent of a "haha, boys will be boys" slap on the wrist.

I'm feeling very conflicted about professional sports right now.

Hoping that "boys will be boys" eventually will be interpreted to mean boys will be tolerant and accepting,


  1. Hi, Nico.
    Maybe if Chris Kluwe and others like him continue to indicate support for these individuals, the closeted athletes will be confident of acceptance without negative consequences.
    I'm sure many would like to emerge and live their lives openly.
    If the guy next to you in the locker room today is a great player and a friend, what difference does it make if he declares himself? He's still the same guy. Does it matter who he chooses to be with?
    Progress is slow, but I think it's coming along.

    1. Hi there, Whitley! I totally agree, and that's the message coming across in most of these interviews. Players don't care as long as the other athlete is still playing well. His LGBT status doesn't interfere with others' lives. With the positive press Kluwe received, I hope that things move forward instead of backwards. The MLB really disappointed me with their reaction to Escobar, though.