Coming out as LGBT in sport has historically been difficult for athletes, especially professional athletes. But it shouldn’t be. There are plenty of examples of incredible LGBT athletes who have come out, with respect and dominating their sport, participating in major sporting events and hauling in medals. But why is it still hard for athletes to come out?
The news that former NFL lineman Ryan O’Callaghan had come out as gay a few weeks ago sent shock waves through the sporting world. In a video interview with OutSports’ Cyd Ziegler, O’Callaghan admits to contemplating suicide, saying he debated taking his life several times as a professional football player. Was this due to simply feeling like he didn’t fit in, or was this attributed to underlining homophobia in professional sports?
According to O’Callaghan, the National Football League is ready for a gay athlete. “I think teams are ready,” he said. “Guys just have to understand ‘he’s gay’. That doesn’t mean he wants to date you. He just wants to be your teammate. It’s not a big deal. It’s really not.”
“I hope that me coming out will lead to someone else much higher profile coming out. Coming out is not the end of the world.”
2013 and 2014 saw a wave of gay athletes come out. Basketball star Jason Collins became the first American professional athlete to come out. Robbie Rogers, professional soccer player, came out shortly after, followed by college football star Michael Sam. But were our dreams of more out players squashed when Sam was officially not drafted for the NFL? Why aren’t more professional athletes coming out?
Maybe it all lies in the culture. The St. Louis Cardinals professional baseball team recently announced that they will host their first Pride night on August 25, 2017. What should have been applauded by citizens of a fairly liberal city actually evolved into several irate fans taking to social media to show their disgust with their actions and to show disdain for allowing the LGBT community their own night (Star Wars Night, among other themed nights, are already permitted are now annual evenings at Bush Stadium, the Cardinals’ home arena).
In the post Obama world, where hate crimes, rhetoric, and actions are on the rise, is it that athletes are suddenly frightened again of losing their careers? Are they afraid of harassment? Are they scared that men won’t be able to idolize them in the same odd hetero normative way straight men worship their favorite male athletes? Or is it society unable to fully embrace the concept of a gay man being a strong sport professional?
Fear not. Outsports reports that the number of athletes, coaches, and sports administrators and media has gradually increased over the last few years. By the end of 2016, there were 46 college level athletes that were out as LGBT. The Chicago Cubs just displayed the first rainbow flag on a World Series Trophy at Chicago Pride. The NBA marched in NYC’s pride parade with straight ally and star Kevin Durant tweeting his support. The US Men’s Soccer team played in a Pride match in Utah and are set to auction off their rainbow-colored jerseys. And Mack Beggs, the Texas high school transgender boy who was forced to wrestle (and won the state championships) girls is the Grand Marshall of the San Antonio Pride Parade.
Maybe there is room for queer people in sports after all.