Gay athletes: 3 possible outcomes of coming out

What's going to happen if major league athletes start coming out? Photo: Kwame Harris

WASHINGTON, DC, March 31, 2013 - Despite the craziness of March Madness basketball, swirling around sports bars and basements, one decidedly different story is making itself known: A current NFL player is now considering coming out.

Prior to the Super Bowl, former NFL player Kwame Harris was publicly outed after having a physical altercation with a former boyfriend. Harris ignited some backlash from other players, most notably 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver, who reportedly said, “I don’t do the gay guys, man. I don’t do that.” (Culliver has since volunteered at the Trevor Project, a crisis intervention program for LBGTQ youth.) 

Although it’s not yet known if Harris’ situation prompted the current player, whose identity is still unknown to media outlets and the public, to begin discussions about coming out, the fact that he might be close is causing discourse in the sports world.

So what happens if gay athletes decide to stop hiding their sexuality? There are three possible scenarios that may occur. The difference between the three are the levels of tolerance exhibited by the masses of sports people.

1. Tolerance: Teammates and coaches, as well as fans, will support the athletes and not let sexual orientation take away from the enjoyment of the sport. In this situation, a player’s “coming out” will be as interesting as him going to the grocery store or filling his car with gas. It won’t matter. Guys will still rib each other in the locker rooms, only some of them will be making plans to go home to their husbands instead of their wives. Coaches won’t question the athleticism of the gay players because they will have proven themselves already. Fans will be talking about plays and scores instead of whispering behind their hands and debating whether or not to renew season tickets. Young kids will have less to fear by questioning their sexuality at the same time that they’re developing their curveball.

2. Over-tolerance: Gay athletes will be rightfully praised for their courage and honesty; however, straight teammates will become resentful. Athlete Ally, a growing resource group for athletes who support other athletes regardless of sexual orientation, posted this statement about how they plan to support the NFL player if and when he comes out. Immediately, gay and straight fans agreed wholeheartedly and vowed to make the gay player/s more popular and financially appealing to teams. That all sounds fine in theory, but a tide of resentment from straight players is bound to occur when the gay players get “rewarded” for something other than their skill and athleticism. Placing the gay athletes on pedestals in no less reverse-discriminatory than how revering straight players for their straightness would be discriminatory.

3. Backlash/no tolerance: Gay athletes will suffer the fate they feared all along — physical and emotional trauma inflicted by homophobic teammates, coaches, and fans. That fear is at the crux of professional, major-league athletes shying away from coming out. Friends of the currently-closeted NFL player have indicated that while he’s less worried about his teammates than he used to be, since locker-room conversations have begun to suggest tolerance, he is still very worried about fans who are anti-gay. Also, not all locker-rooms will be instantly gay-friendly, and unchecked hazing and blatant prejudice may, eventually, cause future athletes to remain quiet about their own sexuality.

Clearly, tolerance is on the country’s table right now, being debated and defended at kitchen tables, bleachers, and even the Supreme Court. If the unidentified NFL player, or a player from any of the other major league sports, decides to step proudly from the closet into the spotlight, American sports lovers, including athletes, coaches and fans, will have to decide how to behave. Sportsmanship will become a critical piece of every contest that involves a gay player, at least until it comes back in vogue to yell at officials or quarterback from the armchair

 


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Jenni McNamara

With over ten years’ experience in the youth sports as a parent, coach, administrator, and fan, Jenni McNamara has seen how good sportsmanship can positively affect kids and families, but also how poor sportsmanship can have a devastating impact on their physical and emotional health.

As a volunteer with USLacrosse, first on its Youth Council and now on its Board Development Committee, Jenni has seen a national trend toward integrating sportsmanship into activities at the youngest ages. Her company, CHILL Manager ™, provides tools for organizations looking to enhance their sportsmanship efforts.

She writes a blog on sportsmanship at www.chillmanager.blogspot.com and her training information can be found on her website: www.chillmanager.org.

 

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