By Ken Reed
There have been a lot of words written in the last week about the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality and the impact it will have on the country.
For the most part, the sports world has been silent on the matter. Nevertheless, I think it’s important to consider the impact this ruling might have on the traditionally homophobic sports world.
I hope the marriage equality ruling will help push college and pro sports organizations to be more open to gay and lesbian athletes. I also hope it will spur more active LGBT athletes — at all levels — to come out of the closet, be true to themselves, and live authentically. In addition, I hope this all happens quickly.
However, my guess is that social progress in the traditionally conservative world of sports will continue to be slow.
In a piece for The Atlantic, Matt Schiavenza touched on the homophobia that’s long been part of SportsWorld:
“Homophobia in sports has deep roots. In the 1980s, the Los Angeles Dodgers reportedly offered Glenn Burke, a player widely believed to be gay, $75,000 to marry a woman. Two decades later, the retired NBA player John Amaechi described rampant homophobia among his former teammates and the relative indifference of league authorities. Even in the absence of traditional gay bashing, players encounter an extremely heteronormative environment when entering the world of professional sports. At the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, a venue for prospective amateur players to try out in front of professional executives and scouts, teams reportedly asked the players whether they were married or had a girlfriend.”
With the retirement of Jason Collins from the NBA, the four major professional sports leagues in the United States — NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB — don’t have any active openly gay athletes.
Robbie Rogers, an openly gay soccer player for Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles Galaxy, believes gay athletes are still afraid to come out. He hopes the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality helps to change that.
“There’s obviously a problem,” says Rogers.
“It obviously shows that they (male athletes) are afraid to be themselves and be able to talk about their relationships and be open about that stuff.
“That being said, I think a lot of LGBT youth grow up thinking there’s something not quite right with them. That they’re not the same as their brothers and sisters, that they’re I guess a little bit different. At one point, the government kind of supported that, those concerns. We weren’t equal citizens in our own country. So now that our government backs us. I think that helps the LGBT youth think of themselves as equal citizens, that they are just like their brothers and sisters and their parents and can find someone they love and start a family. I think that’s a huge step.
“For the younger generation, I think it won’t really be an issue with them. I think going into sports they’ll be more willing to be out athletes and be themselves, but maybe my generation, or the older generation, it’s a little more difficult for them to take that step in the sports world.”
ESPN’s Kate Fagan did a nice job explaining the current challenge facing gay athletes:
“Right now, one of the biggest obstacles to a male athlete coming out publicly is the fact so few male athletes — and none in the four major sports — are out publicly. Think of it like this: being a gay athlete today requires you to carry an extra burden. You’ll be inundated with media attention, asked for your opinion when anything ‘gay’ happens and asked to serve as a spokesperson in various capacities. The fewer out athletes, the heavier that burden is. Imagine carrying a table — alone. But as athletes come out, that burden becomes less and less until, someday, it’ll be more like just placing a hand under the table and moving it along, the weight negligible because so many are helping.
“And then perhaps, one day, the table will no longer exist at all.
“Of course, we’re not there yet. Not even close.”
For all gay athletes, young and old, who suffer emotionally and spiritually by hiding who they are, let’s hope the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality helps move the sports world a little closer to Fagan’s vision.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #10 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: An Issues Discussion With Paul Dolan – Dolan is the Cleveland Indians Owner and CEO. He discusses the use of Native American names and logos by sports teams and the decisions to drop the Chief Wahoo logo and the upcoming change to the team name. Other baseball topics include health and safety, possible MLB rule changes and youth participation in the sport.
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Episode #9 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Talking Sports Issues With Ralph Nader – Nader is a consumer advocate and was named one of the “100 Most Influential Americans of the 20th Century” by Time magazine. He is the founder of League of Fans.
Episode #8 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Save College Sports From Overcommercialization and Professionalization? – The guest is Dr. David Ridpath, a sports business professor and past president of the Drake Group
Episode #7 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Brain Trauma and CTE Risk in Sports With Dr. Ann McKee – Dr. McKee works in the field of neuropathology and has demonstrated that “mild” repetitive head trauma can provoke chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a devastating neurodegenerative disease.
Episode #6 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Need for Quality Physical Education in Our Schools is Greater Than Ever – The guest is Clayton Ellis, one of our nation’s leading advocates for getting our young people to be more physically active.
Episode #5 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Youth Sports with Positive Coaching Alliance Founder Jim Thompson – Thompson started Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) in 1998 to help create a movement to transform the culture of youth sports from “win-at-all-costs” to a positive, character-building experience.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
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