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’m hopeful.

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


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