Time For Pro Sports To Catch Up
Photo: Michal Zacharzewski
With the recent developments in the sports world, as far as retired and active players coming out of the closet, many high-profile LGBT individuals have been weighing in.
Ian McKellen, the famous actor who is often known for his outspoken and courageous comments concerning LGBT issues, made a recent statement to BBC radio about the presence of homophobia in professional sports.
“When it comes to the business of simply being honest about who they are,” he said. “Some of them [sports stars] become little shrinking violets because they're afraid, probably, of being booed from the terraces, and that must be a horrible experience, and shame on people who do it.”
McKellen also added that, “It ain't going to stop someone being a fantastic footballer because they're honest about their private lives, is it?”
And he’s right. It “ain’t” going to keep an athlete from playing a sport that he or she loves, or is extremely good at. I believe that the fear of teammate reaction, fan reaction, and sponsor reaction are the main reasons why closeted athletes remain closeted. And while the initial reaction may be one of shock and awe, it will dissipate. Do you think Tiger Woods is going to stay away from golf for the rest of his life because of the recent discoveries of his private life? I personally feel that an LGBT athlete would be far more respected and embraced than Woods’ was when he admitted to his numerous extra-marital affairs. Woods will eventually return to golf, and the bloggers and media bloodhounds will focus their energy on something else. Remember what happened with Kobe Bryant? It’s an afterthought now. He’s gone on to win another NBA Championship, and his sponsorship is as healthy as ever. I know you’ve seen his Nike commercials with LeBron James. And I know that when you are watching them, you don’t suddenly think about court hearings and rape allegations.
Don’t misunderstand me, as I’m not comparing what happened with Kobe and Tiger to an LGBT athlete coming out of the closet. My point is that what happens in a professional athlete’s personal life always takes second place to the sport. If an LGBT professional athlete were to come out of the closet, the “fallout” would only last so long before it, too became an afterthought. It works that way in every facet of our society, even in entertainment. Look at Ellen. Nobody watches her television show and says, “Yeah but she’s gay.”
And if they do, no one’s listening to them anyway. Her show is as popular as ever.
“The world is changing,” said McKellen. “And sport, I'm afraid, is very slow to catch up.”
But with more brave LGBT athletes like rugby player Gareth Thomas coming forward, professional sports will have no choice but to catch up and change with the rest of the world.
Blogger Bio: Lyndsey D'Arcangelo is a versatile writer, having experience as a journalist, copywriter, author, freelancer and blogger. She is the author of the Golden Crown Literary Society Award-winning book, The Trouble with Emily Dickinson (also a Lambda Literary Award finalist). Her recent novel, The Crabapple Tree, was published in May 2009. In addition to writing short stories and novels, Lyndsey also contributes regularly to a variety of national and local publications. (lyndseydarcangelo.com)