Male Athletes Aren't Ready for Gay Teammates
03-11-05 Revista de Prensa
Scott Soshnick is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
Nov. 3 (Bloomberg)
Sheryl Swoopes told the world she's gay, adding another household name to the swelling list of female athletes that goes back almost 30 years to former tennis star Billie Jean King.
Swoopes, the Most Valuable Player of the Women's National Basketball Association, made the announcement last week in conjunction with Olivia, which provides cruise vacations for lesbians. Golfer Rosie Jones and tennis great Martina Navratilova had already come out, each making it slightly easier for the next.
No such list exists for men. Why is it that the next male team-sport athlete to come out will be the first?
And while we're at it, would Most Valuable Player Steve Nash of the National Basketball Association's Phoenix Suns still draw pats on the rear if he were gay? What would happen to the NBA's LeBron James, the pitchman? Would Coca-Cola Co. and Nike Inc. still ask him to hawk their products? How many players would leap into the inviting arms of their gay teammate without giving it a second thought?
NBA Commissioner David Stern says that sexual orientation is a ``non-issue.''
``There'd be only one question: How many points, how many rebounds and what can you do for my team. It's about winning,'' Stern says.
In a world free of discrimination he'd be right. He's wrong in a world where athletes and sports executives such as John Rocker, Terrell Owens, Junior Seau, Reggie White, Jeremy Shockey, Matt Millen and Allen Iverson seem to have a problem with it. Each has publicly used a slur when referring to homosexuals.
Athletes toss around slurs like rolled-up wads of discarded tape. Among jocks, it's the ultimate insult to insinuate that someone might be gay, which is probably why no male athlete has ever come out while still in uniform. Former National Football League players David Kopay and Esera Tuaolo only told the truth about their lives in retirement.
``You know what Jackie Robinson went through?'' asked Malik Rose of the New York Knicks, referring to the abuse directed toward the first black player in Major League Baseball. ``That would pale in comparison to what the first openly gay athlete would face. Nobody would want to play with him, play against him, be in the same locker room with him.''
Mike Piazza of the New York Mets knew that, which is why he called a press conference in 2002 to squelch speculation that he was gay.
Leave 'Em Laughing
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld left millions laughing with his tag line about homosexuality: ``Not that there's anything wrong with that.'' The line works because so many people think there IS something wrong with it.
``It's the sad reality that in men's sports it would take a higher act of bravery to be as revealing about one's private life,'' says Val Ackerman, the former president of the WNBA. ``I'm not sure why.''
That's for sociologists to debate.
The locker-room truth, as told by Richard Jefferson of the New Jersey Nets, is that athletes shower and dress in communal spaces and that many would feel uneasy about doing so in front of a gay teammate.
The first openly gay male athlete will have to be a respected superstar, Jefferson said, likening it to Magic Johnson announcing that he had contracted the virus that causes AIDS. If there's an athlete thinking about coming out, Jefferson offered this how-to:
``You would have to approach your teammates and be like, `Look, this is who I am. I don't like any of you. I'm not trying to pick up on any of you,''' he said. ``Would it make people feel uncomfortable? Of course it would.''
You want uncomfortable? Take Kazuhito Tadano, a Japanese pitcher with the Cleveland Indians. He held a press conference last year, asking forgiveness because he appeared in a gay pornographic movie while in college. Still, Tadano wanted his teammates to know that he wasn't gay. He just needed the money, he said.
The more enlightened athletes, like Rose, Jefferson and A.J. Pierzynski of the World Series champion Chicago White Sox, say they'd welcome a gay teammate. Too many others decline to comment when asked about it.
``I don't care,'' Pierzynski says. ``They have the right to do what they want.''
As for Swoopes, she said it was time to stop pretending. She was tired of hiding her feelings for the person she cared about.
I wonder how many male athletes know exactly where Swoopes is coming from. I wonder if we'll ever know.