The Openly Gay Athlete, Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog
If you have read any stories about gay athletes in professional sports you would certainly know about it. That’s because no matter how often it has been stated, any article that mentions a gay athlete will state that he is “gay” or even “openly gay,” as if telling you he is gay is not enough. I guess if you tell the press you are gay, then you are pretty open about it, and you certainly can’t take it back. Reporters follow around openly gay athletes just for the purpose of asking them what it is like to be openly gay and play ______ (fill in the sport here). I wish just once the athlete would respond that it is the same as being “openly heterosexual.”
Perhaps they should ask the reporter what it is like to be “openly heterosexual” and asking the same stupid questions. Of course, that would be stereotyping sports reporters as straight and we certainly do not want to jump to conclusions. Maybe someday we will have an openly gay sports reporter, but I digress.
You can point to many sports and talk about the one gay athlete, and it is usually just one brave person who has spoken up. Michael Sam created such a stir when he was drafted by the St. Louis Rams that an ESPN sports reporter actually reported on his shower habits in the preseason. Seriously, “google” it. It must still be in cyberspace. ESPN later apologized.
Jason Collins was the first openly gay basketball player in the NBA causing big “sports” news, and Brittney Griner is a lesbian professional basketball player. Griner married another WNBA player in 2015. All of this means these players will from now on be referred to as that “openly gay player.”
If people think these players are among the first gay players in the sport, they can think again. Hall of Fame basketball player and current television analyst Charles Barkley was asked by sports host Dan Patrick if he ever played with a gay player and got this surprising response, “Yeah, of course I did. Everybody did. Everybody played with a gay teammate, Dan, and it’s no big deal.” Maybe it is no big deal to most teammates but it sure seems to be a big deal to reporters.
Soccer has Robbie Rogers of the Los Angeles Galaxy. Boxing has featherweight Orlando Cruz. Professional wrestling has Darren Young but I always consider that as acting rather than a sport, and there are plenty of gays in acting. Ice skater Johnny Weir came out in 2011 after indicating for a long time that his sex life was a private matter. In his case, no one was surprised when he came out. He has since retired from the sport.
Some well-known athletes in other countries have come out and have not faced the constant barrage of gay questions. Twenty two year old British diver Tom Daley, well-known to the British public most of his young life, famously came out at the age of 19. While it caused a bit of stir at first, that a national diving champion came out on You Tube, the press seems to have moved on after a short period of curiosity. Here they would have hounded the poor boy constantly.
Despite the media circus surrounding gay athletes, the major sports seem to want to prove that they are inclusive and welcoming to gay athletes. Of course, it is hard to do that when athletes are reluctant to come forward. If everyone has had gay teammates as Charles Barkley suggests, then there must be many who are afraid to say anything, and work to keep their private life completely private. Such was the case for professional baseball player, Billy Bean.
Major League Baseball, despite its long history, has only had two former players publicly state they are gay. One was Glenn Burke who died in 1995 and the other is Billy Bean, now 53. Bean regrets walking away from baseball after a couple of years with the Tigers and Dodgers, a year in Japan, and some time with the Padres, but he was tired of hiding who he was. It wore him down as he explained in his book, Going the Other Way: Lessons from a Life In and Out of Major League Baseball. He had no idea how to reach out for help dealing with his secret while he was a player. He also had no idea that major league baseball would one day reach out to him.
In June of 2014 MLB summoned Bean to a meeting in New York City to ask him about his experiences and to talk about baseball. Bean went and talked for hours as detailed by sports writer Ken Rosenthal in his FOX Sports column, How Billy Came Back to Baseball. The sport that had trouble welcoming Jackie Robinson and other black players did not want to be seen as the sport afraid to welcome gay players, so they reached out to Bean. Billy had, after all, written a book on his experiences and what he learned from them, and was also a speaker to LGBT groups. In fact, Billy was speaking at a LGBT Sports Summit in Portland, Oregon when he got the call from Major League Baseball.
When Bean learned they had a role for him in baseball he did not seem to immediately embrace the idea. “I’m not going to be your token gay person that you’re just going to put on a podium,” he kept telling them. They got it. Bean said if he had someone to reach out to when he was playing, he might not have quit. So now, Bean will be that person. He will be the Ambassador for Inclusion. To honor the league’s workplace code of conduct, to provide education and outreach, to speak and to listen, Billy Bean will be there because no one was there for him. If you ask him now, he will probably tell you “It Gets Better.”