“Aww, hell no! I don’t want any faggots on my team,” said Garrison Hearst, former San Francisco 49ers running back, after Esera Tuaolo, a 10-year National Football League veteran, came out in 2002.
Sports reflect culture, popular sports are indicators of a societies’ status. Can the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community coexist in professional sports? Garrison Hearst does not seem to think so. Neither does Jeremy Shockey, Allen Iverson, John Rocker, Todd Jones and Jason Williams, just some of the athletes that have publicly expressed anti-gay views. They are proof that stars can be dim.
On deck are a generation of open-minded athletes, ready to bat away lingering, ignorant personalities who fan homophobia in men’s sports. Dozens of former and active players for the NFL recently gathered for the press and expressed a refreshing indifference to gay athletes.
“I don’t really care,” said San Francisco 49ers running back LaMichael James to Outsports. “As long as they help us win on Saturday and Sunday, what they do between (those days) is their business.”
Nike continues to support gay rights and publicly states the idea of endorsing an openly gay athlete when the right one comes along. Ignorance and discrimination has always existed in sports but the stage is set for humanity to push back.
“We must respect the choices made by anyone, because, after all, all citizens should have the exact same rights and responsibilities,” said international soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo, a Nike spokesperson.
“Don’t ask, don’t tell” has always been a locker room mentality. Gay athletes have had to pretend to be something they were not due to homophobia in the steamy dens of masculinity where men strap on their jocks and hit the fields, courts and ice of America’s gladiatorial arenas. Showering, femininity and team chemistry are issues expressed by homophobic figures in sports, but democratic living compells us to collaborate with people from different cultures and wash away the ugly stereotypes pinned on the gay community.
Women have been more enlightened about gays in sports. Megan Rapinoe, midfielder for the United States women’s national soccer team, came out before the Olympics. The 27-year-old made headlines, but little ripple.
Americans have been slowly embracing their gay brothers and sisters for the last three decades. Orlando Cruz, a celebrated Puerto Rican boxer, recently came out and was received by a loving crowd.
Still, the number of openly gay athletes is slim. With the right high-profile athlete change would be at our doorstep. The right athlete could start a powerful movement and make a difference, especially one from the alpha-male sports that dominate the market.
It took Fernando Valenzuela’s vicious screwball to give Latinos a powerful presence in baseball. It will take someone greater to give the LGBT community the same presence, and ultimately place in sports.
It will be a continuing battle for the LGBT community in sports, as collision with homophobia cannot be avoided those battles will shape the fully integrated and progressive society we strive to live in.
The Give & Go can be reached at TheSWCGiveandGo@gmail.com.