Baseball and WNBA join anti-bullying campaign

This Spring, the NBA had a series of opportunities to think about homosexuality.

In April, Kobe Bryant was fined $100,000 for using a gay slur, ironically about the same time Grant Hill and Jared Dudley appeared in a PSA advising kids to keep the word "gay" out of their trash talk.

In May, Rick Welts, the president of the Phoenix Suns -- and, according to insiders, long a candidate to one day be NBA commissioner -- came out of the closet.

In the middle of all that, I asked David Stern why he thought it was that, in an era when people were out of the closet in nearly every walk of life, precisely zero of the roughly 3,600 men who have suited up in the NBA has ever come out of the closet during their playing days.

"I don't want to become a social crusader on this issue," Stern said, "but I think sports, male sports, has traditionally not been an inviting environment for gay men to identify themselves. But eventually ... we will get to a place where it is not an issue in sports."

Stern also predicted that there would be NBA players out of the closet: "It's going to be hard, but it'll happen, I have no doubt about it."

Simultaneously, the It Gets Better campaign, started the preceding November, really took off. Intended to lift the spirits of young LGBT people, it features all kinds of people, from your local gay chorus to Barack Obama, speaking into the camera and telling kids that distressing though it may be to be young and marginalized in a world of bullies and homophobes at school, life can and does get much happier. Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Adam Lambert, Anne Hathaway, Colin Farrell, Matthew Morrison of "Glee", Joe Jonas, Joel Madden, Ke$ha, Sarah Silverman, Tim Gunn, Ellen DeGeneres, Suze Orman, the staffs of The Gap, Google, Facebook, Pixar ... all kinds of people have contributed.

But it struck me that athletes have a special opportunity here. In the clumsy traditional stereotypes, the jocks fall in more with the bullies, right? They're the ones making it worse, as it were. So people like Hill and Dudley get to do something special. By piping up for treating all people, including LGBT people, with dignity, they're adding their two cents, and more. They're also communicating that even on the macho fringes of society, deep in the sports world where still nobody comes out of the closet, the LGBT community has friends. They're also role modeling civil behavior to young sports fans, some of whom may have the inclination to bully.

I never had the feeling that NBA players had some obligation to join the It Gets Better campaign, but it was always an idea with potential.

And apparently some people in baseball have been thinking the same way, inspired initially by a petition in San Francisco. Then a 12-year-old boy talked the Red Sox into making a video. The Orioles, the Cubs, the Giants are all on board. And now the Mariners have joined up with other professional athletes in Seattle, including the WNBA's storm, to make this video, that has the potential to mean a lot to young Seattle fans.

The NBA and its players have not, as far as I know, been part of this yet, but as baseball and the WNBA are showing, these are the kinds of things that were unthinkable two decades ago, but now happen every day.