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Young Athletes Coming Out of the Closet

No player has ever publicly come out of the closet while playing in the NBA.

Everyone assumes it will happen one day.

But if you read David Wharton's L.A. Times article about young gay athletes, you get the sense that the first openly gay NBA player may well be someone who is out of the closet long before draft day. The article chronicles the experiences of several athletes who came out in high school or college, and cites a changing atmosphere:

A 2007 Gallup poll found that 57% of Americans viewed homosexuality as an "acceptable alternative lifestyle," an increase of 11 percentage points from four years ago. The percentage was higher among 18- to 29-year-olds.

Almost three-quarters of heterosexual adults said they would not change their feelings toward a favorite male athlete if he came out, according to a recent survey by Harris Interactive and Witeck-Combs Communications.

"It's not like the old days," said David Kopay, a former National Football League player who stirred controversy by announcing he was homosexual in 1975.

Back then, gay athletes felt compelled to keep quiet, fearing hostile locker rooms and coaches who might cut them from the team.

Like Kopay, others waited until retirement to come out. In baseball, there were former Dodgers Glenn Burke and Billy Bean; in football, Roy Simmons of the Washington Redskins and, five years ago, Esera Tuaolo of the Green Bay Packers.

John Amaechi revealed his sexual orientation in a recent autobiography, "Man in the Middle," published after he left the Utah Jazz of the National Basketball Assn. He sensed the change in attitude when he visited a Southern college campus during a promotional tour.

"A bunch of shirtless frat guys playing volleyball recognized me and started yelling," he said. "They were saying that they love what I'm doing."

Thanks to Kerry for the heads up.