|Thursday, May 24
|Sports world still a struggle for gays|
By Bill Konigsberg
It's easy for people to play "What if" games when dealing with an issue such as homosexuals in sports. The fact is, since no male figure in one of the four major team sports ever has revealed himself to be a gay, at least while still playing, we simply don't know, and guessing is the only tool we have.
It's frustrating, because gay athletes do exist. Former umpire Dave Pallone, who was kicked out of baseball allegedly for being gay, contends that you could create a very good all-star team out of gay players. Likewise, a columnist in the Providence Journal recently wrote, regarding Brendan Lemon's story about his boyfriend the major league player, that there is no correlation between sexuality and the ability to hit a baseball, throw a football, etc.
So why are we still here at step one, with nary a gay male athlete to look up to? I can answer that one: It's scary. It's scary to step out on a ledge where no one has been before.
As a gay man who has worked in sports since 1994, I know something about this.
My way of dealing with this has been a personal "Don't ask, don't tell" policy, for the most part. Since I am nonstereotypical, people seem not to know, and people don't ask about my private life. That works for me, since I'd prefer not to talk about it at work. Unfortunately, people also then assume that I am heterosexual. So what does an honest person do? I'm an honest man, I do not lie about it, yet ironically by not saying anything I sometimes feel dishonest. Basically, my choice is either to correct people, or simply say nothing. I've done the latter. Until now.
It's funny, because there are many, many great athletes who happen to be gay. I can vouch for this, having been several times to the Gay World Series (an event held by the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Association). Watching top-division teams play, it's hard to say they aren't playing at a minor-league level, just softball instead of baseball.
So what's the big deal? A gay sports editor is not really newsworthy. I agree. But here's my point: Being gay in sports shouldn't be a big deal, but until someone does it publicly and shows they can do their job, do it well, and be known as gay, it simply will be a big deal. Before we can say it doesn't matter, we have to accept the fact it exists.
While there is no way to compare the African-American experience with the experience of being gay, it's similar in that both communities have had to overcome barriers. These days, it doesn't matter what color your third baseman's skin is. But 50 years ago it was a different story. The barrier had to be broken to make the issue go away.
So we wait. We wait for the day that some professional male athlete decides that being honest about who they are is worth the certain repercussions of coming out, whatever they are. But until it happens, remember that not all people in sports are heterosexual. Since it is estimated that approximately 10 percent of our society is basically homosexual, it can't be assumed the percentage in pro sports is zero. Remember it's not easy, being out in uncharted territory. And remember, too, that we're all people, no matter what.
Bill Konigsberg is an assistant editor at ESPN.com.
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