While the stigma of an openly gay athlete has long since passed in women's sports—thanks to the courage of women like Martina Navratilova a generation ago, Sheryl Swoopes nearly a decade ago and Megan Rapinoe today—we have yet to witness an active player in men's professional team sports announce that he is gay.
That time will come, though, and per a report from CBS scribe Mike Freeman, that time may be soon:
Based on interviews over the past several weeks with current and former players, I'm told that a current gay NFL player is strongly considering coming out publicly within the next few months —and after doing so, the player would attempt to continue his career.
I'm told this player feels the time is now for someone to take this step.
Freeman went on to explain that his sources told him the player who is thinking about coming out is reluctant to do so because of how the public will treat him (i.e. how fans will react), not because of how he will be treated in an NFL locker room.
Please, if you think the time is right to come out, do it. There are more people than ever willing to accept, defend and celebrate you. It's time for sports to catch up to the rest of society.
I'm not naive enough to think there isn't homophobia in the NFL—with fans and within the locker room—but there is also tolerance.
Last year, when the state of Maryland voted to allow same-sex marriage, Baltimore Ravens players Matt Birk and Brendon Ayanbadejo were on very different sides of the decision. The NFL media has made Ayanbadejo into something of a cult hero for his outspoken stance.
At the start of the NFL season, the San Francisco 49ers were the first team to produce an "It Gets Better" public service announcement focused on LGBT youth. Before the Super Bowl, 49ers defensive back Chris Culliver found himself embroiled in controversy after his anti-gay comments made international news.
Culliver's remarks were widely rebuked. Feeling the immediate pressure, he apologized for his statements and—with the 49ers spin machine in full gear—promised to undergo sensitivity counseling after the season.
Culliver has made good on his promise, spending a day in March with The Trevor Project, a Los Angeles organization that helps LGBT and questioning youth, specifically those at-risk.
It should be noted that in February, however, the 49ers had another public relations gaffe when the "It Gets Better" campaign pulled the team's ad after two players in the video denied their involvement, stating they had no idea what the commercial was for.
Clearly, this is a work in progress, but the time has never been better for a player to take this leap.
Is there any rational mind that believes as long as no player comes out to proclaim his homosexuality, the possibility of a gay player ceases to exist?
A few weeks ago, I heard a caller on local sports talk radio—I know, not always the bastion of level-headedness—tell the host he hopes no player comes out because he, the caller, didn't want to have to deal with it.
He didn't want to have to explain what that meant to his family, or deal with the issue of that gay player, perhaps, being on a team for which he likes to cheer. He was, pardon the expression, undressed by the host, pilloried for his antiquated viewpoints and lampooned for even daring to make someone else's struggle with their hidden sexuality about them.
We live in a society where nature versus nurture is somehow still up for debate.
We live in a society where people still believe that homosexuals have a choice on how they feel; that they are sinners if they act on sexual urges toward an individual of the same sex.
We live in a society where, despite the amazing strides taken in support of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual and transgender Americans, many people still find those people repulsive, immoral and unworthy of the basic civil rights as those who cohabitate with a member of the opposite sex.
Still, through all the struggles and all the prejudices and all the reasons not to live an open and honest lifestyle, more and more LGBT Americans continue to make the courageous choice to come out of the shadows.
Every one of you helps the next.
Former United States soccer international player Robbie Rogers recently retired from the game, announcing he was gay in his note about the decision. His eloquently worded statement read, in part (via RobbieHRogers.com):
For the past 25 years I have been afraid, afraid to show whom I really was because of fear. Fear that judgment and rejection would hold me back from my dreams and aspirations. Fear that my loved ones would be farthest from me if they knew my secret. Fear that my secret would get in the way of my dreams.
Rogers wrote about how much internal damage keeping secrets can do to a person, and how playing soccer, the game that defined him for much of his adult life, helped mask his true identity.
Now, after injuries derailed a promising career on the field, Rogers decided, at just 25 years old, to leave the game behind, saying, "I realized I could only truly enjoy my life once I was honest."
Rogers has been universally lauded after his announcement, with some lamenting the fact that he felt he needed to make the statement at the time of his retirement and not while he was still playing the game.
It's coming soon, surely.
Being gay in America comes with far less of a stigma than ever before, at least in popular culture and most progressive facets of society.
Legally speaking, the rights afforded because of one's sexual disposition are still up for debate, reaching the Supreme Court just this week. As politically charged as any decision can be, the court is split on how to handle the decision of making same-sex marriage a federal law.
Surely it's difficult to extract oneself from taking a side on the politically charged topic of same-sex marriage, but the general acceptance of letting someone live his life—as gay or not, in this particular instance—seems a tad more basic than that.
Should people be denied their unalienable rights to live their lives freely and openly?
Moreover, should a player of a professional American team sport still, in 2013, be concerned about the public's backlash when he announces to the world something he has known about himself for, presumably, most of his life?
For who? For the fans? For those people who feel their religion or morality or righteousness gives them the authority to judge someone else's sexual orientation?
For them? Please.
When that first player comes out and pulls back the curtain on a life he has felt the need to hide for years, he shouldn't do it for them. He should do it for himself.
He should do it for the countless other players who will come out after him, and for the thousands upon thousands of LGBT youths who will be inspired by that decision. Those people—and players like Ayanbadejo or Chris Kluwe or Scott Fujita (who has been outspoken on the matter)—will embrace you.
I can't pretend to know what the gay player referenced in the CBS report is going through. Announcing your homosexuality is a bell that cannot be un-rung, so this advice does not come flippantly.
But it's time.
If we are to the point where national writers like Freeman are talking to current players about their gay teammates, we are closer to that day than ever before.
So, to whoever is contemplating this announcement, go ahead and jump. There are enough of us here to catch you, and we promise to hold you up for as long as you need.
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