The Taboo of Sports: Gay Athletes

Kelly CrandallSenior Writer ISeptember 16, 2008

"The NBA locker room was the most flamboyant place I've every been. Guys flaunted their perfect bodies. They bragged about sexual exploits. They primped in front of the mirror, applying cologne and hair gel by the bucketful. They tried on each other's $10,000 suits, admired each other's rings and necklaces. It was an intense camaraderie that felt completely natural to them. Surveying the room I couldn't help chuckling to myself: And I'm the gay one."

With those comments from NBA player John Amaechi in his extensive interview with ESPN the magazine, it opened a floodgate of thoughts and responding articles. Amaechi had just written a book not only about his days playing basketball but revealing his sexuality. When you look at the Amaechi story at first glance it's just another athlete coming out after his career has ended.

Why do professional athletes wait until after they've signed the retirement papers to reveal their sexuality? And feel the need to do so by authoring a book?

In an article by Jet Gardner in June of 2006 titled How Many Current Professional Athletes Are Gay? he stated "I was appalled to discover most had to wait until after their careers were over."

Esera Tuaolo who said "What John did is amazing" has also authored a book about his playing in the NFL and hiding his sexuality. He was quoted as saying he was "Terrified that if someone discovered his secret he would lose everything he had worked so hard to achieve."

It's hard to understand why these men found it hard to be open with the people (teammates, coaches, owners) they spend so much time with, people whom they consider their friends and even family. In today's American society with celebrities/athletes it is all about making an impression and living the life of luxury, even if most of the time that life is a lie. That lie includes big buff bodies, lots of women and tons of money. Sounds like a stereotype to me.

With the way the schedules work in professional sports you may be on the road more than you're home. You spend more time sleeping in hotel rooms than your own bedroom and might see your team members more than your family.

These are the times when close bonds are formed but not close enough to share the most important thing in your life. It's the fear of rejection and humiliation from those around them and maybe even the fans, the people who look up to them.

The fear of not what the people may think of you but what they may do to you. Maybe even that you could be the greatest player in the world but once your outed you now unemployed.

How would one react to your hero's deepest secret?

In 1998 Paul Priore the clubhouse assistant manager for the New York Yankees, filed a lawsuit against pitchers Jeff Nelson and Mariano Rivera along with former pitcher Bob Wickman, saying he was humiliated with gay-bashing remarks, harassed and threatened with sexual assault. He also said that he was fired because he had contracted the AIDS virus.

In November of 2002 Garrison Hearst of the San Francisco 49ers made the comment, "Aww, hell no! I don't want any faggots on my team. I know this might not be what people want to hear, but that's a punk. I don't want any faggots in this locker room."

It sounds like insecurity but comments like Hearst's are not few and far between. Sterling Sharpe a former teammate to Esera Tuaolo all but admitted that an openly gay player would be gay-bashed by teammates and that "If the guys found out another player was gay on Monday, he wouldn't be able to play on Sunday."

Why? What makes it so horrible to have a homosexual on your team? You're all there for the same reason, to play the game not discuss your personal lives and what makes it any different if you knew they're openly gay or made them hide it?

"Question my heart, question my ability, but do not question my machoism," said Sharpe.

If that's the unwritten rule then are we, as sports fans taught you need to be tough. Remember the Snickers commercial from 2007 when two men accidentally kissed and then they needed to do something "manly" and proceeded to tear out their chest hair. The message being sent to millions of people and young children around the world seems to be "gay is not the way."

However Martina Navratilova, an openly gay athlete, said she feels it's important for athletes to come out because of an epidemic of suicides among young lesbians and gays. "It's hugely important for the kids so they don't feel alone in the world. We're role models. We're adults, and we know we're not alone but kids don't know that."

Although when you turn on any sporting events your going to hear about the famous wives or girlfriends and the touching family stories of your heroes. Not the boyfriend in the background. But if you're looking for a manly hero and someone who was gay, then look no further then Mark Bingham.

The name may not sound familiar but it should be. Bingham was a gay man who played rugby in San Francisco and he was one of the forty passengers who fought to take back United Airlines Flight 93 on September 11, 2001. The plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania instead of its intended target. Today Bingham is considered a hero and you all thank he and the others who have kept you free. It sounds hypocritical to gay bash him in one breath then respect his heroism in the next.

Fans and teammates may do the same to athletes but if that player led you to the Super Bowl in the NFL, the World Series in the MLB, the Finals of the NBA or maybe even the U.S. Open or Wimbledon, they would be your icon.

In 21st Century sports and for what seems like a while to come we probably won't be seeing any openly gay athletes still playing their beloved sport. There's a certain way we view our idols -straight- and unfortunately it's the only way that seems acceptable. However there is room for improvement.

Both basketball players Shavlik Randolph and Steven Hunter said they would be fine with a gay teammate. "As long as you don't bring your gayness on me I'm fine," Randolph stated. "As far as business-wise, I'm sure I could play with him. But I think it would create a little awkwardness in the locker room."

Hunter then said "As long as he doesn't make any advances toward me I'm fine with it. As long as he comes to play basketball like a man and conducted himself like a good person, I'd be fine with it."

Hey, it's a start.