Acceptance of Gay Athletes Increasing?

Onalee CarsonCorrespondent IOctober 9, 2008

Casually flipping through the Sept. 29 issue of Sports Illustrated, you may or may not have caught the blurb about the new reality show on LogoShirts & Skins.

The show follows a gay basketball team, The Rockdogs, what the typical reality confessionals.  While the topics expected to come out of this show concern homosexual issues at hand for non-athletes, SI writer Adam Duerson writes, "the Rockdogs have talent, and the show's basketball action is strong." The producers of Shirts & Skins may know something the rest of us don't—is the sports world becoming more accepting of homosexual athletes?

Not so fast.

According to, a website dedicated to becoming the most informative gay sports community, recently published an article starting that out of the 10,708 athletes of the Beijing Olympics, only 10 are publicly gay. 

Considering the number of homosexuals in the entire population, doesn't this number seem unusually low? writer Jim Buzinski makes it clear that those 10 athletes are the only ones determined to be "publicly out" or "having discussed their sexuality openly in some manner."

However, Buzinski suggests that if the percentage of homosexuals in sports mirrors that of the entire population, the number of gay athletes who participated in the Beijing Olympics should have been between 107 and 1,070 athletes (the percentage of homosexuals within the entire population is between two and ten percent.)

It is clear that the low amount of "publicly gay" athletes at the Olympics may be due to a still hostile sports world where homosexuality isn't accepted—but those numbers don't seem to match either.

In 2005, Sports Illustrated released a poll about homosexuality in sports in which 979 people among the general population were interviewed. None of the information collected in this poll seemed to jump out in a negative way—no overwhelming consensus banning gay athletes from the world of sports.

While 78 percent agreed that it is okay for gay athletes to participate in sports, even if they are open about their sexuality, 68 percent did say that it would hurt an athlete's career if he or she was openly gay.

Now the Beijing numbers are making sense (it is hard to believe that the numbers from the SI poll would change the dramatically over three years.)

While there isn't a movement to discriminate gay athletes who participate in sports, there seems to be discouragement against being open about one's sexuality. 

But is that any different than an athlete's shenanigans off the field negatively affecting our view of him or her?  While this seems to be another debate along the lines of whether an athlete's private life should be of any interest to fans, it's interesting that the way we're exposed to publicly gay athletes is not through the sports clips, but through a reality show.