You should never be afraid to be yourself. After all, is a life spent living a lie truly a life at all? With the recent coming out of active NBA player Jason Collins, many questions have been brought up throughout the country. Is it the right time for someone to come out of the closet while still playing? Is he going to be shunned by teams based on him being truthful to who he is? Are his teammates going to accept him into the locker room? All these are valid and important questions, but perhaps the most important question has yet to be broached. Should sexuality, or a hetero or homosexual nature, have any place in sports? To me, this answer is no. Sports are sports, you can either play or you cannot. What you do off the field should have little effect on how you are perceived on it. However, things are not always as easy as they should be; a team’s locker room, front office personnel, and fan base can all play a part in how players are treated.
Enter into any professional locker room, and it plays like a scene in a badly written movie. Testosterone fills the air, along with the smell of the blood and sweat that put these men in a position to make a living playing a game. They are modern day gladiators, putting on a show for a public that pays to see them at their top form. Players don’t think twice about playing through pain or injuries; some just shoot themselves up to numb themselves to the pain, all for the greater good of the team. These men’s livelihood depends on the cohesiveness of the team, knowing that your teammates will sacrifice their personal glory for the greater good, because together everyone achieves more. However, when trust becomes an issue, everyone can suffer. I would say it would be better to be open and honest from the start, rather than living a lie and having to endure locker room talk that would probably be offensive. But, thinking everyone is heterosexual, could you blame them for speaking in an archaic way? I think everyone is guilty of speaking a little wildly when in the company of friends. Being accepted in a locker room is probably easier than we give a team credit for. In today’s day and age, I would argue almost everyone knows a gay person. The next hurdle for a player coming out is dealing with the team’s front office personnel, which has to deal with more than just winning games.
When a player prepares to come out, inevitably they will tell their coach, general manager and owner first. From there, the team has to formulate a plan to get ahead of the soon to come media wave. A good owner will stand with and for that player, because that is the right thing to do. Sometimes, things do not go as smoothly. For example, Giants manager Dusty Baker recently told a story about a teammate he had back in the day that he sure was gay. His name was Glenn Burke and many people credit him and Dusty for inventing the high five celebration. He never formally came out, was traded, and was eventually retired by the age of 27. Unfortunately, there are still some owners who would just rather get rid of a suspected problem than deal with it head on. Also, they have to deal with the headaches their players can cause them. When Collins came out, Mike Wallace of the Miami Dolphins tweeted about how he could not understand the decision to be with a man with so many beautiful women in the world. Even though Wallace did his best to try and back pedal, the team was forced to make a statement to the media about how they did not agree with Wallace’s statement. While it is refreshing to see organizations standing behind their players, the worst part of coming out in a professional sense may be the interactions with fans.
Buying a ticket to a sporting event affords the ticket holder certain opportunities. You may see your team win, you may see history being made, or you might even catch a foul ball. Too bad for the players, it also gives you a right to heckle, and fans can be merciless. Part of the fun of going to a live event is the feeling of being a part of a controlled mob. Everyone rooting for the home team, and cursing the opposing team. However, there are always going to be people who take things way too far. I would not be surprised if Jason Collins receives taunts that would make a sailor blush. Just having to endure that night after night is reason enough to keep it a secret. The only way unruly fans will change, is if fans start policing themselves. I know we have some protection under the first amendment, but there is such a thing as common decency. For the most part, fans are respectful of one another. The best example of that came in the wake of the bombings at the Boston Marathon. During a game at Yankee Stadium, the fans sang along to the song Sweet Caroline, which is notoriously sung at every Boston Red Sox home game. While this would have been considered blasphemy just a year ago, it paints a bigger picture of how sports can unite any group under a common goal.
In a perfect world, sexuality would be taken out of sports. The scantily clad cheerleaders would be gone from sidelines, as well as the ring card girls who serve no other purpose than to be objectified. Some might claim that these are traditions, and have been going on for over a century. To that, I would say traditions are meant to be broken. Not that long ago, it was tradition not to have anyone of color play baseball. It used to be tradition that Women could not vote. The thing that makes this country great is our willingness to adapt, to admit things are not wrong and change them. With that, I see no reason that, in time, sexuality will be a non-topic in terms of sports.