Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Imagine…The First Openly Gay Male Professional Athlete

I found this video on YouTube while casting about trying to decide what to write about this morning. It is a fictional account of the first openly gay professional baseball player. Sean Chapin, who put the video together, uses almost verbatim commentary from news accounts and reactions to the first Black professional baseball player in (white) professional baseball, Jackie Robinson to imagine what the reaction to the first openly gay baseball player might be. It is an interesting comparison of racism in 1947 and heterosexism/homophobia in 2009 in men’s professional sport. Listen to the language. Listen to the fear and hatred expressed.

I wonder if the first openly gay professional baseball player would be greeted with the same level of hatred and prejudice that Jackie Robinson endured in 1947. I’d like to believe that the John Rockers and Tim Hardaways of the professional sports world are increasingly in the minority. I’d like to believe that male sports fans and team management are more concerned about athletic performance than sexual orientation. Recently, Larry King asked Joe Torre, manager of the LA Dodgers, about acceptance of gay baseball players. Torre said having an openly gay player was no big deal for him and he hoped players would feel the same. We have yet to see how this fictional scenario would play out since all of the male gay professional athletes who have come out waited until their playing days were over.

I believe that the first male openly gay professional athlete will already be out when he gets to professional sport. There won’t be some big surprise announcement from an already established pro. Instead, he will have played collegiate sport as an out gay man and will make the transition to professional sport having already dealt with the media and fan reactions. He will have the support and respect of most of his collegiate teammates and coaches. This is how I believe men’s professional sport will change – as younger players, gay and straight, come into the professional ranks. For many, perhaps most of the straight players, gay athletes will not be remarkable. The questions for them will be: Can he play the game? What kind of teammate is he? Can I count on him on the field and off? The same questions they ask about any teammate. Younger gay athletes will come into the pros will greater confidence about and comfort with who they are and this will influence how teammates, coaches and fans respond to them.

I also believe this day will come sooner rather than later. Somewhere out there, a young boy is playing youth sports. Coaches are starting to notice his talent. He might not be out yet, but he will be. He will be the first male openly gay professional athlete, not be the last. Like Jackie Robinson, he will break down barriers of prejudice, fear and hatred, but I am hoping it will be an easier task for him than it was for Jackie Robinson.


kris said...

Hi Pat,
In case you had not seen it, I thought I would pass along the link to a BJK interview in which she discusses the possibility of and conditions under which a male tennis player would come out.

Pat Griffin said...

Thanks, Kris. I did see the interview and we are posting it on the It Takes A Team web site next week. You might be interested in the post I just put up too. It's on a similar topic. I'd love to hear what you think. Pat

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