Huddle Up: Do you care if an athlete comes out?

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So, you say you don’t care if an athlete announces he is gay.

Believe me, I understand.  I don’t care when athletes date supermodels, ride bulls, record a rap song, drink Gatorade, eat Wheaties, star in a reality show, waffle about retirement, fly with the Blue Angels, release their own fragrance, join Huey Lewis and The News on stage, or name all of their kids George. Yet, it seems like I have to wade through all that crap every night just to watch the highlights or the game itself.

Unfortunately, we live in an age when coming out is much more important than any of those things. If you don’t believe me, Google “gay student” sometime and take note of the number of times the words “bullying,” “death” or “suicide” show up in the search results.

Barring an apocalypse, we seem to be rapidly approaching the day when a prominent, active male athlete in a major team sport, someone worthy of a bubble gum card, let’s say, announces he is gay.

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It seems inevitable because there are more and more people on the fringes of sports coming out every day. According to Outsports, a web site devoted to gay sports fans and athletes, 27 “sports people” — athletes (including some high school kids), coaches, executives and journalists — have come out in 2011. The web site declared May “The gayest sports month ever” after professional bowler Scott Norton announced on the Professional Bowlers Association’s web site on Thursday that he is gay.

Steve Buckley, a well-known columnist for the Boston Herald (via the Portland Press Herald) was among the first, coming out in January. Well-known skating star Johnny Weir soon followed.

After that, it isn’t so much a “Who’s Who?” as a “Who’s That?” list of names, although it does include three with Maine connections — Bowdoin men’s lacrosse captain Ben Chadwick, Bowdoin men’s tennis coach Colin Joyner and Emerson Whitney, a transgender sports reporter for the “Mt. Desert Islander” in Bar Harbor. The rest of the list includes a couple of former men’s college basketball players whose names only those who follow the sport closely would know, including a Dutch gymnast, a Greco-Roman wrestler, and Rick Welts, the president of the Phoenix Suns.

Each of these disclosures have an impact besides clearing the terrain for a prominent and contemporary team sport athlete. Welts in particular was hailed throughout the media, because of his standing in the league (he was a trusted a protege of NBA Commissioner David Stern before joining the Suns) and because it was seen as a blow against the league’s homophobia, most recently displayed by Kobe Bryant when he uttered the word “faggot” at a referee.

I don’t know about most of the folks named by Outsports, but I haven’t heard about Buckley or Welts receiving any backlash for coming out. In fact, all I have heard Buckley say on various Boston media outlets is that the feedback and support coming his way has been heartening.

Outsports, gay activists and others are hoping this all paves the way for the aforementioned bubble gum card athlete to come out soon because they see it as a major milestone. Some go so far as to compare it to Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier, and while I wouldn’t draw that parallel, there is no denying it will change attitudes about gays in sports and, ultimately, society.

So far, only retired athletes such as John Amachi, Billy Beane, and Esera Tualo have revealed their homosexuality. Each of those three was just a role player in the NBA, MLB and NFL, respectively. Some believe that a moderately well-known, active player coming out will only start to change the machismo-driven homophobia in locker rooms and that it will take a major star to have an impact beyond sports.

If that’s what it takes to lessen man’s inhumanity to man, one would have to be ignorant, insecure or callous not to welcome it.

Some can’t support the idea of a human being not having to hide a part of who he is because it makes them uncomfortable or they think it’s a sin. Others wouldn’t mind an athlete coming out as long as it’s not one of their favorites or someone who plays for their favorite team because it will force them to examine their own attitudes about homosexuality.

I haven’t done a survey, but I suspect the overwhelming majority are like me. We don’t care who an athlete marries, dates or has a one-night stand with as long as he’s ready to play when he shows up for work.

We’ll welcome the day when it’s barely a foot note in a player’s biography, like their marital status now.

I’m just confused on whether to wish for it to happen before or after the inane chatter about their lives stops.

Randy Whitehouse is a staff writer. His e-mail rwhitehouse@sunjournal.com.

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