By Jesse Grossman ‘15
For years, the idea of a gay athlete in American male professional sports was seen as an impossible idea. Gay men could not be in a locker room with straight men. They would not be accepted as members of the team. People simply would not accept them. However, in the past year, two athletes, one a perspective draft pick and one a 13-year veteran of his league, have come out. They have shown that all of these claims were wrong.
On April 29, 2013, Jason Collins came out as the first active gay player in a major U.S. men’s professional sport after playing in the NBA for 13 years. On February 23, Collins was signed by the Brooklyn Nets and became the first gay player to play in a game when he played against the Los Angeles Lakers that day. Not surprisingly, Collins, who has averaged 3.6 points per game for his career, played the same way as a gay player as he did prior to coming out. His defense was good, he scored some rebounds, had a few fouls, and did not score a point.
In a post-game press conference, Collins said it felt like any other normal game and focused on the importance of getting the win. He also spoke about other athletes in other non-major American professional sport athletes that have come out and their success. He said he realized the significance of his playing but found it more relevant to talk about the game itself.
On February 9, 2014, the college football Southeastern Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year, Michael Sam, publicly came out. He is expected to be drafted in the upcoming draft. Some people believe that his draft value would be affected by his sexuality, but many teams and players have recently said they would have no problem with Sam on their team.
“You play to win the game. That’s the great thing about sports. You play to win.” These words were said by former Jets Coach Herman Edwards in a post-game interview after a rather tough loss for the team. While Edwards’ words were in response to a question about the team giving up, they are true on many levels. To me, as an athlete, it means you have one goal when you put on sneakers, cleats, or a swimsuit: to go out and win at all costs. It does not matter what race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation you are; if you are my teammate, you are there to help us win, and if you are on the other team, I want to beat you regardless.
“It’s all about getting the job done. Working hard to reach my goal,” said an openly gay student who does martial arts. “Gay or not, I just want to have fun doing what I love.”
Because of the large amount of contact in martial arts, this student has chosen to not talk about his sexuality with the other athletes he trains with only because he feels like it would make them uncomfortable. He plans to tell them in the near future.
On the other hand, Andy Tang ’14, an openly gay volleyball player, has felt comfortable sharing his sexuality with his team.
“As an athlete, I feel accepted here. It’s really diverse and there is no discrimination anywhere,” said Tang.
Sports are a way to get away from stress. Especially in a high school setting, they are a way to express yourself in a positive fashion. When other factors like people’s prejudices are brought in, games are changed. However, there are no circumstances in sports where politics, religion, or sexuality should matter. Athletes should be evaluated solely on their ability to help a team win. Part of this means having people that coexist with each other, but even in that sense, not everyone has to agree on every issue, only on the ultimate goal of victory.
The importance of Sam and Collins extends to the sports they play. There have been gay athletes in soccer, women’s basketball, tennis, and many others. Football and men’s basketball are said to be “macho man” sports where they say “No crying in football!” and the use of slurs or hazing is commonplace in a locker room. Many questioned whether a homosexual could function in this environment or if other men would feel comfortable in the locker room. However, Sam said he came out to his teammates prior to the 2013 season, and he went on to win his conference’s Defensive Player of the Year award. Since Collins joined the Nets, the team has played extremely well and will contend in the playoffs. Doc Rivers, the current coach of the Los Angeles Clippers, even believes the safest place for a homosexual would be in the locker room.
In 1947, Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier and became the first black baseball player. Since then, black players have won the award best player and best pitcher in the MLB. In the 1990s, pitcher Hideo Nomo began a wave of Japanese baseball players who have become all-stars and one has won the most valuable player award dismantling the notion that the best players in the world are from the Americas. In 1950, Nathaniel Clifton and Earl Lloyd were the first black NBA players to sign contracts. Since then, black players have won the NBA most valuable player award 46 of 57 times. Cassius Clay, who changed his name to Muhammad Ali when he became a Muslim, is known as the greatest boxer of all time. It is uncommon for teams nowadays to be made up of people exactly like each other. Although homosexuality is not like these other traits in the way that you cannot hide race or ethnicity, it is clear that opening up any game to players of different creeds only brings in more success.
Ideally, we will one day live in a world where a gay athlete is not devastating news, but just a different example of someone being true to themselves and doing what they love. The world of sports is a colorblind place. There should be no color, religion, or sexual orientation. And, even when there is, it really should not matter because everyone is there for one reason: to win.