LGBTQ individuals and the LGBTQ community as a whole are gaining acceptance in most corners of the United States now more than ever before. This year saw the first openly gay Olympians compete in PyeongChang, and there is a lessened social stigma attached to those individuals who identify with something other than the “norm” of heterosexuality. However, one of the areas that remain hostile towards LGBTQ individuals is the world of American sports. Across “The Big Four Leagues,” the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB, there are zero, yes zero, active openly gay athletes. This is a shocking statistic when you realize that among the four leagues, there are roughly 4,000 active players.
The NHL has never had an openly gay athlete. The NFL had Michael Sam, who never found a home and is no longer in the league. Jason Collins, who became the first openly gay NBA player to get into a game, has since retired. And in baseball, there is not one openly gay player, neither in the MLB nor in the minors. The question then becomes, why? Why out of 4,000 players has there not been one comfortable enough to come out? Surely, statistically, there have to be some LGBTQ individuals in the mix. The answer, in my opinion? The hyper masculine environment has made it impossible for players to come out of the closet.
Chris Kluwe, who punted for the Minnesota Vikings, said he was pushed out of a job simply because he supported, and was vocal about his support, of same sex marriage laws. The same year that Michael Sam was to be drafted into the NFL, a 10-year veteran of the league, Jonathan Vilma, stated he did not want an openly gay teammate. Extremely successful NBA player Amar’e Stoudemire took his homophobic comments even further telling Walla Sport that if he had a gay teammate he would, “shower across the street, make sure my change of clothes are around the corner, and drive – take a different route to the gym.” This shocking display of homophobia coming from a man who may end up in the NBA Hall of Fameis a perfect example of why athletes feel that they cannot come out.
Coming out may have cost Sam his career in the NFL, as he now plays in the Canadian Football League with the Montreal Alouettes. And the environment has not changed much since his exit from the league. This year at the NFL combine, NFL hopeful Derrius Guice was asked if “he liked men” during an interview with an unnamed team. These questions are, according to ESPN’s Israel Gutierrez, the kind of question that are making kids “having to make this decision between choosing a career in sports or being their true selves.” He added that these are the questions and situations that kept him in the closet untill he was 31.
While most of the country has realized, or at least started to realize, that there is nothing wrong with LGBTQ individuals, the sports world is still stuck far back in time, and it is time they caught up with the rest of the world.