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Homosexuality in sports: the athlete’s fear of coming out

Glenn Burke was the first of his time to openly admit to being gay, a move that caused controversy.

Ryan Woerner
Staff Writer

In June, the Supreme Court will reveal their decisions regarding multiple issues of the legality and benefits of gay marriage in the country we all call home. Regardless of the decision that the court makes, the fact remains that gay athletes in sports still feel unwelcomed, hated, and almost feared to this day.
As of the writing of this article, no athlete in professional sports has come out to the public as homosexual during his or her playing career. In 2013, gay athletes still remain hesitant about coming out of the closet in fear that they’ll be looked down on, ostracized, or as in the case of former Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Glenn Burke, traded. Though the Burke example is a bit outdated (he was traded to the A’s in 1978 and introduced to the team as a “f*****” by the manager), the fact of the matter is that in today’s day and age, homophobia still runs rampant in professional sports.

Glenn Burke was the first of his time to openly admit to being gay, a move that caused controversy.
Glenn Burke was the first of his time to openly admit to being gay, a move that caused controversy.

In late January of this year, San Francisco 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver claimed in an interview that “No, we don’t got no gay people on the team, they gotta get up out of here if they do.” If you read on, in that same interview he went on to add that no matter how talented a hypothetical gay teammate would be, he wouldn’t welcome them on the team. Culliver is hardly alone in these beliefs, and is just one of the most recent athletes to publicly discuss how “uncomfortable” they would feel if they had a gay teammate.
Just imagine how different everything would be if openly gay teammates in the locker room. After the game everyone would walk into the locker room, shower off, change, maybe do an interview or two. They would pack up, bid one another farewell, and head back to the hotel for the night. Just try to picture how uncomfortable that would be for everyone involved.
Oddly enough, most athletes are perfectly okay walking around the locker room, patting each other on the tush, and doing interviews in the buff or covered only in a towel, as long as everyone around them is straight. Introduce a gay man into the mix, however, and everything changes. You can’t participate in an interview only a towel, what if a gay teammate sees you in the locker room? Unfortunately with a lack of a law banning gays from watching television, we can never be sure that no gay people tuning into ESPN at home will catch sight of you without a shirt on.
On the bright side of things, not all athletes to discuss homosexuality in sports have done so in a negative way. Detroit Tigers pitcher and former Cy Young winner Justin Verlander said in a recent interview, “I don’t think one of our players would be scared to come out. We got 25 guys, it’s a family, and our goal is to win a World Series.” More and more players, including Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita and Vikings punter Chris Kluwe have come out in support of gay people in professional sports.
Burke is acknowledged as the only major league baseball player to disclose his homosexuality to his teammates, and claimed he never regretted what he did. It’s time to get over it, America. Gay people exist, and they’re all around us. We have gay teachers, lawyers, doctors, and yes, even athletes. Is it irrational to think that maybe, just maybe, not every gay man in existence has it in their mind to assault you after the big game while the rest of your teammates look on in horror, incapable of helping? In the near future we may, and should, see more and more athletes coming out of the closet, hopefully some during their playing careers. When this inevitably happens they shouldn’t have to “get up out of here”, they should be welcomed and treated almost as if they’re people, like you and me! Almost. Can’t give them too much power or next thing you know they’ll be able to get married.

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