Out in the Field: LGBT Pro Athletes. #SXsports

For a topic that has made huge headlines the last two years, its amazing how the LGBT pro athlete circle is still so small. Today, I had the pleasure of witnessing live at SXsports a conversation I have been paying close attention on social the last few years, and I got to meet and chat with one of the major influencers in this area: former NFL player Wade Davis II.

The panel featured Olympic gold medalist and out pro soccer player Megan Rapinoe, and 13 year NBA season player Jason Collins. Its been two years since Jason came out and went on to spend his last year in the NBA with the Brooklyn Nets, and in doing so became the first openly-gay athlete in the big four (football, basketball, baseball, and hockey) while still playing. When this happened, it was predicted there would be a tidal-wave of pro-athletes coming out in the years since. But this has not happened. At all.

The disappointment was discussed widely and the frustration in the room among media and athletes was evident. Megan talked a lot about the responsibility of the professional bodies representing athletes such as the NFL, NBA, IOC and Fifa, to help protect athletes who are openly gay. While a lot of organizing bodies say they are encouraging athletes coming out, Megan explained that “Athletes are not going to come out unless they feel protected by the organization they play for.”

Megan feels real change in attitudes at the professional bodies won’t happen until there is real change at the top internally. I do hope there is room for fans who care to create the change they want to see in the sport they love by taking action with decisions that will affect the organizing bodies, like ticket and merchandize sales. But I realize much of this action will be difficult to do without affecting athletes.

Homophobia and the use of homophobic slurs are still major problems within sports at all levels. Megan would like to see exorbitant fines in place so that athletes “never want to say it.” Jason is happy the NBA have included a $50k fine and he coaches young athletes as part of the NBA Rookie Transition Program to think smart as they “come into the workforce” of the NBA and they can’t use certain language if they want to keep their earnings.

The question of why are athletes so slow to come out was summed up with one word: Fear. And in order for the wave of openly-gay pro athletes to materialize, governing bodies, fans, teammates, coaches, family and friends will have to help our talented athletes overcome this fear.

Megan Rapinoe and Jason Collins at SXsports session on Out on the Field: LGBT Pro Athletes in 2015.
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