There are thousands of men playing professional sports in the United States and yet there are no openly gay athletes active in the five major team sports: NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB and MLS.
It isn’t uncommon for professional athletes to openly come out as gay after retiring from their sport.
John Amaechi played in the NBA from 1995-2003 and came out in 2007. He discussed what it was like being closeted in his book “Man in the Middle.”
Another player who publicly came out after their career is Will Sheridan. Sheridan played for the Villanova Wildcats Men’s Basketball program from 2003-2007. He privately came out to his teammates in 2003 and publicly came out in 2011.
In an article for Sports Illustrated in 2013, NBA player Jason Collins came out to the public, becoming the first openly gay NBA player who at the time of his statement was still active. When Collins announced his sexual orientation to the world, he became the first male professional athlete playing in the United States to state that he is gay.
After releasing his statement, Collins received support from NBA players across the league. In addition to NBA players posting their public displays of support, former President Barack Obama also provided words of encouragement.
Sarah Martinez, a student assistant for the women’s basketball team and former player, said, “I came out during my senior year of high school. At first, I felt as if my sexuality would affect my relationship with my teammates before starting my freshman year of college, only because I didn’t know them and didn’t know how they felt about homosexuality. Luckily, they welcomed me, regardless of my sexual orientation and even at times asked me questions to better understand what goes on in the LGBTQ community.”
Due to the steadily growing acceptance of openly gay athletes in the world of sports, many may argue that it is admissible for athletes to come out; however, some argue otherwise.
There are currently over 3,400 men playing in the five major sports— football, baseball, basketball, soccer and hockey— and not one is openly gay. While LGBTQ+ rights are rapidly progressing throughout the country, why are gay athletes remaining in the closet?
Out on the Fields is the first international study and largest conducted on homophobia in sports. Nearly 9,500 people took part, including 2,064 lesbian, gay, bisexual and straight Americans. The study concluded that nearly half of gay men and 32 percent of lesbians hid their sexuality while playing youth sports because they feared rejection by teammates. Only one percent of all participants believed LGB people were “completely accepted” in sports culture; 78 percent said that an openly gay, lesbian or bisexual person would not be very safe as a spectator at a sporting event.
“Unfortunately, it’s almost frowned upon for men to be gay, especially on a sports team,” Martinez said. “It’s as if they have to always be masculine and being gay is always looked at as feminine. Most male athletes who are gay are probably scared that they will lose their brotherhood with their teammates if they were to come out.”
In 2013 ,Robbie Rogers, a midfielder for the Los Angeles Galaxy, made headlines when he revealed he was gay. Rogers, now retired, had hoped that his coming out would encourage more male athletes to do the same.
“I was hoping there’d be more athletes that would come out and after that, it just wouldn’t matter,” Rogers said in an interview for the Chicago Tribune. “I was hoping there would be so many out athletes that it wouldn’t be a topic to talk about.”
Multiple active WNBA players have come out and thrived over the last decade, setting an example for young women everywhere. Many questions why there is not the same encouragement for men who play professional sports to come out as well.
Cyd Zeigler, one of the founders of Outsports, a website devoted to covering gay issues in sports, said in an interview for the Chicago Tribune that there is a clear reason as to why it is a rarity for professional athletes to come out as gay.
“People will try to point to the fans,” Zeigler said. “Some people will try to point to the coaches. Some will try to point to the front offices. Some will try to point to the media. But at the end of the day, despite all those things, nobody has chosen to do it. Social change happens when somebody just decides to do it and nobody decided to do it.”