There is an interesting story in last week's Sports Illustrated titled "The Only Openly Gay Athlete in the World". It is about Welsh rugby player Gareth Thomas who, late in his career, has decided to quit hiding and announce that he is gay. This guy is a big, tough, established star, a hero to his fellow Welshmen for leading the national team to victory in international competition. Because of his status he has received little but support from fans and his mates since coming out late last year.
So, the question is, when will we see this in North America? Several players have come out after they retired in a few different sports, but we have still yet to see an active player announce he was gay. It is believed that about 10% of the population is gay. Even accounting for the fact that gays are probably discouraged from team sports by the macho culture in the locker room, and certain other professions (theater, fashion)probably attract more than that ratio, the math would still suggest that we are watching a few homosexual men when we relax on the couch every weekend. So when will one of them tell us?
Gareth Thomas fits the mold that you might expect from the first in his sport to come out. He is in his mid-thirties, and has been a big star for many years. He's made his money. His toughness and status as a guy who will fight for his team are well established. In our sports, it would take a Chris Pronger, a Brett Farve or Brian Erlacher, maybe a Kevin Garnett or a Derrick Jeter to be the guy (by the way, I am not suggesting that any of those guys might be gay). Someone like that comes out, he is not risking killing a career, and his status in the game would make even the most homophobic fans say "Hmmmm, he's gay? Well, I guess gay is OK". Of course, we still do have a bunch of morons in this country who would condemn him. But attitudes are changing pretty fast about this in our country. In fact, I'm thinking there could be a pretty good financial payoff in book and movie rights for the first guy to do it.
Now, you might be saying "Hey, there have been plenty of athletes come out". True, there have been plenty of women athletes come out, but we just don't take woman's sports all that seriously. Coming out in the 80's probably cost Martina Navratalova a fortune in endorsements. And a few guys have come out in individual sports, like Greg Louganis. And as far as figure skating goes.....well, the typical male sports fan just assumes that every guy in figure skates and sequins is gay. But we still haven't seen anyone in our meat and potatoes sports do it.
Back in the 70's there were rumors that Johnny Bench was gay. I have no idea if that is true, but he would have been the perfect guy. Back then, it would have ended his career. I don't think that's true today, and look forward to the day when people will look back on this blog post and wonder what the big deal is about.