Men are supposed to be tough and macho, an archetype athletes and stereotypical sports fans fit well in, while gay men are viewed by many straight men as 'sissies' and 'fags,' somehow undeserving of equal rights. Equally damaging has been the fact that many athletes (and men in general) are afraid to be welcoming toward their gay counterparts, for fear of being labeled as gay themselves -- especially in locker-room-type environments, where towel-slapping and metaphorical (and otherwise) pissing contests are the norm because, gosh darn it, gay people aren't in there! (Yeah, right!) The word "fag" is thrown around like "the" between teammates, pushing gay players deeper and deeper into the closet, causing many others to feel completely unwelcome.
All those views can develop when teens are in the locker room, all of them are inspired by what is viewed as "macho," and too many men view macho as the opposite of being gay -- even though, as JoeTS likes to point out at Blue Mass Group, some of the most macho guys ever in existence were gay.
It's important for there to be push back against homophobia in professional sports, because that push back can make a difference at all levels. It could help a professional player feel comfortable in coming out, it could help inspire a gay teenager to continue playing, and it could show that real men aren't irrationally afraid of gay players or people. Perhaps most importantly of all, it can set a positive example for fans -- the exposure to glbt issues alone for most male sports fans is important. All of those things are far more likely when professional athletes speak out in favor of gay rights.
On that front, here's some fantastic news coming out of the NFL. Two players, including a defensive captain of the New Orleans Saints, have come out strong in favor of full equality.
"Looking at the former restrictions on human rights in our country starting with slavery, women not being able to vote, blacks being counted as two thirds of a human, segregation, no gays in the military (to list a few) all have gone by the wayside. But now here in 2009 same sex marriages are prohibited. I think we will look back in 10, 20, 30 years and be amazed that gays and lesbians did not have the same rights as every one else. How did this ever happen in the land of the free and the home of the brave? Are we really free?"—Brendon Ayanbadejo, NFL linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens.On a personal note, high school sports was probably the biggest reason why I never came out in high school. I enjoyed playing on teams and was afraid it would not at all be a comfortable environment if I came out. Furthermore, I, more than most, had irrational and predefined notions of what it meant to be a successful athlete -- coming from the son of a former professional football player, going to the same high school where my father was a literal legend. The 25 year old version of me would have easily met those obstacles head on, the 16 year old version of me just wanted to fit in. I wonder, given this decade's changes and news like this, if things wouldn't have been different if I were 16 today instead of 25.
"I hope he's right in his prediction, and I hope even more that it doesn't take that long. People could look at this issue without blinders on...the blinders imposed by their church, their parents, their friends or, in our case, their coaches and locker rooms. I wish they would realize that it's not a religion issue. It's not a government issue. It's not even a gay/straight issue or a question of your manhood. It's a human issue. And until more people see that, we're stuck arguing with people who don't have an argument."—Scott Fujita, defensive captain for the New Orleans Saints.