August 24, 2012
“If he’s sucking cock, he’s getting his ass kicked.” New Jersey Devils winger Cam Jannsen said those words on an internet-radio talk show on July 12. In context, they were less sinister than they were crass; regardless, they reinforced the most pessimistic assumptions about homophobia in professional sports. In a culture of increasing acceptance toward out individuals, in which the movement toward marriage equality sometimes appears unstoppable, sports remain one of the last frontiers of homophobic attitudes. Although the prevalence of gay sports leagues and gay sports bars go a long way toward proving that you don’t have to be straight to be an athlete — the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance, for example, counts more than 700 softball teams across the U.S. and Canada in its 44 affiliated leagues — the major leagues are another story. There has never been an out athlete in Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association or the National Hockey League. Wade Davis Jr., the former NFL cornerback who is one of the few out gay athletes even to come out after their professional careers ended, sees the impact of anti-gay sentiment in his current work at the Hetrick-Martin Institute, which helps lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth between the ages of 12 and 24. “Most kids who I’ve talked to who are gay who play sports just don’t say anything,” Davis told BuzzFeed. “There are kids who stop playing sports because they’re out.”