This week, Megan Rapinoe, who will be helping the U.S. women’s soccer team attempt to win gold at the London Olympics this summer, said, “For the record, I am gay.”
Within the context of the U.S. women’s soccer team, the consequences of Rapinoe’s declaration will be nil.
During an interview in her native Sweden, Pia Sundhage, the coach of that team, mentioned that she is gay… and that was in 2010.
Within the world of U.S. sports as it is reflected on radio call-in shows, Rapinoe’s announcement will probably provoke sophomoric smirks — pretty much the same response that anything having to do with female athletes provokes in that venue.
Back in 1999, when excitement was building for the first Women’s World Cup held in this country, I was listening when one of the players was a guest on one of those shows. The first question from a male caller was: “How many women on the team are lesbians?” I hoped hard that the player would say something like, “Six. Maybe seven. Next question.”
It didn’t go that way. Maybe someday it will. And maybe someday not too long after that, the question will be recognized as irrelevant.
Megan Rapinoe’s reasons for discussing her sexual orientation are no secret.
“I feel like sports in general are still homophobic,” Rapinoe said this week. “People want, they need, to see that there are people like me playing for the good ol’ U.S. of A.”
When she speculates on what “people” want and need, Rapinoe doesn’t mean her teammates or female athletes in general, among whom she thinks homosexuality is “open and widely supported.”
“For males, it’s not that way,” Rapinoe said. “It’s sad.”
About that she’s right. Historically, some female basketball coaches have engaged in negative recruiting by hinting that the players on an opposing team were gay, but wouldn’t the concern these days be that such a strategy might backfire, since the potential recruit wouldn’t want to play for a bigot?
But for male athletes, it’s different. Men in various other lines of work have acknowledged that they are gay without ridicule or the loss of their livelihoods.
But sports? Not so much. Some retired male athletes have told the world they are gay. Occasionally a gay high school or college male athlete has come out. But I wonder if this week anybody currently playing in the NBA, the NFL or Major League Baseball is thinking about how he could move things along by becoming his sport’s Megan Rapinoe?