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2013: The Year Of The Gay Athlete

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Brittney Griner came out after leaving Baylor where she had been told to downplay her sexual orientation. (Matt York/AP)
Brittney Griner came out after leaving Baylor where she had been told to downplay her sexual orientation. (Matt York/AP)

Whether or not you think the issue deserved consideration, for many years there was speculation about when the first gay man playing in the NFL, NBA, NHL or MLB would announce his sexual orientation.

Jason Collins, probably soon to be reemployed in the NBA, did that in early May.

Then Robbie Rogers, who had announced he was gay at the same time he retired from professional soccer, decided to continue his career, thus becoming the first openly gay active Major League Soccer player. He played his first game for the LA Galaxy last weekend.

For many years there have been stories, some of them more thoroughly substantiated than others, about coaches of women's teams who've engaged in negative recruiting by asserting that the program of an opposing coach was rife with gay players. This year the most accomplished female college basketball player in the country, Brittney Griner, announced that she is gay. Gay female athletes, whether tennis players, golfers, soccer players or basketball players, have been more open about their sexual orientation than their male counterparts. But in a subsequent interview, Griner told that while she was at Baylor, her coach, Kim Mulkey, had told her not to discuss her sexual orientation.

Griner brought a great deal of positive publicity to an institution where a "Statement On Human Sexuality" stigmatizes her as "outside the norm" and characterizes her behavior as "contrary to biblical teaching." By frankly discussing her coach's injunction, Griner struck a blow against at least one of the hypocrisies rampant in college sports.

And men's college basketball need not feel left out. Just a couple of months ago, Mike Rice, late the coach of the men's team at Rutgers, lost his job. Among his offenses was the use of homophobic slurs to insult his players. Not so long ago that tactic could have been in the job description.

Taken together, these developments seem extraordinary not so much because they have happened as because they have happened in such close proximity to each other. Sports is a little different now than it was just a couple of months ago. If you doubt that, consider this: whereas until Jason Collins and Robbie Rogers stepped forward, it was common for folks to wonder which men's sport would see the first active gay athlete come out, now you can hear folks wondering out loud about whether baseball, hockey or football will embarrass itself by being the last.

This program aired on May 29, 2013.

Bill Littlefield Host, Only A Game
Bill Littlefield was the host of Only A Game from 1993 until 2018.



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