The Next Great Leap

The Next Great Leap

Being gay and “out” in professional sports is the last hurdle we face as a society. Yes, women’s sports has its Martina Navratilovas, but men’s sports is still waiting for its Jackie Robinson.

It’s just a matter of time, of course. We all know gay people play pro sports, and, odds say, a few of those gay people are really, really good at them. There are probably Hall of Fame players who were gay, legends, guys that we still compare to modern athletes. We don’t know them by their sexual orientation, of course — their REAL sexual orientation — but if they had come out when it mattered, they could’ve had an impact on pro sports forever.

Not that anyone blames them for staying in the closet. There has never been a better time to be an “out” pro athlete than right now — and “right now” is not that great. If you go 0-3, chances are someone in the stands will call you the “F” word, even if you’re straight. Pro sports are like a gladiator arena, and the mutants who sit in the stands have no sense of decorum. Four-letter words are commonplace, and slurs — a variety, a cornucopia, a plethora of filth — are part of the arsenal.

Plus you have the blogs. Oh, the blogs. Everyone has a voice, and most of those voices are angry and stupid and misspelled and badly punctuated. If you want to be the Jackie Robinson of gay athletes, one would advise you to take your T1 line and burn it. Throw your router out a window. Pretend the internet was never invented. Move into a cave. It’s a more tolerant society, yes, but we also have more delivery systems for ugly messages.

And even if you do all of that, you still have your teammates to contend with. Athletes aren’t entirely comfortable with having female reporters walking around the locker room. One can only imagine how they’d cope with having a gay teammate. Oh, right, jocks are known for their sensitivity and political correctness. Playing for the Vikings is the same as working at Google…except it’s exactly the opposite in every conceivable way.

I don’t think you should hang a rainbow flag from your locker, lest you are prepared to have everything you own painted the color of a rainbow from now until, like, forever.

Just last week, Toronto shortstop Yunel Escobar was suspended three games for writing a Spanish gay slur in his eye black. That doesn’t say a lot about the sensitivity of pro athletes that Escobar would have totally no problem doing that. One imagines had he wanted to insult another group of individuals, he wouldn’t have made it to the field before a teammate stopped him and said, “Uh, dude?”

And, yes, he was suspended…but only for three games. Let’s not give MLB a GLAAD award just yet. You get longer for paternity leave. It’s nothing. A blip. A very light slap on a very large wrist.

It doesn’t say a lot about our society — this progressive culture in which we have a president who thinks gay people should get married and more and more states where they can actually do it — that a major league athlete can make such a politically incorrect bumble and we, collectively, don’t really give a shit. We debated it for, like, one segment on Pardon the Interruption. It was barely a Tweet.

Sure, it’s a third-rate shortstop on a fourth-rate baseball team from the second-best country in North America. We’re not talking, say, Kobe Bryant calling an NBA ref a gay slur on TV. Why, should that happen, well, let’s just say there would be hell to pay. What’s that? He did? In 2011? And he was fined just $100,000, which is the same amount Michael Jordan was fined later that year for discussing the NBA lockout to an Australian newspaper? Oh. Well. I can see how those are, um, equally as bad.

So, yes, it’s easy for me to say a pro star athlete needs to show some brass and come out of the frickin’ closet, but I am not the one who needs to do it. I am not gay or a star pro athlete. And I am equally distant from both. But there will NEVER be a perfect time for the gay Jackie Robinson. That’s why he needs to exist.

It wasn’t a great time for the actual Jackie Robinson when he debuted for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. He went through hell and had to fight and claw his way to respectability. Yes, he was beloved by a large segment of America for his bravery and talent, but he faced racism virtually his entire life. And while Robinson was quickly joined by loads of fellow African American baseball players, the first gay athlete will probably have to wait awhile before there is a second.

He’ll receive anger, resentment, pettiness, a lifetime of name-calling, lots of bad puns on sports talk radio, possible alienation in the clubhouse, a loss of endorsements and pockets of scorn in every stadium he visits, even his own. So, basically, he’ll be Alex Rodriguez.

But he can expect lots of positives: speaking gigs, ginormous fame, endorsement deals, TV talk show appearances, lots and lots of dough, a visit to the White House, and a TV movie starring Mario Lopez or Taye Diggs or John Krasinski. (Suggested title if it’s a baseball player: No Strikes But Lots of Balls.)

All it will take is one brave guy to change the world forever. Now is the time.

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