Steve Nash Shows Attitudes Toward Gays Changing Among Athletes

[ 0 ] June 3, 2011 |

Steve Nash

PSAs by Sean Avery and Steve Nash have pushed the topic of homosexuality to the forefront of sports conversations

Late spring is typically the time of year when the sporting community is focused squarely on the NBA and NHL Playoffs and the start of baseball season, but this year a major social issue has crept its way into many sports conversations.

Thanks to a few courageous outspoken athletes that have endorsed marriage equality, the topic of homosexuality in professional sports has stolen some of the spotlight in recent weeks.

In early May, New York Rangers’ winger Sean Avery appeared in a PSA for the Human Rights Campaign in support of marriage equality and just a couple weeks later Phoenix Suns’ guard Steve Nash did the same.  Several other athletes voiced their agreement with Avery and Nash shortly thereafter, and the issue soon spread like wildfire.

Not everyone has been on board with the progression.  NHL Agent Todd Reynolds created a stir when he tweeted, “Very sad to read Sean Avery’s misguided support of same-gender ‘marriage’. Legal or not, it will always be wrong” in response to Avery’s ad.  And in the weeks before, NBA stars Kobe Bryant and Joakim Noah were both caught on TV delivering homophobic slurs during basketball games.

Still, for the professional sports world, which has long-been a pillar of masculinity and homophobia, there has clearly been significant progress made.

“I believe that not only the athletes, but the fans and organizations, have become much more open to discussing and living with the idea,” said Scott Norton, president of Norton Sports Management, an athlete representation firm that counts Dustin Brown and Cam Janssen among its clients.  “You have to appreciate that sports has always been referred to as ‘the old boys network’, and that most of those ‘old boys’ had a VERY narrow perspective on a number of topics including sex, race, religion and sexual preference.”

Sean Avery

The issue first gained momentum in the sporting community in February of 2007 when former NBA player John Amaechi came out and the basketball world was forced to take a long look at the issue.

Then just over a year ago Brendan Burke, the son of Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke, who had previously come out, was killed in a car crash.  Brendan was well-respected in the hockey community and many around the league were encouraged to act and speak out following his death.

That’s not to say that the issue has suddenly been fleshed out over the last couple of years, it’s been growing in sports for decades as with the rest of society, according to Joe Mirabella, organizing manager of Change.org.

“I don’t believe this conversation happened suddenly,” Mirabella said.  “I think it was as a result of years and years of brave men and women telling their personal stories.”

An active professional athlete has yet to come out, but there’s a growing sense that day may be coming sooner than later. For his part, Nash said he didn’t think it would be a “big issue anymore” and he believes it would be “surprisingly accepted.”  Nash’s boss, Suns president Rick Welts, came out just a few weeks ago.  Welts has been involved with the NBA for decades and is probably the most high-profile sports official to announce that he is gay.  He hopes to “mentor other gay people who seek to pursue a career in sports.”

Acceptance in the sports world appears to be at an all-time high, and the backlash that many athletes have long-feared may be far less now than just a few years ago.  Still, the fear of peer reaction looms large in the heads of professional athletes.

“I think it would take tremendous courage for a male athlete to come out, and [I'm] still not sure if anyone is at that point,” Norton said.  “A number of females have and for some reason, they are viewed differently than men.”

Mirabella says the gay community is eagerly waiting for the first active athlete to come out and he is looking forward to that moment.

“Personally, I can’t wait to buy the first out athlete’s jersey.”

by Kevin Baumer

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