Coming Out On Our Team

Jim Burroway

February 8th, 2007

If you buy the notion that Robinson’s integration of the national pastime was the first big wedge in the door to real societal change — the way that black entertainers were not — then you ought to buy the notion that breaking that barrier for gay athletes today can do the same.

davidsteele.jpgDavid Steele’s column in today’s Baltimore Sun is well worth reading. While welcoming the steady stream of gay former athletes coming out in recent years, he notes one problem. As long as all of these gay athletes are former athletes, attitudes won’t change.

Sure, he says, it’ll be extremely rough for that gay athlete who finally does come out while still playing on a major league team. Just as it wasn’t easy for the first major league black athlete:

Robinson became an American hero, an iconic figure to every race, and his number is retired on every team in major league baseball. He also lived only 16 years past retirement, dying at 53. The stress ruined his health. The fairy-tale version of this story doesn’t usually mention that part.

Imagine, though, if Robinson had simply returned to the Negro Leagues, and after his retirement, he’d written a book about how hard it was on him and others to have never played in the majors.

It would have been very enlightening. Others might have later written similar books: Willie Mays, Jim Brown, Michael Jordan. And we might still have separate leagues, schools and water fountains today.

That’s what’s going on now with gay athletes.

I don’t want to diminish the step that John Amaichi has take by coming out. I really don’t. It’s important for everyone to come out, and everyone has a right to do so at their own time and manner. And besdies that, John Amaichi will be a great role model for LGBT youth. Nor do I want to diminish Esera Tuaolo’s, Roy Simmons’, Billy Bean’s, or Dave Kopay’s stories either. They, too, are very important and must be told.

But as we continue to look to the civil rights movement for inspiration in our efforts for acceptance, we ought to consider the very real personal risk and sacrifice that are exemplified by the towering heros of that movement. They didn’t wait until things got easier. If they had, they’d still be waiting today.

As David Steele says, this is all easy for me to say. And yet, it’s hard to argue otherwise.

See Also:

Welcome Out, John Amaechi

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