A sportswriter for the Boston Herald, Steve Buckley, came out as gay in a recent column. Near the end of his piece, he says:
But during this same period (of planning to come out), I have read sobering stories about people who came undone, killing themselves after being outed. These tragic events helped guide me to the belief that if more people are able to be honest about who they are, ultimately fewer people will feel such devastating pressure.
In the wake of the It Gets Better Project, we've recently witnessed similar scenes of people in the public eye addressing their sexuality/gender, most notably Fort Worth city Councilman Joel Burns' moving testimonial. It's easy to lump Buckley in with this recent movement, but his position in the world of sports adds another level to his declaration.
In American culture, the world of sports, male sports in particular, is among the last areas queer openness and acceptance has yet to penetrate. Considering the thousands upon thousands of professional and high-profile collegiate athletes, those who have come forward are few and far between.
There's the tragic case of another sportswriter, the Los Angeles Times' Mike Penner/Christine Daniels. Former journeyman NBA center John Amaechi was the first in his league to come out. His book Man in the Middle about his closeted life in the league was published after he retired. Former Major League Baseball player Billy Bean also came out in a book after retiring. With women's sports recently, we've had the stories of runner Caster Semenya's gender confusion and Kye Allums taking the court as a man with his women's NCAA basketball team. And we all know the trailblazing Renee Richards did on the tennis court in decades past.
Considering how huge a role sports plays in our society, I shouldn't be able to list its queer ambassadors and their stories in one short paragraph. Obviously, there are countless queer athletes, past and present, who prefer to live closeted. The resistant culture of the sports world is undoubtedly among the many rationalizations they cite to justify that decision. If living a lie is preferable to being oneself, well, the logical conclusion is that there must be some harsh consequences that accompany the latter option.
That culture is not going to change overnight. The only way we'll see a shift is for more people to do what Buckley, Amaechi, Bean, Penner/Daniels, Allums and Richards did. One person at a time. Like Buckley says "if more people are able to be honest about who they are, ultimately fewer people will feel such devastating pressure." Right now, it seems like he's just one person, but every person matters.