by Reese Williams
When you look at male professional sports in today’s world they are primarily dominated by straight men. However, over the last couple of years some players have come out as gay and the landscape of professional men’s sports is slowly starting to change.
Some of these athletes that have come out over the past couple of years include Michael Sam, former defensive linemen in the NFL, Jason Collins, a former NBA all-star, and Robbie Rogers, a former MLS player.
There are gay athletes in sports, we just haven’t heard of them, maybe because they have decided to not come out yet. It takes a lot of courage to come out as gay as a male athlete. And even if they do, it can sometimes cause some negative media and backlash. However, that’s not always the case, especially with these three athletes.
Jason Collins became the first openly gay man to play in one of the four major professional sports in the U.S. back in 2013. The day Collins came out he said, “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay. I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation. I wish I wasn’t the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, ‘I’m different.’ If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand.”
After he came out in Sports Illustrated, Collins received a ton of support from the likes of Kobe Bryant, Adam Silver, Bill Clinton, and many others. With Collins breaking the barrier it helped other athletes like Sam and Rogers come out but it didn’t mean that it would be easy.
Michael Sam’s NFL career has almost been non-existent, due to the fact that he came out right before the NFL Draft back in 2014. The interesting part about Sam was the fact that he was supposed to be drafted in either the first or second round of the NFL draft due to his phenomenal senior collegiate season where he was an All-American. Instead, him coming out right before the draft caused NFL teams to look the other way until the seventh round when the St. Louis Rams (now the Los Angeles Rams) decided to draft him.
Sam also caught a lot of backlash on social media, especially on draft night. “I’m sorry, but that Michael Sam is no bueno for doing that on national TV,” said former NFL player, Derrick Ward on Twitter, the night of the draft. The next day Ward came back and said, “I’m fine with it being a new day in age but for him to do that on national tv is disgusting. Gay or not.”
“I had to prove myself, to show that I was one of the guys,” said Sam. “I was cut from the Rams, even though I was in the top five in sacks. Then I went to the Cowboys and had to do it all over again. And then I was cut there. I always felt like an outsider looking in.”
After the NFL, Sam would go onto to have a short stint with the Montreal Alouettes in 2015 and then retire shortly after for personal reasons.
A year before Sam came out, an American soccer player named Robbie Rogers came out. Rogers played for both the Columbus Crew and LA Galaxy in the MLS and played for Leeds United in England. In 2013, Rogers, 25, retired from soccer and said, “I’m a soccer player, I’m Christian, and I’m gay. Those are things that people might say wouldn’t go well together. But my family raised me to be an individual and to stand up for what I believe in.”
Later that year, Rogers would come out of retirement and sign with the LA Galaxy. Then in 2014, Rogers would become the first openly gay man to win a major team pro sports title in the U.S. when the Galaxy became MLS Champs.
All three of these guys have re-shaped professional sports in America in a small, but effective way. They have shown the world that they can be domianant professional athletes, great teammates, and gay all at the same time. Even though the view of gay athletes can be seen as negative and concerning, these three guys are proving that just because they are gay doesn’t mean that they can’t be a great friend and teammate and still have a normal locker room environment.
Who knows how many more athletes are out there that are gay and haven’t come out yet. However, if there were ever a time where it would be a good time to do it, it would be now.
Reese Williams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org