As NBA player Jason Collins broke a major barrier last month by coming out of the closet, another athlete has followed suit. College football star and NFL hopeful Kevin Grayson has opened up about his sexuality, and describes the struggles for other homosexual male athletes to be themselves. Grayson's tell-all will hopefully give other athletes the courage to open up about their sexuality. However in an industry that invites many levels of pressure, this will be a slow progression in breaking homophobic barriers in sports.
Grayson was a former wide receiver for the University of Richmond football team, and helped lead them to a 2008 FSC National Championship. Grayson opened up to a Virginia CBS TV station and explained why he held back for so long. One of his main concerns with coming out was drawing negative attention to his entire team.
"You don't want to be the focus in that way. Not to say that it's a negative, but when you have people just asking questions about your sexuality and how teammates are taking it, it takes away from the importance of the preseason. If you are an athlete, you want to be an athlete. You want to be known for what you've done on the basketball court, football field, tennis court, whatever. You don't want to be that person who it's always 'the gay athlete,'" he said.
Another issue with male athletes coming out is the stigma that they feel they have to live up. Not only are professional sports physically demanding, but they typically cater to masculine individuals. There is an overarching stereotype of gay males being effeminate and flamboyant — but with these athletes now coming out, hopefully these cultural sentiments will break down. However, the fact that these high profile confessions need to draw so much attention is frustrating. It may take time but hopefully American sports culture can reach a state where coming out isn't such a big deal.
"Just because you're gay doesn't mean you can't be the athlete you want to be. Doesn't mean you can't be a star. Doesn't mean you can't go out there and go just as hard as anybody else, if not harder," Grayson said.
Grayson's confession about his sexuality is certainly courageous and will hopefully inspire other athletes to truly be themselves. As more athletes continue to open up about their sexuality, there may be more members of the LGBT community in professional sports than many may think.