Jason Collins Comes Out: What is the Future For Gay Professional Athletes?

It has been a year of firsts for the LGBT community. In July, Anderson Cooper came out pretty nonchalantly in an email to Andrew Sullivan. Two days later, singer Frank Ocean became the first openly gay R&B artist. His letter, posted on his blog, was poignantly written, widely read, and received a lot of positive response from hip-hop and R&B artists. Jay-Z wrote a long letter thanking Ocean for his courage and Tyler the Creator, a rapper who had been accused of homophobia, congratulated Ocean via Twitter.

At the end of April, NBA star Jason Collins made history when he became the first openly gay active athlete in American professional sports. “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,” he wrote.

The conversation has indeed been started.

Landon Donovan, forward for the Los Angeles Galaxy, recently told HuffPost Live that he thinks Major League Soccer is ready to welcome openly gay players.

“As soccer players, we are exposed to people of all colors, cultures, ethnicities, backgrounds, everything — and this is sort of the next step in that line,” he said.

In the interview, he referenced Robbie Rogers, the midfielder, who starred for the Columbus Crew and came out in February in a powerful post titled “The Next Chapter” on his personal website. Rogers stepped away from the MLS after coming out, writing, “It’s time to discover myself away from football.”

Donovan said the LA Galaxy recently had a publicly gay player come play for his team and the transition was smooth.

So the question is what’s next? Neither Collins nor Rogers was the first professional athlete to come out. There is an established presence of gay women in professional athletics. And as early as 1990 English soccer player Justin Fashanu came out. Here’s a list of ten more athletes that came out in 2012 alone.

But it is still significant that we have an openly gay player in the NBA. And that a professional, straight MLS player is saying that soccer is ready to join the rest of America in accepting the LGBT community.

A BBC article written about professional gay athletes in response to Collins’ announcement calls professional team sports “the final frontier, the last blow against a macho culture that insinuates gay men cannot compare in terms of strength and grit with straight men, and would be a disruptive presence on a tight-knit team.”

The political and social landscape in America is shifting quickly and considerably in the right direction with the existence of gay and lesbian athletes in individual sports, many straight allies within pro teams, and an ever-growing number of visible LGBT members in American society. No to mention the political changes being made.

But is having one gay NBA player enough for us to say we’ve reached the final frontier? Will American professional athletes pave the way for international LGBT acceptance?

Kelly Stevens, officer of communications for the International Gay Games says, “In some countries it is just dangerous in general to be gay. To be a gay athlete would be impossible.”

Not all professional athletes have the advantage of living in a country like America with less and less homophobia — especially in professional sports, but American professional athletes could and should pave the way for international acceptance.

It’s hard to say definitively whether we’ve reached the final frontier in terms of LGBT equality, but at the very least we’re taking steps in the right direction. 

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Kristen Ellingboe

Kristen is currently a journalism and political science student at Emory University.

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