Ever since the NBA's Jason Collins came out earlier this year, sexual orientation is finally on the radar for sports journalists, and it's creating responsive shockwaves throughout many areas of the industry.
Recently, when WWE star Darren Young was approached by a cameraman from TMZ, he was asked, in an abstract way, about "whether a gay wrestler could be successful within the WWE." Before he bothered essentializing the experiences of athletes moving within an industry that's always had a complex relationship with sexuality, however, he responded with a winning attitude from a personal perspective: "Absolutely. Look at me. I'm a WWE superstar and to be honest with you, I'll tell you right now, I'm gay. And I'm happy. I'm very happy."
In the NFL, though, there's a different kind of interview — one's sexual orientation can be a two-edged sword, especially as prospective players must make a pitch to recruiters. Collins told Sports Illustrated: "Now I'm a free agent, literally and figuratively. I've reached that enviable state in life in which I can do pretty much what I want." In March, prospective NFL players Nick Kasa, Le'veon Bell, and Denard Robinson expressed worries about the potential for discrimination after they were questioned about their sexuality at an NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. SBNation hypothesized that the practice had always gone on, and only recently did athletes feel comfortable reporting it.
Wrestling, as a one-on-one sport, doesn't seem to require as much social conformity as a sport like football — in fact, it often traffics in outrageous and campy personalities — but the fact that a wrestler like Young who isn't at the above-the-fray stage of his career like Collins has chosen to come out before a decidedly ambivalent community is a promising sign for a more open discussion about sexual orientation in wrestling. The fact that Young briefly played football in college proves that he's more than capable at "playing the game" of hiding his orientation for professional purposes, but in wrestling he shouldn't have to. Just because it's a sport that involves two oiled-up guys pushing against each other in a ring doesn't mean homophobia isn't running rampant both among players and fans.
Furthermore, the fact that both Collins and Young are black is a promising sign for gay youth of color, who have lacked resources and role models and face bullying, discrimination, and homelessness at greater rates than their peers. Professional wrestling will be more fun to watch for all of us if it meets its outrageous fantasies with the real, honest stories of its athletes.