The influence sports have on society has dramatically changed over the previous few decades. Associated with a spark in technological advancement that took place, sports such as football, basketball, and baseball became synonymous with the masses. Conversely, the relationship between sports and society created a ripple of social issues that directly affect franchises and the athletes that construct these organizations. A recent trend in the societal acceptance of homosexual individuals has turned into a question of allowing homosexuals in sports.
On June 27, 2015, the United States’ Supreme Court announced the legalization of gay marriage. However, with same-sex marriage becoming a legal right, one the countries most popular form of entertainment continues to battle the moral issue of perception towards homosexuals in sports.
Currently, out of the four major American sports leagues – the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL – there are no openly gay athletes on an active roster. However, not too long ago there were Jason Collins and Michael Sam – two openly gay, active, professional athletes. Collins, who played professional basketball for 13 years for six different franchises (included two stints with the New Jersey, now Brooklyn Nets), became the first active openly gay male athlete player in these four major leagues. Contrarily, Sam became the first active homosexual in the NFL.
Unfortunately for Collins and Sam, their tenures as openly gay professional athletes were brief. Collins, who played one year as a gay professional athlete, ultimately retired at the age of 35. For Collins, his sexuality did not pose a threat to his status as an NBA player. For Sam and the NFL, that was not the case.
Sam, who disclosed his sexual identity in February of 2014, was questioned for coming out as a homosexual prior to the NFL draft, as people stated it could affect his stock.
As the Co-SEC Defensive Player of the Year, Sam earned a Round 1-3 projection for the NFL draft. Five months later, however, this was not the case, as the St. Louis Rams selected Sam with the 249th pick in the 7th Round. What happened to Sam and why did his draft stock plummet? The answer is simple: because he exposed his sexual identity prior to the draft.
With Sam coming out as a homosexual, scouts and coaches began to view him as a distraction, which could negatively affect the team’s performance.
Ultimately, the Rams cut Sam in the final week of training camp. After his brief tenure with the St. Louis, Sam was signed to the Dallas Cowboys practice squad, where he would spend less than two months with the team before being released. Sam has yet to receive another NFL contract.
Since Sam and Collins, there have been zero cases of an athlete of these four major leagues coming out as a homosexual. Largely, this is associated with what comes with exposing your sexual identity.
Opposing heterosexuals use the argument of comfortability when describing their reasoning as to why they’re against homosexuality. Unfortunately, this argument is no longer valid or accepted. Stating that something makes you uncomfortable to justify bigoted beliefs is a dying breed in today’s culture. In addition, it is also morally wrong to tell someone how to live his or her lives because of self-insecurities.
In fact, another reason as to why the comfortability argument is invalid is by an individual stating something cannot be because it makes them uncomfortable is a contradiction in itself. When an opposing group is shunned, it forces members of the minority group to have the same issue of comfortability or lack thereof. By doing so, one individual is placing themselves on a higher pedestal based solely off of personal beliefs. As history shows, discrimination against minority groups only causes greater conflict.
An example is former Oakland Raiders offensive tackle, Kwame Harris.
On March 29, 2013, in an interview with CNN.com, Harris identified himself as a gay man. Harris, who was not actively a gay athlete, came out as a homosexual once retired. But prior to anyone knowing of his sexual identity, Harris was a highly touted prospect. Drafted by the San Francisco 49ers with the 26th pick in the 2003 NFL Draft, expectations were high for Harris to succeed. Harris was unable to live up to his first round expectation and was cut after four years with the team.
Although there are multiple reasons that can attribute to the decline of Harris’ talent, he believes hiding his identity was a large factor. In an interview with ESPN.com, Harris stated that he enjoyed the comradery and responsibility that came with being an NFL athlete. However, Harris additionally said, “I also had to spend energy pretending to be something I was not. Having secrets takes something out of you.”
Once he exposed his identity, former teammates, particularly Chris Culliver, condemned him.
“I don’t do the gay guys man,” Culliver said. “No, we don’t got no gay people on the team, they gotta get up out of here if they do.”
While this is one case of athletes issuing homophobic statements, it provides a great example as to why other professional athletes choose to hide their sexual orientation. Additionally, it only further proves that the fear of being discriminated against due to your sexual preference is legitimate.
Unfortunately, as long as these sports leagues continue to ignore a large issue at hand, it is difficult to move forward and progress. Culliver received no form of punishment from his team or the league offices for his remarks.
Furthermore, Sacramento Kings point guard Rajon Rondo also received a slap on the wrist for his homophobic remarks made towards NBA referee Bill Kennedy. Rondo, who was unhappy with the officiating, screamed “you’re a f—king f-ggot, Billy” towards Kennedy. In response, the Kings suspended Rondo for just one game.
As our society continues to progress forward in its acceptance of homosexual individuals, sports is a platform where it okay for discrimination of these individuals. The negative fear of having a gay athlete share the same locker room, shower or even playing field is irrational. Furthermore, by restricting someone based off of his or her personal preference is a discriminatory act in itself. Along with being morally wrong to conduct or condone such actions, it is also illegal. It’s time for a change.