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No American male athlete on a professional sports team—football, basketball, baseball, or hockey—has ever come out as being gay while still playing. Multiple players have revealed themselves after retiring. Several professional female athletes have come out while still playing for their teams.
But the possibility of having a gay American male athlete is now on the public agenda and leagues as well as individuals are striving to be more inclusive.
The National Hockey League is taking steps to be the first among professional leagues to show support for team members who want to reveal themselves as being gay or lesbian. They have joined forces with the You Can Play Project, an advocacy group fighting against homophobia in sports culture.
In addition to the NHL, many individual athletes are also coming forward to say that they support gay rights even if they are straight themselves. Chris Kluwe, punter for the Minnesota Vikings, went live on CNN to talk about the need to end homophobia.
This is not just an issue for the major leagues but also something that can affect college and even high school teams. Tristan King, secretary for Gender Sexuality Alliance group at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, commented on the topic.
“I think that the tides are definitely changing for sports,” King said. “I think that athletes and sports organizations are also taking homophobia more seriously. If a sports player makes a comment using the F-word or calling someone gay as a slur, they take offense and make it a bigger deal than it used to be. So I think it’s definitely going to a better degree than it used to be.”
King mentioned that he would like to see all UWSP athletes Safe Zone-trained. Safe Zone is a special program that the GSA puts on to train people on how to be allies, or straight people who support the LGBTQ community. For example, the workshops teach the correct terminology to avoid being offensive.
“Words like gay and f-bomb get thrown around a lot in the locker room,” King said. “It is part of the culture, but I think that learning to change that and not putting up with that type of behavior is one of the best steps that could be put towards changing it.”
“If you want to talk to someone privately, or if you’d just like to get some help or have questions, we’ll be free to answer,” King said. “No one is going to ask if you are gay or straight or anything like that. It is a very welcoming environment.”