Monday, February 18, 2008

Who Will Be The First Out?

By the numbers, there are well over 1,000 professional athletes in the three major US sporting leagues -- MLB, NBA and NFL.

If you believe the old adage of 1 in 10, or even a dramatically smaller idea of 1 in 100... well, that makes anywhere from 10 to 100 men who are, not to put too fine a point on it, gay.

It also strains the point of credibility to imagine that of all of the people who have played in the past, there has only been a handful -- John Amaechi is the only one that comes to mind -- that have had That Persuasion in the past.

Clearly, the last great closet in the US is sports. And it's going to go away, not just in our lifetimes, but probably in the next 5 to 10 years.

Here's why.

1) Same-sex marriage is an idea whose acceptance is growing rapidly, if you look at the polling numbers and the states that are becoming more accepting of it. What looked like a 20-year slam dunk for conservatives to run against just a few years back has lost a lot of steam.

2) Once it's accepted, you will have an athlete's spouse that will want the security of a long-term relationship -- both from a commitment standpoint, as well as from a financial one. To wit, alimony is a powerful force.

3) Independent of the likelihood of a state-sanctioned relationship for a gay athlete, there's also this -- endorsement dollars. For gay-friendly businesses, a player will be a natural choice for their courage in being the first out. Jackie Robinson may have put up with a lot, but so did Monte Irvin -- and Robinson, if such a role was happening today, would have had a much better deal from the sponsors.

4) The book deal. If Amaechi can get paid for being an unknown NBA center, what are the dynamics for a player who's active, known, and dare we say it, promiscuous?

Now, having said that, there are roles that won't work for a pioneer. (Note that I'm not saying that they can't do it, I'm just saying it's not the role for the first over the breech.)

1) Line play. Way too many opportunities for sudden and exceptional violence from a homophobe.

2) Quarterback or Running Back. Too much scrutiny and screening in earlier levels. Plus, the dirty little secret of both roles is that, unless you've got really exceptional physical gifts, you're pretty replaceable... and if your fullback doesn't want you to live, you won't.

3) Closer. A job in a fishbowl gets even more intense... and once again, it's a very replaceable job.

4) Power forward. Kind of the basketball equivalent of line play, and adding to the fun is that the point guard can freeze you out. They'd stay quiet.

5) Shortstop or Center Field. Usually the best athlete coming up in high school and college, and the role that's most likely to interact strongly with teammates -- second base for the former, the other outfielders for the latter. This position has had eyes on the money prize for a long time, and would do little to jeopardize the payday.

Now, the five roles were I could see a pioneer breaking out of the closet...

1) Punter or kicker. More or less on an island already, and while they might know they are disposable, they also have a certain amount of job security from just having numbers.

2) Wide receiver. The role already has a wide latitude in behavior, and if you've got numbers, you'll keep the gig.

3) Left field. Historically, the position with some of the greatest iconoclasts in the game, as well as the place where you'll find some of the biggest numbers. To wit, if Manny Ramirez came out tomorrow for the Red Sox, they'd probably think that was a win, because it wouldn't be another trade request.

4) Point guard. If you're good, your teammates love you no matter what... and if they don't, you can freeze them out and directly destroy their numbers. If you're a pass-first type in today's NBA, your big man will stand up for you if you were Al-Qaeda, let alone gay.

5) Left-handed reliever. Heck, you don't even have to be good to keep the gig. You get people out, the world will beat a path to your door -- even if that door's in a certain part of town.

Add your wild speculation in the comments...


Dirty Davey said...

Hell, Chuck came out for gay marriage on the teevee just a couple of days ago. There goes any hope of being the REPUBLICAN candidate for governor of Alabama.

Tracer Bullet said...

Baseball, because it's the most individual of the team sports, or basketball, because the team is so small that guys should get to know each other better, seem a better spot to introduce the world to gay athletes than football, a game that combines incredible violence with angry rednecks and stabby types like Ray Lewis. I still wouldn't want to be the first guy, though. Society is moving forward by sports are still a terribly paleolithic endevor.

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