This generation’s Jackie Robinson

By Alex Bullock

There have been rumors lately swirling around ESPN and the rest of the sports media world that multiple NFL players would come out as gay in the near future.

To me and to many others, having a gay teammate would be a non-issue. Not necessarily because of my stance on marriage equality or my support for equal rights for all persons, but because to me, one’s sexuality is a non-issue on the field of play.

When I walk into a gym to play pickup basketball I don’t immediately judge the other men in the room based on what I think their sexual exploits may be, I judge them based on whether or not I could beat them to the basket.

A lot of pundits in the media have wondered whether or not an athlete who came out would subsequently feel uncomfortable in the locker room among his teammates.

The world of sports can be viewed as a hyper-masculine realm where one must fit the frankly outdated view of what makes a man a man, but numerous athletes, active and retired, have refuted that sentiment.

“I don’t think one of our players would be scared to come out. We’ve got 25 guys, it’s a family, and our goal is to win a World Series,” Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander said in an interview with CNN. “What your sexual orientation is, I don’t see how that affects the ultimate goal of our family.”

Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame member and NBA television analyst Charles Barkley said that a gay athlete would only be judged by “whether he can play or not. If somebody is gay, that’s their own business… If a guy can’t play that’s the only time we don’t want to play with him. We don’t care about all that extracurricular stuff.”

These athletes cannot speak for all athletes in the same way that I cannot speak for all college students, but it seems like the majority of athletes would not have a problem with an openly gay teammate as long as they could contribute to the team in a positive way.

What someone does in their private life off of the court does not affect their abilities on the court. The only thing that should matter is whether or not you can help the team win or not.

It certainly will not be easy for whoever is the first openly gay active professional athlete. There would be added media coverage and the real possibility of malicious treatment from fans on the road or maybe even at home games. Also, the level of access the public has with public figures through social media could prove a serious difficulty as their personal life would be exposed and nitpicked more than any athlete before him.

Now, the possibility of a pioneer in sports draws obvious comparisons to Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play in Major League Baseball. The move was highly controversial at the time and was not well received by a lot of players, coaches and fans alike.

The reason why Robinson was successful and is now viewed as one of the greatest cultural heroes of the twentieth century, in my opinion, is that he was a great baseball player.

There were a number of average black players playing in the minor leagues, but Robinson’s talent level was too high to be wasted. In the big leagues Robinson was a career .300 hitter, a six-time all star, the winner of the National League Most Valuable Player award in 1949 and in 1955 helped lead the Brooklyn Dodgers to a World Series championship.

People could dislike him for the color of his skin, but his play on the field was unmatched.

I think whenever, because it is simply a matter of when rather than if, we see an openly gay athlete, they must be prepared to not only be a standard bearer under an intense microscope from the public. More importantly they must be prepared to perform well in their sport in order to prove that one’s sexual orientation is a non-factor on the field.