Veteran NBA journeyman Jason Collins took the sports world by storm with his appearance on the cover of “Sports Illustrated” and his essay revealing, “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.”
The announcement was met with widespread support. Not all were quick to praise Collins, however, as it sparked controversy throughout the Twitter medium leaving many to wonder what the future holds for gay athletes in team sports.
Mitch Bohn is a 31-year-old student athlete who was a basketball player for the Madison College WolfPack. Although he is straight and hasn’t played with any openly gay teammates, he is upfront with his support of all athletes being true to themselves. He feels like more athletes identifying themselves as homosexuals would be impactful on others facing the difficult dilemma.
Bohn believes that a player’s sexuality should be a complete non-issue when evaluating their value to a team. “Personally, if he worked hard just like everyone else on the team, I wouldn’t have a problem at all,” he said.
According to Bohn, there are obstacles for both, gay players and their teammates to overcome. Bohn doesn’t believe that all of his former teammates share his inclusive viewpoint. “I feel like some players would have a problem with it,” he said. “A lot of people are close-minded about that specific subject.”
In response to John Amaechi becoming the first NBA player to come out, back in 2007, reigning MVP of the league Lebron James seemed to repudiate the thought of current NBA players following Amaechi’s lead.
“With teammates you have to be trustworthy, and if you’re gay and you’re not admitting that you are, then you are not trustworthy,” said James in a Chris Sheridan article for ESPN.com.
When asked if he thinks the close-mindedness of others can change, Bohn offered optimism. “The more it happens, the more comfortable people will be with it. It is nowhere near as large of a public issue as when African-Americans were first allowed in sports. I feel like (Collins) coming out is definitely going to open the door for more athletes to come out and I hope that everyone feels comfortable enough to do so. It is a shame that people have to hide who they are to appease others.”
In LeBron’s case, Bohn might be right. LeBron tweeted “very cool” and “noble” to describe his colleague’s announcement.
A common opposition to openly gay athletes in team sports expresses concern over showering together and the comfort level in the locker room. Bohn is aware of these perceptions but doesn’t subscribe to them.
“I am comfortable enough with myself and my sexuality that I wouldn’t have a problem being in a shower with a man who was homosexual,” said Bohn. He believes that the problem isn’t the gay athlete, but rather a culture that is covertly homophobic. There seems to be a perceived non-traversable line between homosexuality and “macho” team sports.
Hines Ward, former Pittsburgh Steeler WR and NBC analyst, recently spoke with NBC Sports Radio host Erik Kuselias regarding gays in the locker room. Ward isn’t convinced that the time is right for the NFL to have an announcement like Collins. “I don’t think football is ready, there’s too many guys in the locker room and, you know, guys play around too much,” he said.
“I do understand that some people may have a problem with it,” says Bohn. Bohn believes that hate, religious views and a lack of understanding are some of the causal factors. Above all else, Bohn thinks that those players are “not comfortable with themselves.” He added that the obligation is on those individuals to overcome their diffidence.
“The ones that have problems are going to have to adapt. It boils down to who is going to help your team the most: gay or not. I feel like this will be more common in the years to come.”
Bohn hopes that close-mindedness can soon cease. Meanwhile, anti-gay comments continue to surface. An infamous example of homophobia in sports comes from the mouth of 49ers Chris Culliver. “I don’t do the guys. I don’t do that. We don’t have any gays on the team,” said Culliver. “They gotta get up outta here if they do. Can’t be with that sweet stuff.”
Three-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl winning Baltimore Ravens linebacker, Brendan Ayanbadejo is an advocate for gay rights and doesn’t approve of aggressively addressing others’ ignorance. “You can’t fight hate with hate. You’ve got to fight hate with love,” said Ayendbadejo.