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ISSUE 117 VOL 8 PUBLISHED 11/14/2003

Why not here? Why not now?

By Ken Foote
Sports Editor

Friday, November 14, 2003

In a recent episode of ESPN’s drama "Playmakers", the team’s leading wide receiver, and lone All-pro selection, admitted to his teammates that he was a homosexual. The executives of the team responded by forcing him to go on injured reserve so that the story would not leak to the press. The team owner told the player, "There will be a time for you to stand up for who you are, but not here, not now."

That got me wondering, why not here, why not now? What will it take for this fictitious coming out to occur inside an actual NFL, MLB or NBA locker room? To this day, no openly professional athlete has been openly gay while playing in one of the major sports leagues, but that has to change, right?

Sooner or later, the "barrier" will be broken. However, it looks like later is more probable than sooner at this point. Progress has been slow, although recent events have served to enflame the issue.

Some of the earliest groundwork was laid in 1975 when former NFL linebacker David Kopay told the world he was gay. He was named to the NFL all-pro team in his final season. He was forced to retire in 1972 after a multitude of injuries made playing all but impossible.

It was Kopay’s book, "The David Kopay Story," that gave former Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Esera Tuaolo the strength to come out of the closest. After earning all-rookie recognition in 1991, Tuaolo played nine seasons in the NFL before retiring two years ago.

While both men view the coming out experience as liberating, Tuaolo referred to it as having a "giant weight" removed from his 6’3" inch, 310 pound frame, neither was able to face the truth while on an NFL roster.

"I really think my career would have ended quickly if I had come out while playing," Tuaolo told ABC News earlier this year. "I probably would have got hurt out there."

Former NFL wide receiver, Sterling Sharpe agreed his former Packers teammate. "There are a lot of guys out there who are not ready to handle this," Sharpe told ABC News.

Before Tuaolo told the media he was gay, the most recent media coverage surrounding the issue was New York Met’s catcher Mike Piazza’s press conference defending his sexuality. Rumors had surfaced that Piazza was gay after an employee at a gay magazine publication said he was having a sexual relationship with a New York major league baseball player.

After adamantly saying he was not gay, Piazza lay low, or at least as low as one can in New York, until the media moved onto the next fad.

There has been progress in the gay and lesbian rights within the social arena, some states allow gay’s and lesbian’s to marry and some insurance companies offer benefits for same sex partners. However, much is left to be done, and the presence of an openly gay athlete in professional sports would certainly help the case.

Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier long before the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. Many hail Robinson as one of the first civil rights visionaries and believe he deserves the significant recognition he has bee privy to. Some have gone as far as to declare Martin Luther King Jr. as the Jackie Robinson of the civil rights movement, instead of calling Jackie Robinson the Martin Luther King of baseball.

Such a comparison may seem frivolous, but Robinson’s impact on societal perception of African Americans and his contribution to the civil rights movement are too great to be ignored. The emergence of a gay athlete could provide the same effect for the gay and lesbian rights movement, helping chance both societal perceptions and political action.

There is not doubt that it is time for a change. Gay and lesbian individuals should be able to pursue any career they want, even professional athlete.

The only remaining questions are what league the individual will come from and what time will be right? I still want to know, why not here and why not now?

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