Pride & Country: Coming Out in Sports
By: Stephen & Adam Podowitz-Thomas
How do you teach a kid to love both their nation and sports, when their nation has spent years telling their fathers that they aren’t equal and can’t play at the same level as straight men? That there are certain sports that are for the “sissy boys,” but that even the best of those will never be as revered as those that simply sit on the sidelines in one the All-American big four: football, baseball, basketball and hockey? And why should this be a needed lesson for a kid who just wants to say “Go USA” and cheer on their team?
While Stephen and I haven’t had to answer these questions yet, the upcoming World Cup has turned them into more pressing inquiries, as this is the first international sporting event we’ll be watching while also waiting to become dads.
Of the two of us, I’m probably the bigger sports fan. I grew up on college football, participated in soccer leagues as a kid, played for my school’s football team, and was living in Germany when they hosted the World Cup in 2006, so the event has a special place in my heart.
It is with this background that I’ve been following the (somewhat) recent string of professional athletes coming out. Of recent fame is Michael Sam, the college football player who came out after the end of his senior year. When drafted by the St. Louis Rams, Sam kissed his boyfriend, and received a massive backlash from this very innocent, simple sign of affection. In 2013, the world saw the first out NBA player, Jason Collins, who plays for the Brooklyn Nets. There was significant blowback regarding Collins, but the fans gave him a standing ovation when he played at his first game following coming out.
Before that, however, was Robbie Rogers, a professional soccer player who came out in February 2013. Rogers had originally retired from the game because he was afraid he couldn’t play as a gay man, yet just a few short months after his announcement, he started a game for the MLS’s Los Angeles Galaxy. And the best part? Rogers has been a member of the US Men’s National Soccer Team, though he won’t be representing the US in this World Cup.
In fact, a recent survey of international soccer fans has shown that most would support their national team having a gay player, though no team this year has an out player. This survey result certainly doesn’t mean homophobia is gone from sports. But maybe it’s a step forward. If the fans can get behind their team, no matter the sexual orientation of the players, maybe it will give courage and strength to the players, coaches, managers, and others involved to come out or support someone else if they do. And hopefully, by the time we have a kid old enough to understand the World Cup, he or she will be able to root on a gay player, one wearing the red, white and blue of the USA. Because those who can play, should, no matter who they love.
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