Home CommentaryOpinions Testo’s coming out was desperately needed

Testo’s coming out was desperately needed

by The Concordian November 15, 2011
Testo’s coming out was desperately needed

It’s time to face the elephant in the room. Not only do we need more openly gay athletes, but our society is ready for them.
Last week ex-Montreal Impact player David Testo proved that when he came out of the closet and expressed huge relief in doing so. His family, friends and teammates all knew about his sexual orientation.
“I’m glad he [came out], because he’s in a position where he can inspire a lot of people to do the same,” current Impact captain Nevio Pizzolitto told The Gazette. “Even though we’re professional athletes, we’re also human beings, and maybe something like this will change the minds of those in the same position.”
No male athlete in North American professional sports (the “big four” – hockey, baseball, football and basketball) has ever come out as being gay while in an active status, but that’s about to change. Testo’s revelation should have a ripple effect; not only in his sport, but in the “big four,” too.
Between January and May of this year, 27 athletes, coaches, journalists and executives had already come out, including American figure skater Johnny Weir and Phoenix Suns president Rick Welts.
Testo remained silent because of the pressures, fears and obstacles he had to face while playing for various organizations.
Fearful of the backlash and scrutiny gay professional athletes may face from their teammates and once-adoring fans, many other athletes are keeping mum, too.
“It’s like you’re carrying around a secret, you know, and carrying luggage and just never being allowed to be yourself,” Testo told Radio-Canada in an interview.
How can we say sports are making any discernible progress when gay men can’t even express their sexual orientation publicly?
It’s important to understand that there are openly gay professional athletes. They just don’t feel the need to tell you about it. Many of their teammates know, but from their perspective, they feel like they can compartmentalize this for the time being, and deal with it when their career is over.
In February 2007, LeBron James said that an openly gay player in the NBA couldn’t survive.
“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,” he said at the time. “You’ve heard of the in-room, locker room code. What happens in the locker room stays in there. It’s a trust factor, honestly.”
I bet he would take those words back today, if he could. Based on a 2006 Sports Illustrated study, “a sizable majority of professional athletes would welcome a gay teammate” (by sport it ranges from 57 per cent in the NFL to 80 per cent in the NHL). A 2002 Witeck-Combs study found that 70 per cent of fans would not think negatively of their favourite athlete if he came out of the closet. These studies, although a few years old, are encouraging and suggest that those numbers would be even higher today, given the increasingly liberal nature of our society.
Homophobia isn’t cool anymore and hasn’t been for quite some time now. When Kobe Bryant, one of the most marketable players on earth, can’t get away with making an anti-gay slur, it tells you something has changed.
Even if only one superstar athlete player comes out of the closet, it will set a precedent and open the floodgates for all the others. Once that takes place, we’ll see how far we’ve come. Jackie Robinson ended racial segregation in professional baseball in 1947. Who is ready to end homophobia in the “big four”?
Someone who isn’t afraid to potentially lose endorsements, money, playing time or fan support. You know what? That wouldn’t happen anyway. The effects of a star athlete coming out would be widespread. He’ll be embraced – not only by his teammates, organization and the media – but by the larger culture (including landing the cover of Time magazine). His team would be vilified if they even considered the idea of cutting or trading him.
A few years ago this would have been unthinkable. Now, it’s on the verge of happening. Gay icons were reserved for pop stars and actors, but that’s about to change.
Gay professional athletes, whether they’re superstars or not, deserve to come out when they’re ready. Fans, teammates and organizations need to start thinking about these men as people they know, respect and trust, not as abstractions or abominations. It’s a shame Testo couldn’t have begun his soccer career five or 10 years from now.

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