Just the other day Detroit Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter was talking about how it would be difficult to deal with having an openly gay teammate. Then he began saying he was misquoted, misunderstood, and that though he is a Christian and being gay goes against his beliefs he is not anti-gay. The fact is it is extremely likely that Hunter already has, or has had, gay baseball-playing teammates, but just didn’t know it.
They played catch together. They may have gone out for dinner and drinks together. And yes, they probably shared the shower together. That essentially means that the difference is the straight player’s awareness of gayness. The theoretical discomfort arising from whether a player is gay or not comes down to being naked in the shower at the same time and thinking the other guy is giving you the once-over. Certainly, no one is saying that if you are gay you can’t hit the curveball.
Going back to Jackie Robinson re-integrating baseball in the 20th century, and especially during the 1960s, when the Civil Rights movement was in full flower, sports in America was ahead of everyday interaction in other walks of life in terms of interracial cooperation and understanding. It was not as if white players and black players were all going around hugging one another all of the time, but they worked together to achieve success and were active, public examples of what that cooperation and tolerance could accomplish.
We now live in a more open and understanding American society led by a black president, something which would have seemed inconceivable to the professional athlete of 50 years ago. The nation has made progress. Similarly, those with only reasonably long memories will recall how polarizing it was when the first female sportswriters entered locker rooms to try and do their jobs.
Those women faced rampant sexism. They were viewed as sex objects, not professionals at work. Some were harassed right out of the locker room. Some were ignored and snubbed because coaches and players alike felt they had to be know-nothings. And they did not always have support from their male colleagues, either. Time passes, new generations grow up, and each successive generation learns fresh from an early age from the images and lessons provided by the society of the moment.
A young person today who is an avid reader and hit the library to study sp0rt in the 20th century would be thoroughly appalled by newspaper clippings and books that came out pre-World War II and the way heavyweight champion Jack Johnson was portrayed. The routine viciousness and racism in the prose is nauseating. Some of that same treatment shadowed Joe Louis when he became heavyweight champion, but Louis, by nature of his personality and by the happenstance of his times, became an American hero to all races and played a huge role as a bridge in making race relations better in the United States.
Jackie Robinson followed Louis and always said Louis’ pioneering role was a beacon for him. R0binson led baseball and baseball led the nation and other sports. Whether they are on television, writing for newspapers or the Internet, women are just lumped in with the rest of the media these days. Athletes know that women are coming into the locker room and they do what they need to do to cover up.
Some years ago umpire Dave Pallone wrote a best-selling book about his “double life” as a gay man in baseball. Only a few months ago, former Pittsburgh Pirates owner Kevin McClatchy publicly revealed he is gay.
Having an openly gay teammate mixing in the clubhouse is the last frontier to cross in a sports environment. If a gay athlete thought his teammates and fellow players in a sport were ready for the shock, then a certain athlete would step up and open up. The fact that the professional team sport athletes who have admitted to being gay did so only after their retirement shows that no one feels the time is right.
What has happened recently is that non-gay athletes who did not care about public perception or backlash, have taken public stands announcing their support for gay rights and gay marriage issues. They have made it clear that they stand in support of human rights.
The time is coming when that openly gay athlete will be a pioneer coming out at the height of his career. And some day, however many years down the line that is, being an openly gay player will probably be routine in American sports locker rooms. Evolution of relations between white Americans and African Americans in the locker room and athletes and female journalists doing interviews tell us this is so.