Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Gay Athletes: One Day, It Won’t Be a Big Deal

By Adam Russell

So the biggest story in college football this week involves a former player announcing that he is gay. In case you missed it, recently graduated Missouri defensive end Michael Sam "came out" on Sunday in a TV interview, adding that his coaches and teammates have been very supportive and acceptant of his lifestyle.

This also isn't the first announcement from a college player that he has "alternative sexual preferences" (my quote). Locally, a former high school football star who is now a kicker at Willamette University in Oregon, Conner Mertens, announced that he is bi-sexual.

While I don't necessarily agree with their lifestyles, I do commend these players for their courage to come out and announce to the world something that is viewed upon by many as wrong or unnatural. That being said, though, I don't quite understand the need to make such announcements in the first place.

I don't mean any disrespect toward people who feel the need to tell the world that they prefer the same sex (or both sexes), but is this urge to "come out" simply a result of the current push to make homosexuality acceptable and equal to heterosexuality in society, or is it an effort to bring attention to themselves or their personal lives? Let me explain my lack of understanding.

In the simplest sense, sexual preference is a personal matter. While there is debate as to whether sexual preference is innate or a subconscious choice, there are other aspects of people's personal lives that don't get announced in a press conference or TV interview. For example, I don't recall any athlete or entertainer calling a media event to announce that they are an atheist or a vegetarian or that they are a Democrat. Those are personal matters and, aside from that, why would anybody want to know?

At one point in my life, I was a fairly prominent radio personality in the small town where I lived. One could say that I was a celebrity of sorts. But I never once had the notion of announcing on the air that I'm a Christian, or that I think PETA stands for "People Eating Tasty Animals" or that I'm a registered Republican. Why would anyone care to know about my personal life? All they should really care about is whether I'm can speak well, deliver the news with authority or accurately describe the action of the local high school team's games.

Now back to the matter of Michael Sam and Conner Mertens. Personally, it doesn't matter to me if they're gay or bi or celibate. That's their business and theirs alone. What matters to me as a football fan – and I'm sure their coaches and teammates feel the same way — is if they can play or not. The same holds true in the entertainment industry (of which sports is arguably a part). Neil Patrick Harris is a terrific actor who also happens to be gay. What's the big deal with that?

Here's the point I'm trying to make. We've made great strides in recent years to accept alternative lifestyles in American society and have applauded those who have the courage to let others know about it. But my hope is that we'll get to a point where it doesn't matter what is an athlete's sexual preference, and the main focus is on their abilities. I look forward to the day when a gay or bisexual athlete doesn't feel compelled to announce their personal life to the world — no more than one would feel the need to announce their religious, dietary or political choices — and their talents and abilities all we need to know about.

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