2013 was a Great Year for LGBT Athletes – or was it?

2013 was a few months old and the story broke that the first professional athlete in a major professional team sport in North America was coming out as a gay athlete – while still active in his career.  The story and news of Jason Collins spread quickly with even the President of the United States responding to the story.  It was a monumental day for gay rights and for all of sports. 

…and then no team signed free-agent Jason Collins in the off-season and it seems his career has ended.

Jason Collins not appearing in a game after his announcement does nothing to diminish the weight of his coming out and it will absolutely make it that much easier for the next athlete.  His not being re-signed could be attributed to his age, on-court performance, etc., all of which has nothing to do with his sexuality. Stories have come out recently from anonymous sources that there are any number of gay athletes active in leagues today, known by their teammates but have not come out.  Apparently the early-90’s Houston Oilers teams had athletes who were out and it was known at the time.  There were a lot of stories this year that speaks to the progression of sports, albeit at a snail’s pace.

When a story emerges that wants to be hailed as a win, there always seems to be that caveat at the end.  Robbie Rogers came out as a gay athlete this year and immediately followed it with his retirement from his sport, much like so many others before him such as John Amaechi.  Rogers did return for a match a few months later making him one of very few male athletes to have announced his sexuality and then be active in professional sports.

But the news wasn’t all great.

Chris Kluwe has recently come out and alleged that the Minnesota Vikings cut him from their roster as a result of his gay rights advocacy.  The Vikings deny this – obviously, but it raises an eyebrow.  When you look at Kluwe’s stats, there was no tangible drop-off in his performance.  In his eight seasons in the league, he only missed one game which was in his first season in 2005.  His average punt and total yards ranks him middle of the pack year after year and the only real damning stat on him is his longest punt of the year each year would rank him closer to the bottom of the league. But in a punter, what exactly is a team looking for?  Consistency – something Kluwe was a model of.  The difference here is the position he played.  The team could easily replace him with someone else who can likely repeat the performance.  And in  a dog-eat-dog industry, teams regularly find the guy who they deem to be “less work”.  Did Kluwe’s advocacy make him “too much work”?

The same could be considered of Jason Collins – an athlete who gives you 2-3 points a night, do teams really want to bring that media storm into their locker room?

Jason Collins was a free-agent at the time he announced, he didn’t have a team pressuring him one way or the other.  And as details emerge with other athletes, it’s likely no coincidence.  Chris Kluwe alleges that Vikings management asked him to curtail his advocacy.

Their sexuality or advocacy isn’t the reason they don’t have a job… but it most certainly is a reason.

Brittany Griner, the No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA draft, was told by her head coach at Baylor University to not reveal her sexuality.  She was instructed that to do so would reflect poorly on their program and potentially hurt recruitment efforts in future seasons.  Deny who you are young woman so our team can win an extra game next season.  Some priorities need aligning.

Towards the end of 2013, Tom Daley who is a British Olympic diver also joined the growing list of LGBT athletes, coming out as bi-sexual and currently in a relationship with a man.

The Sochi Olympics are just around the corner and 2014 will be an interesting year for LGBT athletes. The Olympics in Sochi, Russia will put this issue on the front page of newspapers around the world as various countries thumb their nose at Vladimir Putin and their laws that target women and men who don’t represent what they deem to be a traditional family.

Earlier in 2013 it really seemed to be on pace as a monumental year for LGBT athletes.  In retrospect, it really wasn’t.  There were some big headlines, both good and bad.  In the end, it feels like more of a push than it does a win.  But truthfully and as unfortunate as this is, a push is still a step in the right direction.

The biggest advancement that we’re seeing on this front is the hard look at the systemic forms of discrimination that have existed.  All of the major sports organizations such as the NFL, NHL, MLB, NBA, UFC, etc., have become active with Spirit Day.  Moves like this are important to send the message that at the very least you’re trying.  This doesn’t change the culture of any locker room but culture changes are backed by good policy.  Professional sports are laying the foundation of good policy in order to assist.

2013 was better than 2012, fingers crossed that 2014 continues to be another step in the right direction and hopefully a bigger step.


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