Sports and homosexuality issue is not going away

Professional sports leagues might want to issue a new list of insults acceptable on courts and playing fields across America.

Just hours after the Bulls' Joakim Noah thoughtlessly used a gay slur to insult a fan, two-time league MVP Steve Nash appeared in a video to support marriage equality in New York. The timing was a coincidence, but the issue of sports and homosexuality isn't going away.

And the grown-ups are getting into the conversation when it comes to school yard taunts.

New York Rangers winger Sean Avery, Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo and now Nash have added their support to same-sex marriage, and the NBA showed this season that it won't abide insults regarding sexuality when Kobe Bryant was caught making a comment similar to Noah's.

The league's decision to issue Bryant a hefty fine gave Noah 100,000 reasons to apologize for his words immediately after the game. (It helped only slightly, as the league fined Noah $50,000 on Monday.) The league also is running an antibullying campaign that focuses on the use of the word "gay" as an insult.

For those who regarded men's professional sports as an island where the sensibilities of June and Ward Cleaver still reigned, the events of recent weeks have been a welcome change.

The assumption that homosexuality exists only in a world without sports has been disproved. Current and former athletes continue to come out across the globe, causing ripples of support or shock, and then go back to living and playing as before.

There is always a price for those who are the first to jump into the fray. Ayanbadejo took heat on the sports message boards in 2009 when he wrote an op-ed in support of gay marriage. Then Avery got the "I know you are, but what am I?" response from some quarters when he made a video for the Human Rights Campaign's New York effort.

But as Nash, Charles Barkley and Suns general manager Rick Welts add their voices to those of greater acceptance, players who have remained in the closet will find pockets of support should they decide to come out.

Brian Ellner, who works for the Human Rights Campaign's effort for marriage equality in New York, said the past two weeks show that the dam is breaking in sports.

"I don't think we've ever seen anything close to this, especially in the big four," Ellner said.

He's referring to the NBA, NHL, NFL and MLB. Women's sports have long accepted lesbians, and men and women in individual sports have been able to come out, but men's team sports have seemed closed to the possibility.

That door is opening, and it's hard to imagine that it will be shut anytime soon.

Clearly, there are many around sports who are uncomfortable with homosexuality. But polls show that younger people are much less bothered by it than previous generations. Perhaps an exceptional athlete is playing in high school right now who is out to his friends and teammates. When he comes into the pros, his sexuality will have long been an accepted part of his résumé.

It is only a matter of time before an openly gay player is a member of a men's professional team. When that happens, there will be players like Nash, Ayanbadejo and Avery to stand alongside him.

As for Noah, I'm pretty sure he'll know better than to say something rude.

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