- Jane McManus, Reporter & Columnist, espnW.com
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"Hi I'm Steve Nash," he says in the video, produced by the Human Rights Campaign, a national organization leading the effort to legalize same-sex marriage in New York. "I spend my summers in New York and I love playing at the Garden. A growing number of professional athletes are speaking out in support of gay and lesbian couples getting married, I'm proud to be one of them. Join me and the supermajority of New Yorkers who support marriage equality."
Nash had been considering appearing in the video for months. According to HRC vice president of communications Fred Sainz, the NBA star ultimately timed the release to support Welts and New York Rangers forward Sean Avery, who experienced a backlash among hockey fans after making a similar video. NHL player agent Todd Reynolds called Avery's support for the issue "misguided." Many anonymous commenters on message boards harshly criticized Avery for his support of the proposition, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo has advanced. Cuomo is hoping for a vote by legislators in June.
A previous proposition was defeated in New York by the State Senate in 2009. This time, proponents have generated a marketing campaign that has drawn the support of celebrities such as New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and actors Julianne Moore and Sam Waterston.
Sainz said HRC was actively lining up athletes to support the rights of gays and lesbians to marry, because it helps open a wider discussion of the issue. "While this issue has traditionally been the third rail," Sainz said, "the good news is there are an increasing number of athletes and professionals willing to step forward and say it's not the way it's been perceived, or it shouldn't be that way."
In the May 15 New York Times Magazine story that broke the news of Welts' sexual orientation, the Suns president recounts revealing the news to Nash. The two-time MVP offered his support and said, "I just think it's a shame, for all the obvious reasons, that this is a leap that he has to take."
No current player in the NHL, NFL, MLB or NBA is openly gay, although several have come out after retiring from sports. After Welts said he is gay, NBA commentator Charles Barkley said that he had played with gay teammates and had no problem with it. He even addressed the issue of locker room homophobia, telling The Washington Post that he thought outsiders were making assumptions about what players thought.
"I'd rather have a gay guy who can play than a straight guy who can't play," Barkley said.
Although many celebrities have made the HRC videos -- Whoopi Goldberg, Fran Drescher, Lucy Liu, Russell Simmons and former first daughter Barbara Bush among them -- Nash and Avery are the only pro athletes to support the New York effort.
NBA commissioner David Stern has made several statements in support of Welts and, during playoff games, the league is running an anti-bullying public service announcement focusing on the use of the word "gay" as an insult. In response to Nash's video, the NBA released a statement.
"Our players know they are in a unique position to impact the conversations that occur around important social issues," read the statement, released by NBA spokesperson Mike Bass. "We encourage and in many cases help facilitate ways for our players to express their views, follow their passions, and be engaged."
Earlier this year, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo made a video in support of Maryland's failed marriage equality proposition. He said that after publicly supporting the issue for years, he's happy it's become a mainstream topic.
Ayanbadejo said it is gratifying to see athletes like Avery and Nash support same-sex marriage. He feels that support is finally reaching critical mass, which will happen when the issue finds supporters outside of a circle of voices such as Nash's.
"That's when it's really going to hit home for me," Ayanbadejo said. "It's just a matter of time before it's going to be accepted."
A Gallup poll out Friday found that, for the first time, Americans who favor the rights of gay and lesbian couples to marry outnumber those who oppose it. Asked if same-sex marriage should be recognized by the law as valid, 53 percent of respondents said yes while 45 percent said no.
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