People come out of the closet day in and day out, but what makes it so special when a sportsperson finally decides to take that step, and says the words that they have kept for years from teammates, coaches and even fans — “I’m gay”, so much so that it has to make front page news?
Recently, former Welsh international rugby captain Gareth Thomas revealed to the BBC that he was, indeed, gay. While Thomas’s coaches, former teammates and even some opponents have so far been extremely supportive, one can safely assume that a part of the community, either from the spectators in the stands to the administrators in the backroom, are ruing Thomas’s decision to plunge another dagger into the so-called “macho” image of sport, which they place on a gilded pedestal as a cornerstone of not just rugby, but sport in general.
Go to any professional sporting event, and the testosterone in the air is thicker than pea soup. The derogatory slurs fly like bags of peanuts from the vendor to the hands of the peckish spectator, but while the same attitudes would be treated with abhorrence or at least some sort of mild derision in polite conversation, they are perfectly acceptable as the vision of manliness inside the stadium. Gay. to them, is the effeminate player who’s not putting in the perceived 110% towards victory. But looking at Thomas, who has played in over 100 international matches for Wales, and has been selected three times for the British and Irish Lions (an all-star squad of players from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland) — he is undoubtedly the antithesis of that image.
But Thomas chose to have retired, like NBA player John Amaechi and NFL players David Kopay and Esera Tuaolo before him did before making the big announcement; while some see it as “better late than never”, others see it as “less of a distraction.” Cohesion, especially in team sport, can be a delicate balance that determines who comes out on top, and who languishes on the bottom; if someone chose to come out during their career, it could mean ostracization not just from the peanut gallery, but also from their peers — poison to a career, especially if it is laden with multi-million dollar sponsorship deals. And if you don’t play, you don’t get paid. It’s a vicious cycle.
To the outsider, this is a baffling view. But for the insider like Thomas, Amaechi, et al. — it is their livelihoods at stake. While one can only hope that someday a professional sportsperson can reveal their orientations to their teammates and peers without fear of ostracization, it will be a long and winding road.
Submitted By: The Twisted Chinaman (an alias the writer chose instead of their real name)
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