This past Thursday (11 Oct) was National Coming Out Day in the US. ESPN, an international sports media corporation, published an essay listing the hazards a National Basketball League athlete would face if he announced he were gay.
Written by sports reporter Kevin Arnovitz, the article centers around the coming out of featherweight boxer Orlando Cruz and the thinking of retired NBA player John Amaechi. Anyone in the NBA, or any professional sports league, has to consider the professional costs of coming out. If a basketball player steps through the closet door, will he be putting needless roadblocks in his career path?
‘Multiple league sources say that players perceived as gay have a harder time getting a fair look from NBA teams,’ Arnovitz writes.
This isn’t applicable to super stars, but the league isn’t filled with players known only by their first names.
‘If LeBron were gay, you think he’d have a problem staying in the league,’ one unnamed source source asked Arnovitz rhetorically. ‘But for someone who is interchangeable with a bunch of other candidates, you have to think about risk-reward. Do his assets outweigh any objections? Those objections can be that he’s a bad cultural fit. Or that he gets popped with guns and weed in the car. Or he’s a serial complainer. Or sits out two-a-days with a little hamstring tweak.’
Unfortunately being gay is seen as an unwelcome risk in the NBA’s culture. This reality stands in contrast with the league’s public face. Last year the player’s union agreed to a collective bargaining agreement that included protection from sexual orientation discrimination. Grant Hill and Jared Dudley, teammates on the Phoenix Suns, recorded an anti-gay slur PSA that aired during the entire NBA season (this year Hill plays for the Los Angeles Clippers and Dudley remains with the Suns). Finally, players have been fined for using anti-gay language on Twitter or against fans.
While these public moves may inspire a young (gay) basketball player learning the game now, they have not convinced anyone presently playing to step out of the shadows. This may not happen until that anonymous athlete senses there is enough league, and team, support for him to do so.