Derrick Gordon had to do one of the hardest things he ever had to do this past week. After coming out to his teammates, Gordon then let the rest of the nation know that he was gay. The declaration not only made him the first publicly active Division I college basketball player who also happened to be gay, but also lifted a burden of stress off of his shoulders.
The reaction to this news was mostly positive. The school for which he plays, the Massachusetts Minutemen, also played a large part in making Gordon’s sexuality less of a big deal by backing him. Really, outside of the courage it must have taken Gordon to be this open to this many people, it didn’t feel as monumental of a moment as most people thought an announcement of this magnitude would warrant.
That’s through no fault of Gordon’s, though. Honestly, it’s probably through no fault of anyone. It wasn’t that long ago that we heard an NBA player, Jason Collins, become the first publicly gay athlete at any level in any of the major sports. Even more recently, Michael Sam came out of the closet, making him a likely NFL Draft pick who — after being selected — will become the first publicly active gay player in the NFL.
Each of their decisions to come out was met with different responses by fans, colleagues and the media.
Collins’ move was pioneering. However, many viewed him as a player with little to no consequence left as far as his NBA future goes. While there is no denying how hard it must have been to him, some downplayed the moment because he waited until the end of his career to come out. Which is sad that we would even judge his decision because we felt it wasn’t good enough, because we deemed him not good enough. As we found out from Derrick Gordon, though, Collins’ decisions to open up, putting his faith in the hands of others’ tolerance, already had ramifications for other gay athletes — as Gordon credits Collins with giving him the strength to come out.
In the case of Michael Sam, though, his journey is clearly not over. Rather, it’s just beginning. Like the other two athletes, the initial reaction to Sam coming out was mostly positive. Teammates at Missouri backed him, mainstream media propped him up to tell his hard-scrabble story and, for the most part, the Sam being a gay football player story is only a story to those looking to push a specific narrative or come to it with a predetermined objective in mind.
Sam still has to deal with being a gay football player, though. That’s despite the fact that he yearns for a world where he is a football player, who just so happens to be gay. Unfortunately for Sam, that is part of the process of being one of the first people to have the courage to be who they are, when they are, because they didn’t want to hide it any longer.
That brings us to Gordon. Who, now, is a member of the pioneering trio. His news was met with a mixed reaction, but far more so tilted in the positive direction. Although, a large portion of fans wanted to know why this was even a story. Some would even go as far to claim it a non-story. Which would be nice, if a thing like coming out of the closet were a non-story, but that’s certainly not the case for Gordon. It’s definitely not the case for the other athletes around the world who feel the need to hide who they are because of the assumed backlash that would follow.
Therein lies the problem. Despite most of the reaction to each athletes’ announcement being met with a public outpouring of support, it is the minority of bigots, the uneducated and hateful that prevent the rest of the athletes in the closet from being who they truly are. Claiming it is a non-story doesn’t help either. It diminishes the bravery it took each of the three athletes to let the world know who they actually are. Like it or not, being a gay athlete is still a story because the — now — minority refuses to believe a gay athlete can contribute at a high level. Or, worse, that they would somehow be detrimental in a locker room because of who they are.
Which brings us to wanting to know when, if ever, an athlete being gay is an actual non-story. Sadly, while we have made strides as people to be more open, we are still a far cry away from being an all-encompassing, altruistic and noble society. Case in point being the Civil Right’s Movement and how a large portion of people are still indifferent towards another culture. Choosing, despite attempts at being educating those through history, to ignore everything that has happened in American history to be disrespectful .
In the same vein of having people outside of the African-American community tell those within it how, what and why they should do with whatever it is they want them to do with the “n-word”, is the same reason why being a gay athlete is going to be a steep mountain to climb for a very long time.
We, meaning everyone, want to have our opinions heard about everything and everyone. That is while most of us are not educated enough in that particular department to make smart and insightful observations. It could be a major factor as to why we have white people, from the suburbs, telling black people what they should do with the n-word. Some, many more than there should be, unfortunately, are giving strange, uneducated ultimatums.
It’s the “Either you don’t use it (abolish the word all-together) or we (white people) get to use it too” thinking. Which, at its foundation, is sickening. A word, that mostly white people from America made hateful, want back for some reason. Either to use it themselves (but why?) or to be abolished from the language completely. Which only highlights the ignorance that there still is in our supposed progressive country — the majority wanting in on something they created out of hate because the minority made it there’s, and if they can’t use it, no one can.
What does that have to do with gay athletes? Everything.
The Civil Right’s Movement didn’t happen less than a year ago like Jason Collins coming out of the closet. Black people, people of all ethnicities, culture and religion really, are still dealing with the ramifications with being born they way they are decades later. Hell, there is still a very large portion of our society who doesn’t understand what it means to be black in a country where members of their family were enslaved and they are now being profiled by police for being black — in the year 2014.
But hey, it’s a non-story that a gay athlete is coming out of the closet because it has been nearly a calendar year since Collins came out, right?
My initial instinct was to say something along the lines of needing a transcendent superstar to come out of the closet to make being who you are as a person a real non-story, to truly break down the barriers put up by those who don’t care for respect, tolerance and understanding. But then I realized we hadn’t made the leaps would should have with things that were supposedly “fixed” a long time ago.
It wasn’t that long ago that we used to ask if the world was ready for a gay athlete. That’s despite the fact that we already know that people aren’t ready for anything until someone else makes it so.
Major League Baseball wasn’t ready for a black baseball player until Jackie Robinson made it so, and even then it was a slippery slope of racists hurling out the worst kind of hatred there is toward him. Even now, in each of the major sports, we still have people going out of their way to put down black athletes. Patrick Ewing at Georgetown was not that long ago, the winning with a black quarterback debate (now vaguely disguised as the how you wear a hat or tattoo debate) and with the anonymity of the Internet, providing cowards with a platform to judge others hatefully from a distance, we are still not nearly as open a society as we like to pretend to be.
The only thing the athletes still fearful of coming out have going for them now, compared to Jackie Robinson breaking the color-barrier, is the majority of people in this country are more open. The groundswell of support will almost always be a positive kind going forward for any athlete, of any race, of any sexuality, going forward.
A new minority is currently in our country. The same people who, sadly, used to be the majority. The uneducated, hateful, bigots and racists. The easy thing for us to do is ignore them, poke at their faults and do many of the things that people like that have done to previous incarnations of societal shifts in our country. However, that would be a mistake. For all their faults, some brought on to them through nurture and others through a lack of being cultured, it is up to us to make them understand why it is still a big deal for people to be open about who they are.
Gay athletes have a choice. Unlike people who had to battle with racism, an athlete in the closest could hide who they are if they want to. They don’t have to be who they want to be, at least not in the public spotlight, if they chose not to. That’s part of the reason the decisions of Collins, Sam and Gordon to come out of the closet is so courageous, because they didn’t have to — they chose to.
The original question should have never been if the world is ready for a gay athlete or a black athlete or any of those things. A more important question should have been asked a long time ago.
When are we going to make the world ready for them?
Let’s stop putting the onus on others to make the world a more open, loving, respectful and tolerable place. Let’s educate the uneducated to make it so.
Was Derrick Gordon coming out of the closet enough to end hatred? Definitely not. But each step is a big one, more gigantic than the last, and with the minority of our country now being the hateful, we are slowly inching closer to being what we all claim we want to be — not just tolerable or respectful, but accepting.