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A gay sports star can break new ground

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Amid the fallout from linebacker, Manti Te’o’s real, pretend girlfriend is the idea the sports world is not ready for an openly gay player.  This narrative, while popular, is wildly misleading.

 It assumes professional locker rooms are places where most of its inhabitants are about as evolved as a 14-year old.  

Look no further than the unenlightened commentary of San Francisco 49ers’ cornerback Chris Culliver before Super Bowl XLVII.  He reminded us a segment of professional athletes—as well as the general population—is about as tolerant of the differences in others as David Duke is.  Photo: usatoday.com

Culliver’s foolishness notwithstanding, we know there are already many gay athletes currently in the pros. Sadly, they live their lives in constant fear, amidst hoards of beautiful women they have no interest in sexually.

Nevertheless, the issue is not who among today’s pro athletes is gay?  The real question is whether a professional sports franchise is willing to acquire a gay athlete.   

Still, many are clamoring for someone, anyone, to come out of the closet to test the waters.  However, it is not enough for an athlete to announce he is gay. 

In an environment where naked slap and tickle is horseplay instead of foreplay, the first openly gay athlete must have game. This is not a new phenomenon for women or minorities. They know being the first to procure a particular job becomes a mere footnote should they fail at their chosen professions. They know being great is far more important to their communities.

The reason we fondly remember Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and astronaut Sallie Ride is the fact each performed after receiving an opportunity.  Professional sports are no different.  

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Brooklyn Dodgers’ great Jackie Robinson inspired all Americans by the grace he exhibited in the midst of some of the most inhumane treatment ever suffered by an athlete. However, he is not lauded nearly enough for being a terrific baseball player.  

Millions know he broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier, but few realize he hit over .300 six times, won the National League MVP in 1949 and finished his career with a lifetime batting average of .311.

Robinson did not effect baseball by simply being its first black player.  He influenced baseball because he could play. If a utility infielder, special team player, or benchwarmer announces his predilection for men, it will captivate the nation for a while.  Although the novelty will quickly wear off if his play is marginal.  Intolerance will likely return and the second openly gay player will feel more pressure to succeed.   

Whether or not Te’o is gay does not matter because he is not good enough. He is limited athletically as evidenced by the 4.82 40-yard dash he ran at the NFL scouting combine. That, along with his awful performance against Alabama in the BCS title game, renders any rumored homosexuality an afterthought. Still, if a team believes a gay man can help them win, they will not hesitate to add him to the roster.

Do you think Bill Belichick will ignore a gay player with obvious ability?  If a tough 7-footer with long arms and a sweet jumper became available, would the 76ers acquire him?

Despite all the fear and hand wringing, an openly gay man will get an opportunity someday.  Leaders of professional sports teams are too hyper-competitive to let a peer gain any kind of gay advantage.  

A brief look at the lengths pro teams have gone in an effort to get better tells us they will sign anybody who can play:   

-Several years ago, Sean Burke, former NHL goaltender, pleaded guilty to beating his wife.  Yet, the Flyers traded for him a few months later because they needed a net minder for a playoff run.  

-The St. Louis Rams allowed former defensive end Leonard Little to play 141 regular season games after he killed Susan Gutweiler in a senseless, drunk-driving tragedy.  

-Lastly, former NBA forward Ruben Patterson earned well over $30 million dollars despite a rape conviction in his third season.  A good athlete at 6’5”, 225 lbs, Patterson played tenacious defense and usually scored in double figures.  His barbaric behavior toward women did not matter. Wife beaters, killers, and rapists are more than welcome at the professional level, so there is no doubt an openly gay player will get a chance. He must then seize his opportunity by winning an MVP award or playing a pivotal role on a league champion. Once that happens, the dynamics of the locker room will change forever.  Only then will the gay and straight communities begin meaningful dialogue.  

A fringe player will make a nice story, but a star will make an impact. That was true in 1947 and it is still true today.  

Earl Myers is a freelance writer from the Philadelphia area.  He closely follows North America's four major sports leagues but just about any sporting event gets his attention.  His goal is to provoke a little thought in his readers.

Contact Earl at emyersiii@gmail.com

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Te'o photo: usatoday.com

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