Former Major League Baseball pitcher Mark Knudson wrote a column today for Mile High Sports in which he argues that gay athletes should keep their "agenda" away from the locker room and stay in the closet. In saying there is no anti-gay discrimination in professional sports, he says there are a couple reasons athletes need to stay closeted.
First, gay athletes will not be able to control their attraction to their teammates:
Of course he’s going to have feelings of attraction toward a teammate or two. It’s human nature. These are some of the most physically fit and desirable human beings on the planet. The gay athlete isn’t going to notice that? And obviously, the straight teammates are going to feel the same sort of vibe that the attractive girl on the co-ed softball team gets from a few of the men on her team. Attractive people know when they’re being "checked out" and it leads to those very awkward moments. It’s human nature for people to be attracted to other people and it’s not going to stop happening because the workplace environment is a locker room rather than a typical office setting.
I personally don't buy this one. Guys -- straight and gay and bi -- "check out" other guys in the locker room. Every athlete does. They measure up their teammates from head to toe. Plus, if people can't control their attraction, then they will be "checking out" their teammates if they're in the closet. So what's the difference? If athletes are so very aware when they're getting checked out, they should know it whether the athlete is publicly "out" or not.
Second, Knudson says an athlete coming out will destroy team unity:
Internal strife and locker room drama is bad for ANY team. Personal agendas are not welcome. Nothing that infringes on the cohesiveness of the locker room can be tolerated. If a player who is not an irreplaceable superstar becomes any sort of distraction, he’s going to get released. We’ve seen countless examples of that.
That’s why it remains the best option for any homosexual athlete in a team sport to keep his orientation private. He’s doing what’s best for himself by doing what’s best for the team.
I think Knudson, who hasn't played pro baseball in 20 years, doesn't consider the probability that an athlete coming out wouldn't be a divisive issue. It seems he's stuck in the locker rooms of the late Eighties. Things have changed. Athletes have changed. And it's entirely likely it wouldn't be an issue (I'd argue, and many like Scott Fujita would as well, that it wouldn't be).
Plus, even if it were an issue for some players, that's what team leaders are for. That's why teams go out of their way to find locker room leaders who can help unite the team. If a locker room falls apart because an athlete is gay, that's on the coaches and captains, not the gay athlete.
You can find Knudson on Twitter.
Hat tip to Jeff Morton