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Former tennis pro is out

rodriguez_davis_cup.JPGThough Out magazine’s self-labeled “sports issue” doesn't live up to its billing (neither the cover photo nor the editor’s letter pertains to sports, there are only two sports-related articles, and one photo shoot had an oddly placed baseball bat), there is a feature on Francisco Rodriguez, an openly gay former pro tennis player who was ranked in the high 300s during his pro career from 2001 to 2006.

Central to the article is a commentary on whether a gay male athlete could come out and survive in pro tennis. Sports Illustrated’s Jon Wertheim, former Grand Slam champ Jim Courier, and former world No. 3 Ivan Ljubicic think he could; Loud-mouthed Justin Gimelstob, who never lived up to his hype, and Rodriguez himself both say no.

One of the reasons Rodriguez gives is that it would be a competitive disadvantage because the other guy wouldn’t want to lose to someone who’s openly gay. I’ve heard this argument before, and I don’t buy it for a second; like someone you played in Wimbledon would suddenly want to win Wimbledon more because of a gay opponent.

The idea riles Ljubicic. “That’s ridiculous. No pro needs extra motivation to win a match. If I play against black, white, Chines, gay, I’m not looking for extra motivation,” he says.

Martina Navratilova told the writer that she thinks a male pro player will come out before 2010. I’m not so sure someone isn’t very out already. As I told the article’s writer when we chatted last year, there are a couple thousand ranked players; if Stephan Franser, the 1,854th ranked player, came out, would anyone notice? Even if it was an American, like 1,512th ranked Matt Brewer, what media outlet would pick up that story? We here at Outsports salute and thank Rodriguez for telling his story, and we'd certainly would love to hear from any tennis pros (former and active) who are gay; chances are even the rest of the gay media may pass over the story.

Rodriguez plays for Paraguay in the Davis Cup. We'll see how much of an issue it is for him to be out on the court in that venue. –Cyd Zeigler jr.