The coming out of rugby star Gareth Thomas has, as does every major coming out in sports, generated plenty of discussion about gays in sports. John Amaechi, the last major "Big Four" athlete to come out, talked with the BBC over the weekend.
Society in America is not where we are in Britain or in Europe in general.... Sport still needs to grow up in certain areas. As much as society has moved on, sport is still dragging still behind.
It's certainly tough to argue against the latter part, given the incredibly low number of athletes who have come out compared to other high-profile occupations (like arts, entertainment and politics).
The former part of that is an interesting observation, given that more former athletes in the big four American pro sports leagues have come out publicly than have in all pro European soccer and rugby leagues combined. Laws in Western Europe are generally more gay-friendly than those in America, but laws and policies in Eastern Europe make homosexuality a crime; Fans there have even rallied around their favorite soccer teams explicitly to physically attack gay people. So while it's easy to point to Amsterdam and say how much more gay-friendly Europe is than America, you can just as easily point to Belgrade and say that Europe is behind Birmingham, Alabama.
Amaechi also discussed his own experiences after coming out, which included receiving hateful letters at his home in America. He also discussed the meaning of coming out to an athlete:
When people learn you are gay, often that can squash your definition so all the good stuff goes and you just become 'some gay rugby player', which is quite difficult for many athletes to deal with.
This is a complex issue we've discussed before: Who wants to be "the gay athlete"? All of the American-league athletes who have come out after their career have been marginal players at best; Names like Esera Tuaolo, Dave Kopay and even John Amaechi didn't make many headlines in their careers. Thomas is a whole other issue. People in the UK know him very well, so to them this will be just one aspect of the "great career of Gareth Thomas." But for most Americans, who didn't know Gareth Thomas until last week, he will be, in face, the "gay rugby player."
Check out Amaechi's new blog, "Dear John."
It's a real issue, particularly for lesser and middle-of-the-road athletes, and it's great that Amaechi, who experienced it first-hand, is talking about it.
In other places...
- A Toronto Star columnist called Thomas' coming out a "shocker."
- A New Zealand Herald columnist observes that staying in the closet "still makes sense."
Gareth Thomas himself took to the airwaves to discuss his decision to come out publicly...