Revelations that sports aren't as homophobic as long thought are becoming a broken record in the mainstream media. The latest is yet still another poll that shows fans don't care if a player is gay and think homophobia doesn't belong in sports. In a study by the University of Staffordshire published in the Journal of Sport & Social Issues, 90% of soccer fans say the closet door should be swung wide open. It's hard to get 90% of people to agree the sky is blue (or grey, in the case of England).
Football's gay players have been reluctant to come out. Their reasons for remaining silent lie inside the football industry rather than in the crowds. Most fans are embarrassed by the popular conception of football as a homophobic environment. It is an impression, they believe, maintained by a code of silence orchestrated and enforced by agents and clubs.
I couldn't agree more. I've felt for years the biggest problem is the agents. Over the last couple of years I've tried to get agents to talk about this issue. I've tried small names in small towns, and I've tried the biggest names in the industry. I couldn't even get a call back from Drew Rosenhaus. They don't want to touch this issue for lots of reasons.
Mel Stein, chairman of the Association of Football Agents, showed he either has his head in the sand, reinforced the idea by how unreasonably defensive he got about it:
It is utter nonsense to suggest that a sports agent would place any pressure on a client confirming or denying or concealing his sexual status. In the 21st century I think that a heterosexual affair would be far more damaging to a player's image than any acknowledgement of a player's homosexuality as far as sponsors were concerned.
Agents have a short window to suck money from each of their clients. The average NFL career is 3.5 years. Does an agent want to risk his income with how sports or teams or fans might react to it? No, he doesn't want to risk a penny. My guess is that the biggest deterrent to athletes coming out is in fact the athletes' management. If they saw the gold in it that Mark Cuban sees, we'd have an out American pro athlete.