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With Nets Rumor, Has Outing Hit Sports?

(This story was published in 2006).

I've said for years that the first active male pro athlete in an American league won't stride out triumphantly from the closet; He'll be pushed out. He could be outed by a jilted lover, blackmailed by a former confidant, or revealed by a zealous reporter.

On Thursday, the Web site MediaTakeOut revealed information by a source close to a New Jersey Net that the player is bisexual, and that he is in a relationship with another man.

We have seen "blind" items like this hit before. Most recently:

Rumors like this are becoming more and more commonplace. Just this year politics and entertainment have been inundated with men being pushed out of the closet or outed. From former Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) to singer Lance Bass to actor Neil Patrick Harris, 2006 may be remembered in part by gay people as the year "outing" came in vogue.

Part of that is certainly the rise of the blogs. With their instant updating and often lack of journalistic fact-checking, blogs sometimes take the words of one person and run with them. One particular blog has had a huge impact. Celebrity gossip site PerezHilton.com, run by openly gay Mario Lavandeira, makes repeated claims about the homosexuality of many celebrities including actor Sean Hayes, singer Clay Aiken, TV personality Anderson Cooper, actress Salma Hayek, and actor Jake Gyllenhaal, among others.

Gay athletes have been largely spared. The few stories and rumors that have come out have been rather tame (in the case of Michael Strahan) or have been so vague that no one could figure out who it was (in the case of Brendan Lemon). But it's only a matter of time before unabashed outing hits sports.

At Outsports, we have a policy to not out someone. We are aware of gay collegiate and professional athletes, but we believe it is not our place to decide when someone takes the leap and comes out. As with every rule, we do have the "Rocker exception"; If we caught John Rocker performing oral sex on a man, given Rocker's comments in the past, we would be inclined to blast that news on every media outlet we could find

We do, however, report on stories that are showing up in other media – including blogs. Because there hasn't been an active athlete in the big four pro leagues in America, the discussion of it is a big story. And once it gets traction in the media, a mention and some investigation is warranted.

There is already speculation about which Net might be coming out. MediaTakeOut's story said the player is a friend of Tyson Beckford, and it doesn't take more than a Google search to find a story mentioning Richard Jefferson with Beckford and a photograph of Vince Carter with the male model.

We'll certainly stay on top of this story, report any facts we can find, and inform our readers of what other media outlets are saying.

As far as naming a name, we'll leave that to the player and the team; And a name, if this story gets more traction, could be forthcoming. There are only 15 players on the New Jersey Nets. It's not like naming a football team (with over 50 players) or saying an "East Coast ballclub." The number of people the story refers to is pretty small. So don't be surprised if one of the Nets reacts to the story in the coming days. Whether he'll come out or not I don't know. But, I see a press conference or a pointed interview in one of the Nets' very near future.