The University of Southern California is an athletics powerhouse, especially in football. And the school has made strides in making its athletics program a welcoming place for LGBT athletes since a new athletic director was named. Daniel Rothberg, a reporter for the Daily Trojan, has taken a thorough look at athletic department and finds progress, though many gay athletes remain deep in the closet.
Rothberg found one male varsity sport athlete he called "Matthew," who is far from ready to come out. "You are fighting for your respect. You are fighting for your manhood. You are fighting for your masculinity," Matthew told the Daily Trojan. "That's one of the things that mainly comes into play."
Matthew apparently plays in a major team sport, because he is quoted as saying he has no intention of coming out because "I just know I'm going to regret it if I come out before I sign a contract." There aren't many collegiate sports an athletes can continue on after graduation that require a contract. At least Matthew went on the record. Rothberg said several athletes refused to speak with him, even anonymously.
In contrast, swimmer Sean Mulroy has been out since high school and is well-respected on the swim team. "When I got to college, I knew who I was and I was very confident," Mulroy told the Daily Trojan. "But if people are struggling with that here, it definitely would hinder their ability to come out on a team, because it does take a lot of guts to go ahead [and say], ‘Yo, I'm gay.'"
In a video shot last fall (watch below) about being an openly gay athlete, Mulroy said, "in swimming we have a bunch, football, every team has a gay athlete."
A big change occurred at USC when Pat Haden was named athletic director.
Since Athletic Director Pat Haden took the job in 2010, USC's Athletic Department has set on a different course in its support of LGBT athletes.
"This is the first time student athletes have come into the coach's meeting and stood up and said, ‘Hey, I'm gay. And this is what it's like. And this is what I look to my coach to give me,'" said Donna Heinel, a senior associate athletic director. "That's a monumental step. That's because the atmosphere has changed in the last two years since Pat [Haden] has taken over."
Along with Haden's support, coaches who are the most LGBT-supportive have the best environments for these athletes, the story says. This is not a surprise and shows how important it is for leadership to take an active role. While there is still a lot of work to be done and acceptance can vary greatly by sport, it looks like USC is moving in the right direction.
Here is the video of Sean Mulroy discussing being a gay swimmer: