There are thousands of men playing professional sports in the U.S. and yet there is only one openly gay athlete active in the five major team sports: NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB and MLS (Robbie Rogers of the L.A. Galaxy). What are the odds that Rogers is the only gay athlete, period? Really, really, really long, impossibly long.
Justin Wohlers, a professor of economics and public policy at the University of Michigan, crunched the numbers for the New York Times in the wake of Minor League Baseball player David Denson coming out. He came to this conclusion about pro baseball:
Estimates of the proportion of American men who identify as gay or bisexual vary. One recent government survey suggested 2.2 percent; in a recent Gallup poll, 3.3 percent of adult men were willing to tell an interviewer that they identified as gay, bisexual or transgender. The same survey noted that 4.6 percent of men 18 to 29 identified as gay, bisexual or transgender.
There are 30 major league baseball teams, each with 40 men on their roster (all of them active once September callups take place), yet none of these 1,200 players have acknowledged being gay. If baseball players are as likely to be gay as other men their age — let’s go with an estimate of 1 in 25 — then the odds that none of these men are gay is one in two sextillion. A sextillion comes after a trillion, quadrillion and quintillion; it is a thousand billion billion.
There are a further 46 Class AAA teams, 30 Class AA teams and 82 Class A teams, none with an openly gay athlete on their rosters. If these teams averaged 30 men on their roster (roster size varies by league), there would be nearly 5,000 more minor league players, none of whom have publicly identified as gay. The odds of that might be greater than one in a Googol (one followed by a hundred zeros), but not by much. ...
Even if the proportion [of gays in baseball] is much lower, the point remains that there are probably dozens of gay men currently playing for teams associated with Major League Baseball.
Wohlers writes about baseball but the same can be said for any men's pro sport -- there are gay players, but they remain closeted from the public. He notes that in history, about 222,000 men have played Major or Minor League Baseball and only two -- Billy Bean and Glenn Burke -- ever came out, both after retiring.
Even if the percentage of gay men playing pro sports is lower than in the population as a whole, statistics says there are still a significant number. An example is the NFL, where there are almost 1,700 (1,696 to be precise) players on active rosters. If 5% were gay, that would be 85. Half that would be 42.5. Even at a low 1%, that would still leave us with 17 gay players. The attention given to Michael Sam -- who had declared for the draft after coming out -- was enormous. Imagine if 17 players came out at once.
Wohlers statistical breakdown is a useful reminder that gay men are playing professional sports. The next trick is to have some of them come out.