There are so many straight people who want so very much to help dismantle homophobia in sports. Some of them are fans, some are athletes, some are members of the media. They tweet and record videos. They "like" posts and encourage their gay and lesbian friends. Some of them call themselves "allies," others just do what they can. Whatever the case, they are trying to help.
Some of these very same straight people also like to talk about how many closeted gay professional athletes they know. The Times Mirror spread word that two Premier League players were set to come out as gay. That has proven to be the poppycock we said it was, as five months later there's been nothing. Brendon Ayanbadejo, a fierce advocate for inclusion of gay athletes, talked openly about four NFL players before walking it back a bit a few years ago.
The latest is Amal Fashanu, the niece of Justin Fashanu, who was the first and only player to come out publicly while still playing in the Premier League. Amal told the BBC that she knows of seven gay Premier League players. Not a few, not a couple, but seven.
"I'm not going to out them because I would never do that," she said. "You want to be honest, even to help them out, but you just can't do that. The football world is extremely dark. I don't even want to imagine being a footballer, what it must be like."
I don't think this is a particularly damaging trend. Ayanbadejo's comments did create a wild firestorm of speculation that was probably a speed bump to progress. It's just fascinating that it always seems to be a straight person naming the numbers.
That is a marked difference from how LGBT people in sports generally talk about what and whom they know. I have mentioned publicly that I know closeted gay people in pro sports and big-time college sports. Wade Davis and Jason Collins have on occasion mentioned the same in passing. Duh. Reasonable people assume each of us, along with many others, have some clue about who is and who isn't. This isn't news.
Yet when specific numbers get dropped, it always seems to be a straight person.
This isn't talking about some gay former athletes, with which I for some reason have no issue. Some former Houston Oilers have talked about having two gay teammates in the early 1990s. With the athletes out of sports, it just doesn't have the same sensationalist feel to it. In my forthcoming book, Fair Play, I talk about one (still closeted) former NFL player and the team he played for. These discussions of former athletes just don't engender the same "guess who" witch hunt that tossing out specific numbers has demonstrated to have.
When specific numbers about current gay athletes surface, somehow it generates unintended speculation. There are certainly far worse things someone can do. I don't think Amal's mentioning of the number seven is going to push anyone deeper into the closet. It's just interesting to me that, some reason, it's always a straight person naming a number.