The world of professional men sports is a challenging one for openly gay athletes. In the last year alone, two NBA players were condemned and fined for using antigay language, and currently there are no out athletes that play for the NBA, NFL or Major League Baseball, three of the largest sports organizations in the country. John Amaechi, the first openly gay former NBA player, has been quoted as saying, that homophobia remains a “massive problem” in sports, especially football.
That is precisely why the recent news that the NBA’s new labor agreement, which now includes language protecting players from discrimination based on sexual orientation, is such a huge step in the direction of equality and respect for the LGBT community.
“I am pleased to announce that we have concluded the collective bargaining process and have reached an agreement that addresses many significant issues that were challenges to our league,” NBA commissioner David Stern said in a statement Thursday. “This collective bargaining agreement will help us move toward a better business model, a more competitive league and better alignment between compensation and performance.”
This year, Major League Baseball also added sexual orientation protections; and, Major League Soccer, the NHL, and the NFL also have policies to help protect openly gay and bisexual players from discrimination.
And, though there are athletes that continue to use antigay language, there have been some recent positive steps toward inclusion: more and more professional athletes and sports teams are publicly speaking out against bullying, Phoenix Suns star Steve Nash made a pro–marriage equality video for the Human Rights Campaign, and NBA commissioner David Stern and NBA legend and commentator Charles Barkley have said that the league is ready for an openly gay player.
The sports world recently experienced the coming-out of Golden State Warriors President and COO Rick Welts–the first executive of a professional team to come out. Out & Equal welcomed Welts at the 2011 Workplace Summit, where he sat down with journalist LZ Granderson and discussed the power of homophobia in the workplace. (Watch the video here.)
“We just don’t know how to talk about it,” says Welts, about being LGBT within the sports world. “We need to make it a more comfortable point of discussion. For some reason we haven’t been able to include this one aspect of the human existence in a way we take for granted in so many other parts of our society.”
So, will these new discrimination policies encourage professional athletes to come out, or is the climate still considered too risky?
“Putting a human face on it really helps,” says Welts. “If you put a human face on it, it’s not so scary.”
We’ll be looking for those faces.