Cultural acceptance of gay and lesbian Americans has acquired the velocity of a speeding fastball whizzing across home plate. While extra innings will be required for politicians and communities across the country to catch up with the national zeitgeist, the bleachers have begun to thin out as the scoreboard outcome becomes apparent.
One bastion of reluctance and resistance is the arena of sports. The long delayed and painfully slow reveal of gay athletes, however, is on the verge of both accelerating and rewriting the rulebook from national league stadiums to local sporting environments.
As more players comfortably suit-up as “out” team members, the emulative nature of organized athletics will forever change corporate sports franchises. This game-changing development will provide inspiration and comfort to the gay school jock, amateur enthusiast, weekend warrior, and sports fan alike. Similar to rapid acceptance among military personnel, affirmation of lesbian and gay athletes both among participants and in the stands will evolve with alacrity and dispatch.
The leadership exhibited by straight athletes in advocating for the normalization of gays in sports has been a critically important development. Camaraderie in the locker room has sourced their courage to create an opportunity for self-revelation by their colleagues. Knowledgeable about the diversity of sexual orientation among teammates and the identities of those battling under the burden of secrecy, these heroes of equality are making an inestimable contribution.
Former Baltimore Ravens linebacker and Super Bowl champion Brendon Ayanbadejo, special guest editor of this week’s edition of the Blade, predicted last spring that a mini-roster of NFL players will soon simultaneously announce that they are gay. Following the groundbreaking revelation last April by NBA player Jason Collins, such a development – quietly organized and enjoying management support – will do much to move athletic freedom toward the goal line.
Corporate common sense will play a large role in the coming transformation of athletics. The “Big Four” sports enterprises – high-profile football, basketball, baseball and hockey franchises – rely on public support for financial success. These businesses understand that changing sentiments and increasing nonchalance regarding the presence of gay sports figures necessitate that they support them. Owners know players perform best when shorn of secrecy. Their teammates will also be relieved of complicity in guarding the hidden lives of those with whom they toil on the turf of competition.
Businesses comprehend that the ability to attract and retain talent allowed to fully contribute to success necessitates the complete acceptance and full integration of all employees into corporate culture. Bottom line, sports businesses depend on everyone bringing their best play to the game like every other enterprise.
The math isn’t difficult either. Simple statistics predict that there are significant numbers of gay players among the thousands of professional athletes. In fact, once the floodgates fully open it is likely that the sheer size of the gay contribution to sporting endeavors will startle, and delight, fans.
Likewise, sports businesses cannot countenance controversy as an obstacle to consumer enjoyment, including among the LGBT community. A Nielsen survey in late June indicates that gays and lesbians are more enthusiastic sports fans than the rest of the population – 11 percent more likely to attend professional sporting events and seven percent more likely to participate in an adult sports league.
First it was the military. Then came marriage. The new frontier is sports.
The often-overlooked less-prominent sports professionals who have come out in recent years will be recognized by history as the true trailblazers. Gratitude will also be owed their non-gay teammates who supported them and those who will follow.
When Olympians literally join hands in public spaces and on medal podiums at the Sochi Winter Olympics next February in defiance of the Russian government’s anti-gay policies, they will embody and embolden the worldwide march toward gay equality.
The business of sports will be better for it.
Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.