The world of sports has traditionally been an intimidating, unwelcoming place for LGBT people — from locker room taunts and high school bullying to professional athletes who sling homophobic slurs on the court.
But the times they are a-changin’.
Today, professional teams and major apparel companies market directly to gay fans. More and more athletes are speaking out in favor of inclusiveness and denouncing homophobia. And one of the last bastions of the closet is finally starting to fall, with the news of Jason Collins’ coming out.
This special edition of the Blade is more than a year in the making and was edited by Super Bowl champion Brendon Ayanbadejo. When I originally pitched the idea for this issue last year, we began the process of selecting the perfect guest editor. Many names were floated. But when the Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl in February, we knew there was only one choice. Brendon has been an outspoken LGBT rights supporter since at least 2009, when he publicly endorsed marriage equality. A big thank you to him for his hard work on this issue of the Blade and for his voice in the movement.
It is a true sign of the times that we are able to devote an entire issue to this topic. Just 10 years ago, our energies were focused on covering less happy news, like the Bush administration’s endless attacks on our rights. With President Obama’s epic support and the historic legal victories we’ve seen, we can turn our attention from time to time to less dire subjects.
So, why sports? American culture elevates sports stars to heroic status. They are role models for millions around the world. That hyper-masculine culture has driven many into the closet, but for a brave few, including one of my personal heroes, Martina Navratilova, who is interviewed in this issue. As our culture has evolved — even the U.S. military welcomes openly gay service members — professional sports has still seemed slow to change. We need to tell our stories in this realm so that a thousand more like Navratilova and Collins will find the courage to come out. We need the voices of our allies, like Brendon and Chris Kluwe, so those closeted athletes know they will find a network of support when they do come out. And kids should have the same opportunity to excel and compete, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
The cultural changes we’ve seen over the past five years have been truly breathtaking and unimaginable to many. But the work is not finished. There remain far too many barriers to equality. Opening up the world of collegiate and professional sports to out LGBT athletes should be near the top of our collective to-do list. Enjoy this special issue and thanks again to Brendon and to all of the contributors for their work and visibility.
Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at email@example.com.