Gay Athletes Go Public

Lately, pro athletes have also been ever more willing to use their celebrity for LGBT campaigns, both in their leagues and in their communities.

In Minnesota, where a near-deadlocked vote to constitutionally define marriage as between a man and a woman looms on next month's ballot, Vikings punter Chris Kluwe has emerged as the unlikely spokesman for Vote No. Kluwe garnered millions of hits in September with an op-ed for Deadspin slamming a Maryland congressman for questioning NFL players' right to stick up for gay people.

"He's going to save it for us, I swear it to you," Tracy Call, founder of Minnesotans for Equality, says of Kluwe's work against the amendment.

Orlando Cruz: Professional boxer and "proud Puerto Rican gay man."
AP Photo/Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo
Orlando Cruz: Professional boxer and "proud Puerto Rican gay man."

In South Florida, the Panthers' Campbell has taken perhaps the most visible stand by signing on to You Can Play, an NHL-wide effort to take homophobia out of the locker room. The campaign was started in March by Brian Burke, president of the Toronto Maple Leafs, after his openly gay son died in a car crash.

"The attitudes are finally changing, and it's just because it's talked about more. Everyone is much more educated now," Campbell says. "If someone did come out in the NHL now, I believe guys would be totally fine with it. If he's good enough to play, let's have him."

Pro sports certainly haven't eradicated homophobia. In September, Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar was suspended for etching "You are a faggot" in Spanish on his eye black. Athletes are routinely bombarded with gay slurs on Twitter after a bad play.

And even with the emergence of straight allies like Kluwe and Campbell, the final test has yet to come for the four major leagues. Real change comes when a gay athlete like Orlando Cruz takes the ultimate step: coming out while still competing.

When they do, they'll confront a scene like Cruz did last Friday, when he stepped into the ring in Kissimmee Civic Center to fight Jorge Pasos in his first bout since his bombshell Twitter messages. Everyone from the BBC to NPR to HBO's Real Sports was there to document Cruz beating Pasos and to show millions of viewers that a gay athlete can win.

"There's only one thing that will knock down that wall entirely," says Dave Pallone, a gay former baseball umpire and author of Behind the Mask: My Double Life in Baseball. "That will be for a male athlete in one of the major sports to come out while he's still playing."

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