words are all i have

It’s up to a gay player to decide when he’s ready to come out, not anyone else

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So, you play in the National Hockey League. You’re gay. Your teammates know it. Now you’re ready to come out publicly.

patti dawn swansson

patti dawn swansson

When is the right time? What is the right way?

Each of us in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender collective operates on our own terms in coming out. On our own timetable. Family, friends and colleagues might have their suspicions about you; a confidante might even attempt to lure you out of the closet with calming assurances that they and others will stand by your side; but it’s still your call. It has to be.

The fear of rejection, of hostility, of abuse is a potent adversary (yes, even in 2015) and it’s that much more profound for a public figure living in a macho world. It might not even be those fears keeping a gay NHL player in the closet. It might be the media circus, which surely would pitch its big top at his doorstep.

So, when and how do you do it?

Well, if I were a gay NHL player, I would muffle the loud noise by coming out deep in the summer. Late July, perhaps. There would be one session—just one—with news scavengers, conducted in concert with my team and the league. By the time the boys assembled for training exercises in the fall, the roar would be a whisper.

But my way wouldn’t necessarily work for another.

“It’s tough,” Patrick Burke, co-founder of the You Can Play Project, recently told Pierre LeBrun of TSN/ESPN. “I wish there was a magic bullet that I could fire and make the (NHL) players in question ready. But it’s such a delicate situation. It’s so much based on the person’s life experience and what he wants.”

Exactly.

As we creep toward the end of another year, there are no openly gay players in any of the four major North American professional sports leagues.

The openly gay male jock remains a mysterious, mystical, almost mythical creature. He is the rarest of our sporting species. We have caught glimpses of him. Fleeting glimpses, much like Sasquatch and Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster.

jason collins timeJason Collins signed as a spare part with the Brooklyn Nets, playing 22 games at the tail end of the 2013-14 National Basketball Association season. That represented the lunar landing for gay male athletes. Indeed, Collins was featured on the cover of Time magazine in May of 2014, cited among the 100 most influential people in the world. He was looked upon as a game-changer.

Not to discredit Collins, because it would be impossible to measure his sway on our sporting youth, but his influence in the sphere that includes the NBA, the NHL, the National Football League and Major League Baseball has been without significance.

Only Michael Sam has stepped forward, initially in the training camp of the NFL’s St. Louis Rams, then on the Dallas Cowboys’ practice roster and, finally, in an ill-fated attempt to fit in with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League, where he surfaced in one game, playing a dozen downs at defensive end and recording zeroes across the statistical board.

Both Collins and Sam arrived and disappeared faster than summer wages.

Why? Because they were gay? Not necessarily. Collins was playing the back nine of his NBA career when he joined the Nets. He was spent. Sam’s skill set was found wanting, whether it be three- or four-down football, and he appeared to be the victim of ill-gotten advice from handlers/hangers-on.

Still, they were there. On the lunar surface. So where are the others?

Surely the argument that a team cannot be successful with a gay man in the mix is a horse-and-buggy notion, one forever debunked last year by Robbie Rogers and the Los Angeles Galaxy. Not only did they perform in harmony, they ran to the Major League Soccer title. What’s that you say? Nobody cares about soccer? Well, okay, MLS is looked upon as the fifth Beatle, but the evidence that a team can win with an openly gay player is undeniable.

Thus, it would seem to me that there remains just one reason why there are zero out gay men in the Big Four of North American team sports—the gay man himself. We know he exists, so where is he?

“Look,” says Burke, whose You Can Play Project is determined to make all playing surfaces, changing rooms and public pews safe for LGBT athletes, “we denied it for several years because we didn’t want to feel pressure, we didn’t want to kick off a witch hunt, we didn’t want people trying to guess who was who. But, yes, our organization has spoken with gay players in the National Hockey League, gay staff members, gay media members.”

Alas, as he says, there is no magic bullet. The gay player will let us know he’s ready to come out when he’s ready to let us know. Not a moment sooner. Just as it should be.

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