In the wake of the New York Rangers’ Sean Avery expressing support for gay marriage and the controversy that caused, ESPN’s Outside the Lines today held a group discussion on gay athletes – specifically, why there are so few (and in the case of major American men’s pro sports, no openly gay players at all).
Among the reasons given by the group were the usual – sports being behind the times socially, athletes are expected to be macho men, etc. – but it was an issue raised by hockey analyst (and former coach) Barry Melrose that really stuck out to some. Speaking from a coach’s perspective, Melrose didn’t so much voice an opposition to actually being gay as he voiced a reluctance to deal with the potential distraction caused by an openly gay player. Here’s how he put it:
“I think it’s a problem that coaches don’t want to handle, I think it’s something you do as a coach – you try to solve all the problems, and if there was an openly gay player in your [locker] room, all of a sudden you have to handle that. You have to handle it with the press, you have to handle it with the other players.”
Again, Melrose is thinking of it from a purely practical standpoint. Coaches are paid to win games, and he imagines a player coming out as simply a distraction that could prevent the winning of said games. However, perhaps looking at what would be a significant event in American society in such a way is a problem.
What definitely struck us as a potential issue: Melrose saying that, speaking from the perspective of a teammate or coach, “you don’t even want to think that [a player is] gay.” It’s clear that even someone deliberately trying to treat the subject delicately, as Melrose was, viewed the idea of an athlete coming out as a problem.
And as long as that’s the case, a male athlete in a major American pro sport actually outing himself during his career – an event we’re on record as thinking would be the most effective way to combat the culture of homophobia in sports – remains unlikely. Video of Melrose’s comments below.