Creating a comfortable arena for gay athletes

The sports world has frequently been described as the last closet, and indeed, there are few other areas in society that persist in being so openly homophobic. With sports playing such an important role in our culture, countless gays and lesbians have either suffered silently or else been driven out of sports completely due to the perceived hostile environment.

Despite this perception, the reality is often quite different. Before I came out to the ski team this year at Williams, I was filled with apprehension about what the reaction would be. While I felt close to my teammates and well-liked on the team, I simply didn’t know what would happen when I said the words, “I’m gay.” I had read some horror stories about athletes who had come out, only to face total rejection and harassment. But I had read even more stories about athletes who had had positive experiences with coming out. Their teammates had been accepting and supportive, which resulted in closer friendships off the field and improved performance on it, since the amount of energy an athlete can waste trying to hide the fact that he is gay can be huge.

Fortunately, the ski team was great when I told them. There were no negative comments and people seemed happy that I was able to be myself and accept myself for who I am. I firmly believe that the majority of gay athletes who come out will have a good experience with it. I would not advocate for an athlete to come out unless he or she was completely ready to do so and comfortable with it, but I also think that we tend to underestimate the open-mindedness and compassion of other people. If your teammates respected you and liked you before you came out, they will most likely feel the same afterwards.

While the whole issue of gay athletes may not seem like a big deal to straight athletes (indeed, straight athletes might not even realize it is an issue), I can guarantee that this is a very big issue for gay athletes – including those at Williams. It’s important that straight athletes are aware of the fact that they may have gay teammates and strive to create an environment in which those gay athletes can be comfortable and come out if they choose to do so. And the more athletes who come out and set an example, the easier it becomes for even more to come out.

One thing the conference made clear is that there are a huge number of gay athletes. Here at Williams, with so many students playing a sport, there are also undoubtedly a large number of gay athletes. We can’t let all those people suffer in silence any longer. Gay athletes are starting to find a voice, and it is only a matter of time before gay athletes everywhere start speaking up. The result will be a sports world that is better for all athletes, gay and straight.

Jordan Goldwarg ’03