Professional sports are an imperfect meritocracy and a limited driver of equality: participation and success may serve to secure your masculinity in the public eye, the desire to win may prove stronger than racial and sexual animosity, but those are first and fraught steps towards full acceptance and legal protection. All of that said, I’m glad to see Suns’ president Rick Welts come out—having openly gay and gay-friendly executives is an important signal to active players in all sports that they will be protected by their organizations if they come out before retirement.
And it’s not just that it’s useful for gay players to prove that sexual orientation doesn’t impact play. Richard Greenberg’s play Take Me Out has this wonderful scene about the ways in which sports are a language that for fans, bridge race, class, sometimes gender, and in the world of this drama, sexual orientation. Mason, a gay accountant, goes to his first baseball game and finds:
The crowd was vocal. Because the subject here was baseball, and the stadium was full of scholars—historians—and soon enough, I found myself engaged in learned debate with all these…strangers, these…guys. As for the last several weeks, I’d been conversing with all sorts of people I’ve never been able to speak to before: cab drivers. My five brothers…And when the winning run crossed home plate, the fans who had stayed rose in this single surge and let out a shout like the “Hallelujah” chorus. And it was the first crowd I had ever agreed with.
He doesn’t prove anything to anyone except himself. Given how many times I’ve thought we were on the verge of having a current athlete, maybe even a star, come out while still in whatever game they’re playing, I’m not prepared to say I think it’ll happen soon. But I’m happy for Welts, who started his coming out process before Kobe Bryant’s outburst, and for the regular reaffirmation of gay people’s full participation in every aspect of American life, particularly ones that involve junk food, beer, and wild collective enthusiasm.