Recent Public Announcements by Athletes About Sexual Orientation
Over the past two weeks three current collegiate student-athletes have publicly announced that they were either homosexual or bisexual. The most recent, Michael Sam of University of Missouri, is a high profile Division I football player with an almost certain NFL career. [Read the NY Times article here.]
Conner Merterns of NCAA Division III Willamette University earlier publicly announced that he is bisexual, and a few days later his boyfriend, a baseball player at Walla Walla Community College did the same. [His story can be found here.]
But why is this so newsworthy some might say? There are a number of reasons that have nothing to do with whether a person agrees or not with another’s sexual orientation.
- Change is hard.
- Uncomfortable topics aren’t easy.
- Media likes to generate controversy.
It’s not about personal opinions or positions on the topic. Athletics Departments and their personnel have a responsibility to acknowledge and address these types of situations. And they had better get ready for it.
- Media attention drives discussion
- without this attention, how many campuses talk about this?
- Closed door, locker rooms
- “accepted” or not, lack of acknowledgement can equal oppression, discrimination or prejudice
- Change doesn’t come easily, smoothly or without significant discussion, debate or dissent
- People need to process their emotions (and this is emotionally charged on both sides of the issue)
- Higher education is supposed to be a place that opens and expands thinking
- Think back to the racially charged climate during the 50’s and 60’s
- USF Football in ’51
- Texas Western men’s basketball
- Gender Equity with the passing of Title IX and the evolution of women’s sports
- “Live and Let Live” is not going to help the situation
- Athletic Departments better prepare for more student-athletes and coaches to make public announcements
- Discussions will open the Department to acknowledging the realities of today’s world
- What if a player who reveals his/her sexual orientation is not capable athletically?
- A plan will keep everyone focused and on the same page
- Plan for the best; prepare for the worst
- Department dialogue will generate real, positive change and develop a culture that is open and understanding. This DOESN’T mean that any operational things must change, but the discussion is important.
- Social media will inevitably break more news stories, planned or unplanned
- How will the Department respond?
- This is an issue for small college programs (maybe more so)
- The media attention will always drift toward the Div I programs
- Must still have a media plan, responses, etc.
- A lack of media attention will generate more REAL conversations about the issues facing student-athletes, coaches and other who choose to reveal their sexual orientation
Athletics departments cannot ignore or dismiss this issue as irrelevant, to society, sport or their own programs. Even the healthiest of athletics department cultures need to think about their futures and the impact of similar announcements.