Learning to play fair

by Evan Sporer / Beacon Staff • April 16, 2014

1397710150 opinionskybox.jpg
When it comes to sports, sexual orientation shouldn't matter.
When it comes to sports, sexual orientation shouldn't matter.

Growing up, I aspired to be a professional athlete. When I realized that dream would never come true, I combined my passion for sports and storytelling into journalism, something I hope to turn into a career. But throughout my years of soccer, volleyball, and writing, all that mattered was that myself, my teammates, or my colleagues were passionate about what we were doing—who we were passionate about was never important.

Recently, a number of athletes—amateur and professional—have made headlines for coming out as openly gay. They’ve been categorized as trailblazers: first came Jason Collins, an NBA player who is currently on the Brooklyn Nets. Collins’ announcement was followed by that of Michael Sam, a graduate of Missouri, and an NFL prospect who will likely be selected in this May’s draft, making him the first openly gay NFL player. And most recently, Derrick Gordon, a basketball player at the University of Massachusetts, was the latest to come out of the closet and garner headlines, as he became the first openly gay player in Division 1 men’s college basketball. 

Through this recent wave, an organization has stood as a backbone for gay athletes. Founded in 2011, You Can Play has aimed to end homophobia in sports, and has picked up a ton of steam since its inception. Every NHL team has had at least one player pledge to support the organization’s mission, along with 37 colleges and universities nationally. 

As a campus that prides itself on its inclusivity, particularly in the LGBT community, Emerson should become 38th institution to pledge its support to You Can Play. 

There’s almost a paradox in athletes like Gordon having to use the media to publicly express their sexuality. Of course, they should be treated as leaders, and lauded for their courage and bravery, but in an ideal world, disclosing your sexuality would be completely unnecessary. 

There was a time when African-Americans were marginalized in the sports world. A time when segregation was the norm and never even questioned. Now, the thought of excluding any racial group from participating in a professional or college league is indefensible. And it’s not as if people are openly petitioning to ban gay athletes from competition. But in a culture so fixated on sexuality—and, in the sports world, masculinity—it’s time to make sure no one feels like they don’t belong. 

At Emerson, affiliating with You Can Play is only logical. Rated the most LGBT-friendly school in the country by the Princeton Review, Emerson’s inclusive community should extend to athletics. That’s not to say it does not already, but pledging support to You Can Play would be saying it loudly, and saying it proudly.

Most importantly, the student-athlete experience is supposed to be about pride in one’s sport at the Division 3 level, where  students have no aspirations in a career as a professional, and no scholarships. But how can one fully embrace his or her identity as a student-athlete if he or she can’t even embrace something like sexuality? 

To not reinforce an accepting environment forces athletes at all levels to mask who they are. And the worst part about that is, someone’s sexuality, when it comes to sports, could not be more meaningless. A man liking another man or a woman liking another woman does not give them some competitive advantage. Simply, as the organization’s slogan goes, “If you can play, you can play.”

As athletes, we try to win, and embody the qualities of those we look up to, which is difficult, and perfectly articulated on the You Can Play website.

“It’s tough to be those things when a player is keeping a secret,” it reads. “Teams get better results, and athletes are better, when they can be honest and open about who they are. That includes athletes who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transsexual.”