Airing Out the ‘Last Closet’

Many in the LGBT community love sports. Sports, though, have rarely returned the affection. Basketball star Kobe Bryant highlighted the problem when he made an anti-gay slur in a televised game last April. In sports culture, few LGBT athletes have felt secure enough to be honest about matters of sexuality. Professional athletes who eventually do open up usually wait until retirement. There is a reason sports have been called the “last closet.”

That may change quite quickly as a new generation of young athletes— gay and straight—take the court and field. It is a generation that is rapidly embracing the idea that ability, attitude and team chemistry trump sexuality and other issues of identity. “There’s no question that young people are leading the way,” says Pat Griffin, head of GLSEN’s Changing the Game initiative. Changing the Game seeks to confront homophobia and transphobia through education, training, social media and support for young LGBT athletes.

A new breed of coach is also confronting homophobia in sports. For years, Dan Woog, an out gay soccer coach, has led the top-tier soccer program at Staples High School in Connecticut. “I think as more players grow up knowing gay people and knowing they have gay teammates, as they move into positions of authority we will see anti-gay attitudes die out,” Woog predicts.

Woog serves as an advisor to GLSEN’s Team Respect Challenge. As part of TRC, high school athletes sign a pledge to refrain from insulting speech, including anti-LGBT insults. “It offers a plan of action for teams and athletes who want to do the right thing, but might not know the right thing to do,” Woog says.

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