There has been a lot of talk about when the first male athlete will come out in a major sports league in the U.S. Who the "gay Jackie Robinson" is going to be in anyone's guess but a study that came out this week may have a bearing on when we see him. The survey asked over 8,000 student athletes about their sexual orientation and gender expression (in the end the number of transgender respondents was tiny, less than 10) and about their experiences on their sports and on their campuses.
The results were not exactly surprising. LGBQ student-athletes were less prevalent in "featured sports" (however those were defined by each school) and were more likely to have been harassed either in person or online than their heterosexual counterparts. They were often discouraged from coming out either by teammates or others.
I think this has a direct effect on when we'll see the first out an in major sports. As colleges become more accepting places for gay athletes so will the professional sports. The players in college who play with openly gay teammates may be more accepting of a gay teammate in the professional ranks. At the very least they should be less wary of having a gay teammate. We may see a courageous individual who comes out sooner rather than later but as schools move toward being better places for all athletes, the student-athletes who have "grown up" in those systems should too.
On other point I wanted to make about the study, there is no differentiation between harassment or "behavior policing" (i.e. telling a teammate he or she should not come out) that was done by straight teammates and that done by other gay teammates. Yes, on some teams there may not be other gay teammates but in my limited experience I noted that sometimes gay teammate are harsher on each other than their straight counterparts. There can be more pressure to fit in, to act a certain way, not to flaunt being gay to other teammates. Some of the most homophobic comments I heard (but not all, certainly) came from closeted gay athletes trying to prove they weren't gay.
I know of people making homophobic remarks in a team setting even as they were dating one of their very own teammates. In order to throw others off track it's often other gay players who were doing the most to ensure others stayed int he closet. I'm not saying that these players caused the homophobia, but in order to survive on homophobic teams, or in a homophobic culture, they were often the loudest about not having those types of players in their team.
Coaches, administrators, and players all have the responsibility to set the tone for inclusivity of all kinds of differences among players (socio-economic status, religion, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity). If coaches, like my own in college, tell their players that all of them are welcome on the team and that if anyone makes them fee otherwise that the coaches will step in, it sends a powerful message. Where coaches shrink from the responsibility it allows the vacuum of leadership to be filled with whatever nonsense the loudest and most powerful voices on the team choose to say.
All athletes need to know that they are valued for their skills and for who they are as individuals. Without that respect a team cannot excel and we will be waiting a long time for Mr. Gay Jackie Robinson.