Out Standing in the Field
Thirty per cent of teen suicides are isolated gays and lesbians. And Dan Woog, author of Jocks: True Stories of America's Gay Male Athletes (Alyson Books) calls the locker room "the largest, dingiest, smelliest closet left in America."
What is there to come out to, anyway? A world where a cross-country runner has his jaw shattered and eardrum damaged by a football player and his friends, because his coach is gay. Where an openly gay track athlete is exiled from the boys' practices and forced to train with the girls. But times are changing, Woog says. The other side of the coin shows the hetero tennis and soccer heroes at a Connecticut high school defying vilification as they create campus "Safe Zones," where matters like sexual orientation can be openly discussed and no discrimination is tolerated.
Woog, an editor of Soccer America, wrote the earlier School's Out about gay and lesbian issues in education and realized "a coach influences kids in enormous ways, and athletes can determine the tenor of the school." The gay presence in scholastic sports was "something that had not been discussed--in fact, it was treated with such delicacy." A coach himself, Woog hopes his new book will help "the gay athlete look around and say, 'Gee, I'm not the only one."'
Still, Woog estimates, "maybe one or two teams will have an out kid. But I think that it's about to change. I sense, from talking to people and seeing things, that in the next year or so, there will be more out kids saying, 'I have a right to be on this team, to be in this locker room, the same as in every other part of the school."' Meanwhile, he submits, straight coaches "need to treat a homophobic comment as the hate speech it is."
Among American men, only figure skater Rudy Galindo came out while at his athletic apogee. Dave Kopay had already left the NFL when he proclaimed his gayness--and he's never been able to snag a coaching job since. He sells linoleum.
Woog doesn't expect any established pro player to come out, but believes an out schoolboy athlete will rise through the ranks in the near future and be accepted by fans and media. But how certain is that? There aren't just the Reggie Whites and Trent Lotts of the world to contend with. Can anyone imagine the time has arrived when New York Ranger fans would give a genteel reception to a gay Bruin or Flyer defenseman?
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