Washington Evening Journal
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Neighbors Growing Together | Nov 28, 2014

Talk with D-Rok: from Welts to Sam

By Derek Helling, Sports Editor | May 15, 2014
Photo by: Journal file photo Derek Helling

There is an emerging trend in the sporting world. It actually began nearly three years ago when then Phoenix Suns’ CEO Rick Welts came out as homosexual. He was the first prominent American sports executive to do so.
The topic then took a back seat to other issues for almost two years until about a year ago when Jason Collins, who was at that time an NBA veteran free agent, came out as gay as well. Collins was tagged with the distinction of being the first “active” professional athlete in one of the four major professional sport leagues in the United States to do so.
Since then, stories have emerged including Michael Sam, the former Mizzou football player who was drafted into the NFL over this past weekend by the St. Louis Rams. Phoenix Mercury forward Britney Greiner, and Derrick Gordon, a starting guard for the University of Massachusetts’ men’s basketball team, are two more examples.
The courage and strength of these athletes who are in the public eye not only has affected their careers and lives but has forever changed the game for those who will follow behind them.
Today’s prep student-athletes who are anything other than heterosexual could be affected in several ways by this new level of honesty about sexual orientation in sport.
The first possible effect for prep student-athletes is that previous fears to being honest about their own orientation might be calmed by seeing the individuals that I’ve named. Another potential effect is prep student-athletes might feel pressured to come out before they really feel comfortable with doing so because of the news that they are seeing.
The most important thing to remember is that a person’s sexual orientation is just one part of who they are. All other aspects of their personality and lifestyle are identical after coming out to what they were before.
If a student-athlete discloses their orientation to a person in confidence, that information should be kept in confidence. Only the student her/himself has the right to decide when, how and to whom he/she divulges any information of this kind about her/himself.
Certain athletic leagues have initiated programs and held forums designed to make LGBT athletes feel welcome to play. The intention is great. There is a downside to that philosophy, however.
By embracing that ideology, LGBT student-athletes are still being singled out and made to feel different from their peers who may fit into the more traditional social norm as far as sexual orientation and/or gender expression go. These young people don’t want to be held up as special. They want to be treated as equals.
It’s not that until about three years ago, LGBT people weren’t involved in sports. For decades they have played or coached or were in management, some of them without ever sharing that piece of themselves. Recently, however, public sentiment has become more favorable toward these individuals being honest about who they are.
To think that this trend won’t ever impact prep athletics in Keokuk and Washington counties in Iowa is naïve. The ultimate aim, however, isn’t to create an atmosphere where prep student-athletes all along the LGBT spectrum are made to feel welcome to play. The best situation I can imagine is a place where being LGBT is about as meaningful for a student-athlete as her/his last name.

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