The NFL has had some issues creating a supportive environment for an openly gay player. Major college athletic departments, however, seem to be doing a far better job. Ohio State’s hockey team held a “Pride Night” in February. At an even featuring avowed ally Chris Kluwe, Ohio State hurdler Derrick Anderson found his teammates and coaches supportive when he came out last year.
Anderson made his decision to come out to his team recently, letting his track teammates know through casual conversation, talking about his boyfriend, answering honestly if they asked if he was gay.
“Just normal every-day conversation,” Anderson told The Plain Dealer, “making it so it’s not like a big deal.”
Anderson said he had fears about being forced into a meeting or getting cut from the team, but instead he felt supported by his teammates and coaches. And he thinks a football or basketball player at Ohio State, when that day comes, would get a similar reaction.
OSU’s supportive environment seems to stem from active efforts on the part of athletic administrators, from Gene Smith on down. From Senior Associate AD Chris Schneider:
“I’m sure there are more openly gay athletes within our department, we just don’t hear about it a lot,” Schneider said. “But I think we do have an environment where I would hope they would feel comfortable talking to their coach or any member of our administration.”
Developments at Ohio State are heartening, though the Rubicon for openly gay athletes remains football. The potential for controversy is greater with the higher profile. It is one of the last bastions where retrograde perceptions of masculinity are the norm. That said, even the last minor brush with an LBGT controversy related to Ohio State’s football team was put out immediately.
A college campus is also different from a professional league. A third-string running back at Ohio State who came out would probably receive substantial support from fans, teammates, students and the administration. A third-string running back in the NFL who comes out still faces a very real risk of having the anonymous speak of “distractions” and 32 teams “fill their needs at the position elsewhere.”
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