By Sarah Hall (@)
More than a week ago, an article came out in the Washington Blade that has made me think about things. It discusses what each league is doing for LGBT (no mention of QAUI+) athletes who are/aren’t out in their respective leagues. It reads like a typical piece about the LGBT in sports. Until you go actually look at the title.
‘‘They’re cowards’ – gay athletes still refuse to come out’ and it is as jarring as you think it is.
Reading past what each league is doing, you get to Cyd Ziegler’s comments about why more athletes don’t come out.
“Tomorrow somebody could decide to come out or could be caught literally with his pants down,” Ziegler told the Blade. “All professional sports leagues are quote-unquote ready for an out player. But the gay athletes are just afraid. They’re cowards.”
He added, “The definition of a coward is somebody who lets fear govern his actions. And the gay athletes in the major men’s professional sports today are cowards. And even worse than the athletes that are active in sports are the dozens or hundreds of gay athletes who are retired who won’t come out,” he said.
“I mean, they have nothing to lose in the sports world. And for them to not come out really shows the disdain for the mental health of America’s youth,” especially LGBT youth who look to professional athletes as role models, Ziegler said.
I was speechless reading this.
If you don’t know me, please let me introduce myself. Hi, my name is Sarah and I grew up in Topeka, Kansas during the height of Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church. I can tell you in vivid detail what it is like to see that sort of hate every day on the corners of you town. Now I live in Scottsdale, Arizona.
And it’s even worse when it’s aimed at you and your friends. There wasn’t really a place for us, except at the Topeka AIDS Project where they had a youth group for LGBTQAUI+ teens once a week. There were no safe spaces in school, there was no talking about coming out, there was no coming out. Fear drives what you do when you’re queer.
Because that’s what I am. I’m a queer woman and have been for as long as I can remember.
In April of this year, Andrew Shaw was suspended for using a homophobic slur against an official – he was fined as well. But this isn’t the first time I’ve seen or heard someone use homophobic language on the ice in the NHL that season let alone the three years I’ve been watching it. I’ve seen it live and used against players on the team I cheer for.
My experience, when I came out at 15, came screaming back to me when I saw Andrew Shaw yelling at the official. Panic, dread, fear – all of it. 15-year old me had a very hard time when I came out at school. People wouldn’t want to sit with me at lunch or on bus trips, no one would room with me during band trips and there was a group of girls who actually locked themselves in the bedroom of a suite to stay away from me. Just because they were scared I was going to do something.
After that, I just refused to talk about myself. I stopped going to the meetings I had come to love – I was ashamed of it. Does that make me a coward?
Being out in sports is completely different than a woman in Arizona who writes about sports. The night the Andrew Shaw incident happened, I came out on twitter. I couldn’t stand it anymore. (Please excuse my language.)
LGBTQAUI+ youth will find the role models they want wherever they can. They have a huge advantage over what I had access to when I was figuring everything out.
You Can Play’s message may be flawed in places, in how the message is sent out, but the concept is sound. If you can play, you can play. This will never change if the person is closeted, unsure, questioning or out. But someone like Zielger, who has a large audience on a major sports platform, calling athletes cowards who don’t come out, is ridiculous.
Each person has their own story. Some can never tell it, some will never be able to tell it, and some will come forward when the time is right to tell it. If that means waiting until their career is over to come out publicly? That’s perfectly fine.
There may be players in the major leagues who are out to friends, family, and even their team, but will not be out publicly until the end of their career. How many relationships were ruined by trades? By ugly contract negotiations? By major injuries? We may never know, but that’s the thing. It’s not our place to know.
How you decide to come out – if you do – is private. Don’t let anyone pressure you at all. It’s your right to feel safe. You’re not a coward; you’re a human with feelings. Sometimes people don’t see that when they’re dealing with LGBTQAUI+ individuals, which is ridiculous.
You’re not a coward. You have never been a coward. I will protect this stance forever. I’ve been out to my family for 15 years. Only my mother still speaks to me. I have an amazing group of friends who are every letter of the quiltbag. Some out, some not, and that’s fine.
But someone in the public being out? That’s none of our business. It never has been.
If someone is forcibly outed? There is NEVER an excuse for that, and I will not stand for it.
I will wait for the first NHL player to feel secure enough to come out, and I will wait with open arms. Whatever the reaction from social media or the league, you will have support from me, always.
(Feel free to reach out to me on twitter @sarahhowling or via email firstname.lastname@example.org)