On Wednesday, Massachusetts point guard Derrick Gordon announced he was gay, becoming the first openly gay Division I college basketball player. To punctuate the decision, he wore a Nike #betrue rainbow T-shirt, and for some reason, the fact Nike has a line of sportswear specifically targeting gay athletes was maybe the most encouraging takeaway from the whole day. It's sort of amazing, and also sort of sad, how far ahead of sports corporate America can be sometimes.
There was a sense, among many in sports media yesterday, of fatigue with Gordon's announcement; a large number of stories about it had a sense of obligation to them, a here we go another one of these weariness. It's not that there wasn't support for Gordon: It's just that already in 2014, we've had Jason Collins being signed to an NBA roster, Michael Sam coming out before the NFL draft and now Gordon. One year ago, any one of these stories would have shaken the sports world to its very foundation. Now, it's almost feeling rote.
It isn't, of course. Just because our news culture moves impossibly fast doesn't mean Gordon's announcement wasn't a huge deal, not least of all for him. Collins' and Sam's unveiling of their sexuality was so well stage-managed, so smartly orchestrated for public consumption, that we forget it rarely goes so smoothly in the real world, or is that meticulously planned out. Gordon said he was inspired by Collins and Sam to come out, but, like with Sam, his family is still trying to wrap their head around all of this. Here's what Gordon told USA Today:
"When I came out to my parents, I was shaking the whole time," Gordon said. "My parents kept guessing what I had to tell them. My mom got it on the fifth try. Mothers know best. My father was shocked but came around and is supportive of who I am."
That happened on Sunday, by the way. Gordon told his family on Sunday, his coach on Sunday night, his teammates Wednesday morning and the rest of the planet Wednesday afternoon. (His teammates, unlike his family, all said they already knew.) That's a lot happening in an extremely short period of time. Gordon went from "Starting Point Guard For NCAA Team" to "First Openly Gay College Basketball Player" in three days. Good luck explaining to him, or anyone around him, that this isn't a big deal, that it's rote.
And that's the main takeaway from this: Just because there have been three high-profile gay athletes in three months doesn't mean that we're anywhere close to critical mass on this. (We also don't have the gay Jackie Robinson yet either, a superstar gay athlete.) The NBA has a gay athlete, college basketball has a gay athlete, the NFL is (probably) about to have a gay athlete. There are obviously more in each of those sports -- particularly collegiate sports; there are roughly 1,500 Division I college football players and roughly 4,200 Division I college basketball players, and there are only two publicly gay ones -- but that doesn't change the fact that in other major sports, the closet still exists.
There are no openly gay male athletes in the following professional sports:
In each of these sports, everyone keeps telling me that they're ready for an openly gay athlete. They're ready in golf. (It's possible only a straight guy would want to wear that hideous green jacket.) They're ready in tennis. They're ready in hockey. They're ready in NASCAR. They're ready in baseball. And yet: still no openly gay athletes in any of those sports. Apparently they're not that ready.
Most stunning to me is baseball. Think about all the professional baseball players there are out there. By a back-of-napkin count, there are around 300 pro baseball teams, 30 in the majors and 270 or so in the minors. (Counting independent leagues.) At 25 roster spots on a team, that comes out to somewhere in the vicinity of 7,500 professional baseball players. It is impossible there isn't a gay baseball player. It is impossible there aren't dozens. Yet: silence.
Derrick Gordon's announcement feels like just another story because of the news cycle, and the perpetual exhaustion it inspires, not because of its actual importance. This is a huge deal. But there are many more huge deals left to come. The response is not all right, here's another one. The response is great! When's the next one?