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Thursday, March 3, 2011

When will it ever be OK for American athletes to show the courage Steve Davies has?

Jelisa Castrodale
On this side of the Atlantic, where our breaded fish comes with fries, where we skip tea and embrace orthodontic treatments, you don’t expect to flip through the sports section to read about cricket. America hasn’t exactly embraced the overtly English sport, with its cable-knit uniforms, flat bats and game commentary — “He’s bowling a legbreak googly” — that sounds like it was scripted by Dr. Seuss. That’s why it takes someone extraordinary to put cricket in our papers. It takes someone like Steven Davies.
Davies, who plays for both the Surrey Lions and England’s national team, told London’s Daily Telegraph earlier this week that he is gay. Davies said his coaches and teammates have been nothing but supportive, which gives a glimmer of hope that some pro sports are inching toward tolerance towards gay athletes. But the fact that Davies’ self-outing was a story — and, in the UK, a bold-font, front-page one — shows that there is still a long way to go.
It’s unbelievable — and a little improbable — that in 2011, Davies and Welsh rugby player Gareth Thomas are the world’s only two openly gay males who play a team sport. And, unlike Thomas, the 24-year old Davies chose to reveal his sexuality at the start of his career, rather than when he’s already contemplating when he’ll untie his cleats for the final time.
“I’m really pleased for Steven that he showed the courage and strength to tell everyone who he is, and I’m glad to see that he got the full support of the people who matter — his family and teammates,” Thomas told the Mirror. “His bravery could inspire men and women, not just in cricket but other sports like professional (soccer), not to be ashamed of their sexuality.”
After Davies’ announcement, Thomas was apparently contacted by every reporter with a tape recorder and unlimited anytime minutes. But who else are they going to talk to? There isn’t any other athlete to ask, who can share his story about how long he agonized over his decision, who can talk about the bravery it takes to break one of sports’ last taboos, and to discuss what, if anything, changed in his professional life.
Former New York Mets catcher
Mike Piazza once publicly denied
he was gay.

The list of men who have outed themselves — or who have been outed — is a short one made up largely of divers, swimmers, wrestlers and other individual-sport athletes who'd be listed under the “More" section of this website. In the UK where, as the Telegraph points out, male homosexuality was illegal until 1967, only four male athletes have come out: Davies, Thomas, cricketer Alan Hansford (who revealed his sexuality after his career) and soccer player Justin Fashanu.
Fashanu — who committed suicide in 1998 — remains the only openly gay professional soccer player. Whether it’s because of the tragic end to his story, the overly alpha-male attitude of the sport, or the notoriously nasty terrace crowds, every other hands-free football player continues to sidestep the issue like it was a flatfooted defender from Wigan Athletic. In fact, the players are so concerned with being Hetero All-Stars, not a single one would participate in an anti-homophobia public service ad sponsored by the Professional Footballer’s Association.
Here in the US, the collective rosters of our major sports leagues share that same oversized closet. The NFL has only had three openly gay players — none during their playing career—and none since former journeyman lineman Esera Tuaolo took his secret to HBO in 2002. There have been three former MLB players, one former NBA player (British-born John Amaechi, who was interviewed by all the reporters who couldn’t get through to Gareth Thomas), and zero between the NHL and the PGA.
Take baseball, for example. In 2002, then-Mets catcher Mike Piazza actually held a news conference to announce he wasn’t gay. “I date women,” he said in response to a New York Post article that suggested there might be a gay player on the Mets. Piazza, who wasn’t named in the Post story, still reacted like he’d been accused of eating cereal out of puppy skulls. It’s ridiculous that he took such offense to that article, but was completely unapologetic about that time he had those blonde highlights.
Four years ago, former NBA star Tim Hardaway said on his radio show that "I hate gay people. I don't like gay people and I don't like to be around gay people. I am homophobic. I don't like it. It shouldn't be in the world or in the United States."
Current White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen has been repeatedly criticized for using a particularly unfriendly six-letter f-word in interviews and former Phillies’ skipper Larry Bowa once told Sports Illustrated he wasn’t sure baseball was ready for a gay player. “If it was me, I’d wait until my career was over,” he said in 2002. “I’m sure it would depend on who the player was. If he hits .340, it probably would be easier than if he hits .220.”
Right now, it’s not easy, period. But as Davies told the Telegraph on Monday, “I want to be remembered as a good cricketer, not a gay cricketer.”
It’s up to us to make that happen. 

Jelisa Castrodale has learned a lot about life by making a mess of her own. Read more at 


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