Granted, it was an unfortunate relationship dispute that essentially “outed” former NFL player Kwame Harris to the world, but the story is arguably a watershed moment nonetheless. Harris was reported to have assaulted his former boyfriend, unintentionally revealing to the world that Harris is gay. To many people (including me), learning Harris is gay is not a big deal — but when placed in the sports-world context it is quite a story indeed. You see, to date very few male athletes have come out, and this number dwindles even more when talking about men currently playing and/or from the big 4 sports (football, baseball, basketball, and hockey).
Whatever the reason, women athletes have come out in a disproportionate number when compared to their male counterparts. In fact, on the surface it would appear that there are not any gay male athletes when you try thinking of a gay football, basketball, baseball, or hockey player. Obviously, this is not the case as there are many gay male athletes from these sports — even if you don’t know about them.
For years now I have met and worked with closeted gay male athletes, and I have long wondered when the day would come that gay men would feel comfortable coming out with respect to their sexuality. Of course, no person is required to talk about their sexual preference, but similar to society at-large, I suspected it was only a matter of time before gay male athletes would decide to come out. Granted, Harris didn’t officially “come out,” but the fact that the story is now bouncing around in cyberspace for the world to read about will likely prompt other gay male athletes to re-think their own situations and the pros and cons to revealing their own sexual preferences.
Some gay male athletes may open up and talk about their sexuality for their own self-liberation, while others will eventually disclose their sexual preference so that they may serve as positive role models for other young male athletes who struggle being gay while involved in a traditional, machismo American sports culture. Personally, I hope this story about Harris does indeed help more gay male athletes open up, as I have witnessed firsthand some of the struggles gay men in sports have experienced having to constantly hide their sexuality from the world. Living a super-secretive life, lying about girlfriends, and doing countless other things to hide their sexuality has caused enough anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and even suicidal thinking. Whatever one’s sexual preference is, we should all be able to live our lives with happiness and acceptance.
While it’s unfortunate a relationship dispute is what made Kwame Harris’ sexuality a national story, it might also be the prompt other gay male athletes are looking for when considering their own decision about whether to make their sexuality public. The hope is that as we become a more understanding and accepting society, we show those same values in the sports-world.