On Athletics and Coming Out

Austin Hendrix

“You’re supposed to fit this model — if you’re a gay male, you’re (considered) feminine, you can’t be athletic,” Hendrix said. “You start thinking, ‘Maybe I’m the only one. I don’t have anyone to look up to, maybe there’s something wrong with me.’ It does make it difficult. And you’re surrounded by all straight men or women so you don’t have anyone to really go to or confide in.”

“It would just really help to know you’re not alone. I think that’s what it comes down to.”
– Austin Hendrix, Eastern Michigan University Junior and Track Athlete

Austin’s personal story of coming out to his team is featured online today in the USA Today.

My favorite quote in the story comes from his roommate James  Hughes:

“It surprised me when I first learned it,” Hughes said. “I never expected it, I didn’t see it coming. And then, instantly, all I could think about was, ‘I hope I never said anything to offend him.'”

I deeply appreciate that James immediately became self-conscious of his possible role in the bias that kept Austin closeted for years.

I don’t know how many times I have heard that last line from people young and old when someone unexpectedly ‘comes out’ to them. It is both a compassionate and a pretty telling statement about how casual it is in our society to make homophobic small talk and jokes.

In any case, it is great to see Austin’s story featured in mainstream media. His visibility as a college jock offers younger athletes the awareness that they ‘are not alone.’

In other related news, the great LGBTQ sports blog OutSports was featured today by the New York Times where journalist John Branch noted: “The fact that Outsports could still seem so distinctive a couple of decades into the age of the Internet— with its endless assortment of blogs, Web sites, chat groups and more —says something about the enduring taboo of being a gay athlete.”

Yep. 

the enduring taboo of being a gay athlete

If you read about the struggle Austin went through living in the closet for years of his college career…

And you read the words of fellow athlete and gay man John Amaechi in the article about Hendrix:

“The reality is, anybody who thinks an out or gay athlete, even a very talented one at the high school level, has an equal chance of getting a scholarship at the right school or has an equal chance of getting drafted as a straight athlete are still kidding themselves,” said John Amaechi, who came out after five years in the NBA with Cleveland, Orlando and Utah. “There are some people who will overlook it. But there are still some owners who are stale, male and pale, and for them, the idea of women being in the locker room is terrifying, let alone a gay person on their team.”

It is quite clear that athletes like Austin are still today gambling with future scholarships and career potential when they come out.  So power to people like Austin, willing to take their story to the public.  And power to sites like OutSports, highlighting all the wonderful athletes who happen to be queer. 

Because no… It shouldn’t matter. 

But it does.

And until it doesn’t, in the oft-repeated words of Harvey Milk,

“Come out, come out wherever you are!”

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