Keeping Score

Why An American Male Pro Athlete Will Soon Come Out

The N.H.L. forms a partnership with a gay rights organization to prep for the inevitable; a player coming out of the closet

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Yoon S. Byun / Boston Globe via Getty Images

Patrick Burke, Philadelpia Flyers scout and co-founder of You Can Play, which fights homophobia in professional sports.

In the U.S., no male athlete in any of the four major pro sports has come out during his playing career. That’s likely about to change, and the National Hockey League wants to be prepared.

On Thursday, the N.H.L. announced that the league, and its players’ association, have formed a partnership with the You Can Play Project, an advocacy group fighting homophobia in sports.  The New York Times said that the partnership “appeared to be the most comprehensive measure by a major men’s league in support of gay athletes.”

As reported:

You Can Play will conduct seminars at the NHL’s rookie symposium to educate young prospects on LGBT issues. In addition, You Can Play will make its resources and personnel available to each individual team as desired.

The NHLPA and NHL also will work with You Can Play to integrate the project into their Behavioral Health Program, enabling players to confidentially seek counseling or simply ask questions regarding matters of sexual orientation.

(MORE: Rick Weltz, Phoenix Suns CEO, On Why He Came Out)

Patrick Burke, a scout for the Philadelphia Flyers and one of the founders of the You Can Play Project, told the New York Times that if a player wanted to announce he was gay, “we’re ready to do whatever that player wants. If he wants to do a thousand interviews and march in pride parades, we’re equipped to handle that. And if he wants us to pass block for him so he never has to do another interview in his life, we’re equipped to handle that, too.”

Ex-Baltimore Ravens linebacker and special teams player Brendan Ayanbadejo, who has emerged as the staunchest advocate for same-sex marriage and gay rights in American sports, recently told the Baltimore Sun that he believed a pro athlete will soon announce he is gay.

“I think it will happen sooner than you think,” Ayanbadejo said. “We’re in talks with a handful of players who are considering it. There are up to four players being talked to right now and they’re trying to be organized so they can come out on the same day together. It would make a major splash and take the pressure off one guy. It would be a monumental day if a handful or a few guys come out.”

Ayanbadejo also told the Times that he’s been in contact with gay athletes in sports besides football. If an athlete came out in 2013, he’d be hailed as a hero; although he’d no doubt hear negative commentary, most of the public, and his peers, would embrace him. Further, his endorsement potential would skyrocket, according to Bloomberg. Reporter Scott Soshnick wrote:

According to Bob Witeck, 61, a gay-marketing strategist and corporate consultant, the first openly gay team-sport athlete — provided he’s a recognizable name — would earn millions in endorsements and speaking engagements from companies seeking to capture more of a U.S. lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adult population whose annual buying power he pegs at almost $800 billion.

“We’ve passed the tipping point to where national advertisers are no longer afraid of the gay market,” said Mark Elderkin, chief executive officer of the Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based Gay Ad Network.

An “I’m gay” announcement in pro sports is inevitable. Because at this point, if a pro athlete remained in the closet, he might have too much to lose.

MORE: How Gay Marriage Already Won