Opinion Brief

Can the sports world conquer homophobia?

In the last week, three prominent sports figures announced they are gay — even as anti-gay slurs from players on the court made headlines, too

In the past week, Phoenix Suns president Rick Welts announced that he is gay, followed by former Villanova basketball star Will Sheridan, and ESPN sports radio personality Jared Max. Plus, the New York Rangers' Sean Avery and Suns star Steve Nash released videos supporting same-sex marriage. But that was hardly a unified front for gay rights. On Sunday, Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah yelled an anti-gay slur at a fan, earning him a $50,000 fine. And earlier this spring, Lakers star Kobe Bryant was fined for yelling a similar slur at a ref. Will the macho world of sports ever embrace homosexuality?

Pro sports still has a way to go: Yes, it was a big week for male sports figures stepping out of the closet, says Shaun Powell at CNN. But "these outings went over in the sports world like a commercial break. A 30-second diversion." Pro sports won't beat homophobia until a Hall of Fame–level superstar comes out — a male Martina Navratilova — and deals with the blowback from players, "caveman"-like fans, and sponsors. We're not there yet."Real test still to come on gays in sports"

But the closet is already opening: After last week, gay athletes are "finally welcome" in America's long-hostile locker rooms, says Michael O'Keeffe in the New York Daily News. Welts may not be as famous as Navratilova, but "he has a lot more clout," and his well-received openness will trickle down. A new generation of athletes already thinks sexual orientation is no big deal. And "the F-word, like the N-word, is no longer acceptable in stadiums and arenas.""Sports appear finally ready to welcome gay athletes in the locker rooms"

The NBA will be the first to truly break this barrier: "Welts' coming out is an important step forward," says Jay Boller in The Onion's A.V. Club. And when the gay-athlete barrier is broken, probably soon, it will likely be in basketball. Just listen to former star (and "general loudmouth") Charles Barkley. He said that "every basketballer has had gay teammates, calling doubters 'stone-freakin idiots.'""Where are the gay pro athletes?"

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