Why The First Openly Gay Male Athlete In A Team Sport Won’t Play Hockey Or Football

If you’re wondering why there still aren’t any openly gay players in professional sports, Devils defenseman Cam Janssen’s recent comments should give you some idea.

On a radio show yesterday, New Jersey Devils defender Cam Janssen had this to say about getting in guys’ heads.

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This statement came in the midst of a 15-minute-long, profanity-laced interview that also included Janssen calling the L.A. Kings “the fat broads that you regret banging.” Janssen comes off like a rube straight from juniors, someone who doesn’t know how to handle the press, rather than the 28-year-old veteran he is. (You can listen to the interview here.)

In the course of being an idiot, though, Janssen inadvertently helps illuminate why there aren’t any out players in professional sports. Any player who decided to come out, and lived as an openly gay man, would face harassment for his choice every day, because it becomes something that distinguishes him from everyone else. It isn’t so much homophobia, though that’s a part of it; it’s vulnerability, letting your opponents in on a core part of you that makes you different from everyone else in the league. In physical games like hockey and football, which are already dangerous sports, that would mean dealing with extracurricular violence and fighting of an high frequency and intensity, as Janssen makes plainly evident.

It’s not even about homophobic slurs, though that surely plays into it as well. There are countless examples of players using any and all personal information against each other in ways even nastier than calling someone a “cocksucker,” like whatever that Italian guy said to Zinedine Zidane about his mother or sister before Zidane headbutted him in the chest. But being target number one, isolated for his sexuality, might make a man more fearful and, because of his fear, less effective as an athlete. It’s just not a risk that a player balancing on the knife’s edge between professional success and unemployment feels like he can afford to take.

Janssen’s comments also lead you to believe that this has happened before — if he “is” sucking cock, he “is” getting his ass kicked. It almost certainly has. Even though there are zero pro NHL, NBA, NFL, or MLB players who are openly gay, there are gay players in these leagues, whether they choose to acknowledge it or not. (According to the estimates of gay prevalence in society — usually between 3% and 10% — somewhere between 120 and 400 of the ~4,000 major-sport players should be gay, all other things being equal.) Considering the close proximity in which these guys spend so much of their time, rumors must get out, and, even unconfirmed, become something the athletes need to deal with every time they’re out there. While the unofficial code of the locker room seems to dictate that players don’t take these rumors to the public, you can rest assured that they talk among themselves.

Janssen’s clearly a loudmouth, and he needs to learn how to conduct himself in public; even aside from the slur, his interview was crude and obnoxious, and it took away from the good things he did say about the game. But don’t think he’s the only guy who uses others’ sexuality against them. When you’re paid exclusively to win, pretty much any means of doing so seems like part of your job.

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