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The tide is starting to turn as athletes and others in the sports world come out

Will Sheridan in his playing days

As you may have heard, there has been some extremely exciting news in the intersecting worlds of gay people and sports lately.

On Monday, Rick Welts, the chief executive and president of the Phoenix Suns, came out in a very public way (you can’t get much more public than the front page of the New York Times, can you?). In coming out, Welts aims to break the silence surrounding homosexuality in sports. The reaction to his news has been very encouraging. David Stern, the commissioner of the NBA, has been nothing but supportive. Before coming out to the world at large, Welts came out to Bill Russell, one of the greatest basketball players of all time, and to Steve Nash, the Suns point guard and two-time NBA MVP, both of whom offered their full support and respect.

Hot on the heels of Welts’ announcement came another public coming out, this time by former Villanova basketball player Will Sheridan. While Sheridan waited a few years after he graduated to publicly come out, he was out to all of his teammates during his playing days, all of whom were supportive. That fact alone is encouraging, and is made even more so when you consider that Villanova is a Catholic university.

The positive reaction to Welts’ and Sheridan’s public and private coming out processes indicate that we’re marching ever closer to acceptance of openly gay folks in sports, as do some recent major steps by allies. English rugby player Ben Cohen just announced that he is retiring in order to devote his life to fighting homophobia and bullying. Cohen is definitely putting his money where his mouth is: he’s starting the Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation, which is dedicated to ending homophobia, and will soon embark on a tour of gay and gay friendly rugby clubs here in the states.

Additionally, professional hockey player Sean Avery recently made a video in support of marriage equality in New York. Shortly after the video went live, a hockey agent named Todd Reynolds tweeted his disagreement with Avery’s stance. Happily, there was a huge outpouring of support for and agreement with Avery, and Reynolds’ bigoted dissenting voice was drowned out. Similarly, Peter Vidmar’s abrupt resignation from the United States Olympic Committee indicates how far we’ve come. The USOC recently appointed Peter Vidmar chef de mission (basically the head of the American contingent) for the 2012 summer games; shortly after, it came to light that Vidmar was a major supporter of prop 8, both monetarily and by attending demonstrations. This news caused such a backlash that Vidmar resigned just eight days after his appointment. It’s not hard to remember a time when a top sporting official might have had to resign under pressure for being supportive of gay rights, so for the opposite to happen now is great news.

There is certainly still a huge amount of work to be done to achieve full acceptance, but the recent wave of positivity surrounding gay people in sports bodes well for the future, and I, for one, am excited about these recent developments.

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