05-01-2013, 11:32 PM
Join Date: Mar 2013
USA Today article: Why are gay male tennis players hiding in the closet?
Tennis seems ready for gay male, but none are out
USA TODAY Sports 12:37 p.m. EDT May 1, 2013
The tennis community rallied in support of NBA player Jason Collins announcing he was gay
Tennis has a history of prominent players being out
So far, however, that has been exclusively women
As support poured in from the tennis community for NBA player Jason Collins' decision to come out Monday, another question cropped up.
Where are the gay men in tennis?
An individual sport with a history of prominent out athletes such as Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova and Amelie Mauresmo — No. 1s all — tennis has been conspicuously without an active openly gay male player in the Open era.
In interviews with more than a dozen male and female players over the past few months — from teenager Laura Robson of Britain to 40-year-old doubles specialist Daniel Nestor of Canada — none expressed discomfort with the idea of a gay peer.
And many agreed that simple math suggests they exist. Studies put the percentage of homosexuals in the general population at anywhere from 2%-5%.
"There's got to be someone who plays tennis who is gay," said Sam Querrey, the top-ranked American at No. 19. "Whether they are on the tour now or up and coming, I'm completely fine with it."
Still, most scratched their heads for an explanation.
"I don't know," admitted nine-time Wimbledon singles winner Navratilova after learning about Collins. Navratilova came out during her prime in 1981.
Martina Navratilova praised Jason Collins' decision to announce that he was gay.(Photo: Buda Mendes, Getty Images For Laureus)
While 12-year NBA veteran Collins is the first active male in a major American team sport to declare his same-sex preference, several men have come out in baseball, football and basketball, not to mention a variety of other sports from soccer to figure skating to swimming. Until Collins, 34, nearly all did so after retiring.
Some, such as diver Greg Louganis and relay swimmer Bruce Hayes, both Olympic gold medalists, reached the pinnacle of their sport.
At least one male player has come out in retirement: Francisco Rodriguez of Paraguay, a former all-American who competed on the pro tour from 2001-2006 and earned a high ranking of No. 373.
Rodriguez spoke about being gay in a 2008 article in Out Magazine, saying: "'If you came out on the tennis tour you would be an outcast.'"
Pro tennis might not be a bastion of tolerance, but it would appear to contain the framework for gay athletes, male or female, to compete with greater ease.
Players are independent contractors that control their own destiny (in singles). They do not rely on teammates. General managers or coaches cannot thwart or threaten playing time. It is non-contact. They face no external forces except the opponent on the other side of the net.
In searching for answers, players offered several possibilities for the lack of openly gay men and scarcity of publicly out women.
Some wondered if a global sport like tennis might actually be less tolerant due to the complicated matrix of nationalities, languages and religions.
"It's so many different islands," said Mike Bryan, who with twin brother Bob is ranked No. 1 in doubles. "I don't know how everyone feels on that issue."
Others such as American veteran Michael Russell pointed to the timeworn but still persistent idea that locker room etiquette is a deterrent.
"It's pretty open in the locker room," said Russell, who nevertheless said he'd have no problems in that scenario. "Maybe they'd feel uncomfortable."
A few cited the threat economic sanctions in the form of lost endorsements.
"Trust me, Martina and Billie Jean suffered with the endorsements," said 18-time major winner Chris Evert, referring to her rivals and friends Navratilova and King.
Evert said that fear lingers, though that did not seem to affect Frenchwoman Mauresmo, who came out during her run to the Australian Open final as a 19-year-old in 1999 but seemed little penalized during her career.
Evert also argued that staying closeted — or at least not publicly speaking about one's sexuality — stems from a desire for privacy. She noted that some women players continue to travel openly with their partners but have not officially come out.
"I think a lot of people feel that what they do off the court or off the set is nobody's business," she said, comparing professional sports to Hollywood. "People want to keep one part of their life private."
Querrey wondered if gay men naturally gravitate away from sports and were thus less represented.
Rennae Stubbs of Australia, who came out near the end of her career and now is a commentator for television, said macho stereotypes have worked both for and against gay athletes.
"Most people perceive a lot of women athletes as being gay anyway, which is ridiculous because we all know that's not the case," the four-time doubles Grand Slam champion said. "I think it's a lot more difficult for the guys, and not just tennis. Every sport has this issue."
Stubbs came out because she didn't want it "hanging over my head" as she made the transition to other endeavors after retiring.
"The bottom line," she said of coming out, "is that it's a personal preference and some people are very private people. Only they can answer that. I'm a very open person. That's why."
Certainly, the climate for gay athletes is warming.
After hearing about Collins, Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish became the first two male tennis players to join Athlete Ally, an organization dedicated to ending homophobia in sports.
Fish, who lives close to Collins' twin brother Jarron in Los Angeles and has socialized with both brothers, wrote by email that he joined Athlete Ally to be "part of something I believe in."
"I don't know how an openly gay male tennis player would be received but in my eyes nothing would change," said the former top-10 player, who has played sparingly this year due to the ongoing effects of a heart condition. "Hopefully these are the first steps towards a day when this won't be big news."
The 35-year-old Bryans, who attended Stanford University with the Collins brothers and remain friends, echoed most views when they said they don't know any current men who are gay but believe the environment is transforming quickly.
"The world has changed," said Mike. "It's the 21st century. Everyone is more accepting. I don't think anyone would have any issues. But who knows?"
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