When NFL.com told a die hard fan that her request for the word "gay" on a personalized team jersey was "naughty" it reminded us all of how welcome (or un-welcome I should say) gays and lesbians are in professional sports. As if the perception that the strength of an iron-clad line backer is reserved for a heterosexual man or the finesse of a slam dunk for only those that wed the opposite sex isn't enough, the professional leagues themselves (the NFL, NBA, NHL, etc.) play an integral role in singling out gays by tolerating a climate of homophobia even to the point of not allowing the last name of some of their most popular players, Randall Gay, Ben Gay and William Gay to be placed on the back of a jersey.
This decision was eventually reversed, but only after loud protests from the HRC and other gay rights advocates. The message was clear: there are gay people in professional sports. Maybe not the three Gays mentioned above, but they do exist- remember the emotional coming out story of ex-football player Tualo? And even more so, a significant portion of the NFL, NBA or NHL's fan base is gay.
Other enterprises have been smart enough to realize that gay people buy the same products and have similar interests as heterosexuals. If one just watches TV long enough or flips through enough magazine pages, the amount of gay-focused advertising is increasing, even in "heterosexual magazines." Never once did the average person think they would see two guys hugging in a back woods bar holding a rainbow-colored Budweiser or a lesbian couple venturing off in their brand new Subaru. But will the NFL eventually follow suit or are professional sports just too "masculine" or "manly" to market towards the gay community?
I can hear the excuses now: Family values; the kids are watching; the moral fabric of the sacred institution called professional sports. Sound familiar?
The NFL, NBA, and NHL has a long way to go as far as encouraging a more inclusive atmosphere for their gay players and fans, but the dedication of their followers remains the same. So much that there are several fan clubs and web sites for gay fans of professional sports.