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Covering New Grounds: Is it Ever Okay to ‘Out’ an Athlete?

Jason Collins, the first basketball player who came out as being gay, in a May 2012 game with the Atlanta Hawks.

Jason Collins, the first basketball player who came out as being gay, in a May 2012 game with the Atlanta Hawks.

The one thing you don’t commonly find in today’s sports world is active athletes who are gay. The first athlete to ever come out while still active was NBA center Jason Collins in late April 2013. He came out voluntarily in an interview with Sports Illustrated and has since become somewhat of an icon of this discussion.

What should happen if a reporter or writer found out from an unnamed source that an active athlete was gay? Should they report it, or should they keep it to themselves?

“No I would not report it because I don’t think it is newsworthy,” said Rafer Weigel, sports anchor for ABC 7 Chicago. “If another athlete treats him or her a certain way because of that, then it is a news story,” Weigel said.

Some writers and reporters might think of this issue as a personal matter because they might have a connection to it.

“Being gay and having come out relatively late, I am sensitive to the fact that everyone has his or her own timetable when going along this path,” said Mike Clark, writer for the Chicago Sun-Times.

Clark also contributes to ChicagoPhoenix.com, which covers local LGBT issues.

“I would write a story about someone voluntarily coming out, but I don’t think it’s my place to push the issue for someone who isn’t ready yet,” Clark said.


Patrick Finley, a writer for the Chicago Sun-Times, wrote a story in 2003 about how there had been no active players who were openly gay in the four major American sports. He also wrote his Master’s thesis and post-graduate project about the issue of people who are gay in the four major American sports.

“I feel that outing an athlete doesn’t contribute to the social debate of an athlete coming out on his own accord and the sport’s ability to accept a player as such,” Finley said. “The issue of how a team/league/fan base treats a gay athlete, I believe, is rooted in the athlete being willing to discuss it. ‘Outing’ doesn’t accomplish that.”

“Depending on the player’s locker room and sport, outing them can sabotage their entire career,” Finley said. “That’s not the role of the media, especially because an athlete who happens to be gay isn’t committing a crime, harming himself or others or hurting his team.”

“That question can’t be answered as a hypothetical,” said Michael O’Brien, writer for the Chicago Sun-Times. “It completely depends on who the player is, how high his profile is, whether he has made his personal life public,” O’Brien said.

Many people can say that outing a player without their consent is not right because either it is not newsworthy or it is irrelevant to the business of the media. Some writers also feel that it is not breaking news to report something like this.

[pullquote]“Outing a gay professional or collegiate athlete without their permission is not breaking news and is not the business of any fans who follow that team or individual,” said George Wilcox, sports writer for the Pioneer Press.[/pullquote] “There is no doubt that there are current gay athletes competing in all current sports of all kinds,” Wilcox said. “Unfortunately, too many gay athletes don’t want to deal with the stigma of being gay,” Wilcox said.

Posted by on December 22, 2013. Filed under Community, Gender & Race, Multimedia. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.