As the Olympics enters it's second week, so far these games have been an Olympics true to form.
The usual 'Olympic Moments' we see games in and games out have been in abundance. Heartbreak, joy, sportsmanship, camaraderie, have been seen numerous times.
This past week Michael Sam, a top prospect to be drafted into the NFL this coming season, came out! Michael's grace, courage, and confidence really shone through. Here is a person who can see that their sexuality is no barrier to his athletic career.
Sam's coming out however has once again made the team locker room "situation" the hot conversation piece.
Having personally come from a primarily individual sport, I have never been exposed to a team locker room environment.
Before I came out publicly, I believe it is safe to say that well over half of the international short track speed skating community knew I was gay. To paint a further picture, I would say that the bulk of them learnt that through a female team member of mine who, and I say this in the most politest of ways, had a big mouth.
I am happy to report that I have never suffered any form of homophobia or discrimination in my sport, period. Admittedly there was the odd joke here and there in the first year post coming out, but I believe that in order to break down barriers and let people know the real you, a sense of humour is healthy in offering an education on something that is assumedly unfamiliar to them?
In an article this week for Out Sports, Scott Cooper, a footballer who played linebacker in college as an openly gay man, spoke about how his teammates are like brothers, and that the locker room environment is anything but sexual, due to its smelly and unhygienic demeanor.
Short track speed skating is somewhat sexualized. Much more so than any NFL or NHL game. Skating around in circles in a one piece skin tight Lycra suit will do that, however personally I never looked at it that way. As a competitive athlete, I have never found any of my speed skating competitors attractive. Don't take it personally, you are a great bunch of people, I just don't wish to sleep with you.
To be competitive at sports you need to remain focused to the highest level. You are out there to win! As soon as sex makes its way into the picture you have a distracted athlete.
The definition of team is 'a group of players forming one side in a competitive game or sport; to come together to achieve a common goal'. As a team, you are out there to work together, as brothers/sisters, team mates, working as one, to defeat the opposing team.
Michael Sam has broken down a massive barrier in the NFL. He has removed any form of questioning and ambiguity towards who he is, and in doing so has strengthened the person he is, and strengthened the team as to which he will play/plays on. The long terms affects he has set in motion will be undefinable.
At these Olympics there are 7 openly gay athletes, all of whom are woman, and all of whom are athletes in a primarily individual sport. The question is this, why are athletes who are in a team sport not motivated, encouraged, supported, or compelled to come out? What exactly is the big deal, and why should they have to?
The big deal is this. People across the world are still being persecuted, bullied, oppressed, and discriminated against because of their sexuality. The LGBT community has fought and still fights for an equal and accurate representation in society. An athlete, male or female who comes out adds visibility to who they are, their sport, and to the reality that gay people are everywhere. Sexuality does not define us, we are all just people, who happen to love someone of the same sex.
I can not ask any athlete to come out, nor should any athlete be forced to come out. It is their decision and their journey. As someone on the other side, where the grass is much much greener I can only stress how important it is, and how great it feels to be open and honest about who you are.
Will we see an athlete in Sochi come out, who knows? What I do hope is that other sports out there are like the sport of speed skating. Speed skating deserves a gold medal for being an inclusive, understanding, diverse, and accepting sporting environment, and for that, I say thank you!
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