David Kopay Voices Disappointment at the Lack of Publicly Gay Athletes

Saturday December 5, 2020

David Kopay Voices Disappointment at the Lack of Publicly Gay Athletes

America's first openly gay professional athlete has spoken out in disappointment that so few gay athletes still don't feel confident enough to come out. 78-year-old David Kopay, who was a former NFL running back, is enjoying his retirement in Palm Springs, California. He was recently interviewed by the Associated Press to coincide with the publication of two surveys from the Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.

The reports analyzed responses from individuals aged 15 to 21 residing in the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and Canada who identified as LGB. The authors were keen to use the survey to understand how easy LGB young adults find it to come out to teammates and whether those that do come out are subjected to homophobic behavior. The second survey focused solely on homophobic behaviors in team sports settings, most notably the use of homophobic language in these environments.

The first survey found that half of young adults experienced homophobic abuse in team sport settings. Its lead author, Erik Denison, of the Monash University's Behavioural Sciences Research Laboratory, said those affected by homophobic behaviors suffered increased "risk of depression, suicide and self-harm". Meanwhile the second survey indicated that no matter how many advertising campaigns and educational initiatives, the approaches "do not seem to be working" to stamp out homophobia in sports for good.

The sporting world hasn't moved as fast on homophobia as David Kopay would like

It's been 45 years since David Kopay openly disclosed is sexuality after an eight-year stint in the dizzying world of NFL. Kopay started his NFL career playing for the San Francisco 49ers. At that point, the 49ers had never qualified for a postseason playoff and were some 17 years from winning their first Super Bowl. The 49ers look highly unlikely to qualify for this year's postseason stage either. A 5-6 record leaves the 49ers bottom of the NFC West and priced as long as +8000 in the NFL odds for the 2021 Super Bowl winner, with only the Washington Football Team priced longer than the 49ers.

Some four teams later — the Detroit Lions, the Washington Redskins, the New Orleans Saints and the Green Bay Packers — Kopay felt the time was right to declare his homosexuality. Kopay said in his interview that he was confident that coming out "would make it easier for other athletes" to be just as open about their sexualities. The reality was considerably different. He described it as a "painful experience". Kopay admitted that he had "sacrificed so much" to be true to himself but the outcome was that he was marginalized. Kopay could not find employment as a coach in football after his announcement. He compared it to being treated the same as someone that had "committed murder".

Kopay was equally dismayed to hear that LGB young adults "are being targeted". He said that despite many people using homophobic language and not "meaning anything" by it, the fact they still use "these horrible words" is proof enough that homophobia is still rife in sports settings.

Kopay had hoped that almost half-a-century on from his disclosure, many other professional gay athletes would have followed his lead. He said that he was always confident that it would be "a matter of time" until individuals felt confident enough to come out. He "could never have imagined" that 45 years later America's Major League sports would still continue to operate with no openly gay professionals. Jason Collins was one of the most recent athletes to come out before briefly playing for the NBA's Brooklyn Nets prior to his retirement. Kopay said that it "made no sense" that the US now embraces "gay marriage" but still lacks "openly gay athletes" in the NFL, MLB, NHL, and NBA.

It's a similar case on the other side of the world. Ian Roberts was Australia's first high-profile athlete to come out in 1995. The rugby star is bewildered as to why so many LGB athletes still "wait until they retire" to come out due to dressing room "fears". On a more positive note, Roberts said that the "naysayers" were very much in the "minority" during his final two seasons as captain of the North Queensland Cowboys. Yet there still appears to be so much more work to do to erase homophobia and transphobia from sport for good.

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