Steven Davies' decision to come out of the closet in a recent interview with the English newspaper The Daily Telegraph is perhaps the most important sports story of the year so far. It may even retain that title throughout 2011. Hopefully it will help to dispel an aura of homophobia that surrounds sports like low cloud. The first openly gay international cricketer, Davies should be congratulated for his courage. Given the machismo of sport - and sadly, much of society - which looks down on homosexuality, his decision can't have been an easy one and may earn him unwarranted abuse from bigoted fans. It should also draw him plaudits for honesty and strength.
The list of openly gay professional athletes is not a long one. In Australia, the first openly gay big-name professional sportsman was Ian Roberts of South Sydney, Manly and North Queensland who revealed his sexual preference in 1995. Since then, the Australian list has been a slim one: our most visible "out" athletes now include Roberts, beach volleyballer Natalie Cook and 2008 Olympic gold medallist Matthew Mitcham, one of only eleven openly gay male athletes - of nearly eleven thousand males - at those games.
Many - most - sports have a lot to learn when it comes to dealing with bigotry. The horror stories still remain of Justin Fashanu, whose career and then life were shattered by coming out in 1990. His former manager, Brian Clough, with whom Fashanu butted heads at Nottingham Forest over football and lifestyle differences, has admitted that his treatment of football's only openly gay player was his greatest regret. Fashanu, who took his own life after a controversy in America in 1998, is remembered by The Justin Campaign (http://www.thejustincampaign.com/), formed to oppose homophobia in football and thus aiming to prevent any possible repeat occurrences. Fashanu' story probably dwells heavily and understandably in the minds of closeted homosexual footballers.
Sepp "Bellend" Blatter recently underlined the need for organisations such as The Justin Campaign and offended many with his recent suggestions that gay men "refrain" from sexual activities during the 2022 Qatar World Cup. That gaffe came from the head of one of the most powerful organisations on Earth, albeit a head with a large and misshapen mouth from repeated attempts at swallowing his own foot.
In America, the story isn't much different. Former NBA Centre John Amaechi wrote in his autobiography that his coach in Utah, Jerry Sloan, suspected his sexual preference and bullied him for it. Amaechi, like Fashanu and Davies, stands alone as the only gay player to come out from his sport's top level.
Homosexuality has been wrongly perceived, in male environments especially, as a threat or as a disease. Both perceptions are majorly flawed but the stigma attached to being gay refuses to go away. Davies' example should be lauded as another step forward, small but significant, against bigotry in sport. Like all battles, this war will be made up of one skirmish after another: for every Steve Davies there will be a Tim Hardaway. Victimisation has no place in sport or life, whether it be against race, colour, religion or sexuality. It is not only the actions of people like Davies, Amaechi & Mitcham who will change the way homosexuality is viewed, but the actions of society at large.