In light of the San Francisco Giants’ recent World Series sweep, members of the Board of Supervisors are teaming up with LGBT organizations to encourage professional athletes to come out of the closet.
District 9 Supervisor David Campos and District 5 Supervisor Christina Olague held a joint press conference early Tuesday to promote The Last Closet, a campaign to end homophobia and provide support systems for male LGBT athletes in professional sports.
The conference was co-organized by former Mayor Art Agnos, an active LGBT advocate, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR).
“There are millions of boys and girls throughout this country who aspire to become a professional athlete,” said Campos, who is openly gay. “We want to make it so that, when they are of age, they don’t have to be closeted to be successful in sports.”
At tonight’s meeting of the Board of Supervisors, Campos and Olague will introduce a resolution to push professional sports commissioners and management to encourage LGBT athletes to come out without fear of retaliation or harm.
No male professional athlete has ever come out while actively playing.
Former San Francisco 49ers running back David Kopay was one of the first professional athletes to come out, in December 1975. He attended Tuesday’s press conference to address discrimination in professional athletics.
“The last closet for me was when I came out,” Kopay said. “I needed to step up … I was suffocating. I was so angry, I was going to explode.”
Over the last month and a half, The Last Closet rolled out a letter-writing campaign to reach out to professional sports commissioners. No commissioner has accepted an interview, said cofounder Fawn Yacker.
The Last Closet is now pushing a web and media campaign to encourage commissioners, management and owners alike to speak out against homophobia in professional athletics.
Yacker added that commissioners have taken some action in support of the LGBT community, by imposing sanctions on athletes who use homophobic slurs or by inviting LGBT community members to speak to players.
“But what hasn’t happened — and needs to — is for them to make a definitive statement on camera saying, ‘You are invited to come out and we will do all that is necessary to provide a safe environment for you to do it,’” Yacker said. “They need to be seen and heard.”
Helen Carroll, director of NCLR’s Sports Project, said that similar efforts have for too long operated behind the scenes and in the dark, adding that a national voice for LGBT athletes is key to addressing homophobia.
“To finally see this happen … [for] a city like San Francisco to take this on and to really say to other cities, join us or be left in the dust — I think we’re going to get some results,” Carroll said.
In honor of tomorrow’s World Series festivities, openly bisexual Olague urged Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig to make history as the first professional sports commissioner to openly encourage baseball players to come out of the closet.
“Tomorrow morning, more than a million fans in our diverse city and Bay Area will fill this plaza to celebrate and honor [the San Francisco Giants],” Olague said. “Almost every community will have a role model on the stage to look at and cheer but one — the one in the last closet.”
Cyd Zeigler, cofounder of Outsports, emphasized that silence from commissioners and managers only reinforces a non-tolerant atmosphere.
“Though [the city of San Francisco and the Giants] have won a championship … it takes something very different to be a champion,” Zeigler said. “It’s not about about what you do on the field or the court. It’s what you do for other people and how [you] accept other people.”
When asked about the potential ramifications of coming out, or whether openly gay athletes would be a distraction, Ziegler said: “Athletes can be a distraction to a team with bad leadership. That’s not on the athlete for living his life openly.”
“You can also find good timing. You might not want to come out on the last game before the World Series,” Carroll said jokingly.
The Giants made history recently when they became the first sports franchise to promote an online campaign — the “It Gets Better Project” — aimed at curbing suicides among LGBT youth, who are three to six times more likely to commit suicide than their straight peers, according to Yacker.
The video featured Barry Zito, Matt Cain, Sergio Romo, Andres Torres and Hensley Meulens.