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Opinion: Professional sport doesn't need a gay Jackie Robinson

A player’s sexuality has no impact on performance so shouldn’t be a concern.

Jackie Robinson broke the colour barrier in American sports.
Jackie Robinson broke the colour barrier in American sports.
Image: DG/AP/Press Association Images

IT WAS REPORTED in recent days that the NFL was under investigation for discriminating against gay players.

The investigation follows accusations by Colorado tight end Nick Kasa that he was asked if he ‘liked girls’ during the interview section of the recent NFL combine. Several other NFL prospects claim they were asked similar questions.

Homosexuality is a hot topic in the NFL at the moment, in large part because of the wink, wink, nudge, nudge, aspect to the reporting of the Manti Te’o story.

If you don’t know Te’o's story, he was the victim of a hoax girlfriend who died (but didn’t really) and who actually turned out to be a man impersonating a woman. Confused? Te’o certainly was and the evidence available appears to point to him being unaware of the hoax until after it unravelled.

However, that hasn’t stopped any number of outlets speculating on whether or not Te’o is gay. Some, including NBC’s Katie Couric have asked Te’o directly if he is gay. His response, for what it’s worth, was no.

But why even ask the question? What does it matter?

You wouldn’t discriminate against a potential employee if they were bald, so why should you if they’re gay? Can Manti Te’o do a job as an NFL quality linebacker? Yes. Does his sexuality – whatever that is – affect that? Not in the slightest.

Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

One argument put forward by those defending teams asking the question is that a gay athlete in the locker room will upset other players. This is nonsense. No team would tolerate a racist player in their locker room, why should they pander to the whims of homophobic ones?

That attitude also doesn’t give NFL players enough credit. Take Scott Fujita, linebacker with the Cleveland Browns. Last week Fujita said “I would argue that the overwhelming majority (of NFL players) would be fine with having a teammate who was gay.”

This backs up a survey conducted by the NFL that found that 57% of current players would accept an openly gay player. That number is still too small, but the percentage is increasing every year as players realise it’s ability, not sexuality, that counts.

So why are people such as Buzzfeed’s sports editor Jack Moore, calling for a “Jackie Robinson of this cause?”

Speaking to CNN, Moore said:

“It just shows that more than ever we need some major pro athlete to come out of the closet at the height – like while they’re in the league. We need a Jackie Robinson of this cause because we just need an example to show that, yeah, I can still play at the same high level.”

But do we? Do we really?

We didn’t need a red-headed Jackie Robinson or a left-handed Jackie Robinson and I’d even go as far as saying we didn’t need a black Jackie Robinson.

There’s no doubt Robinson helped break the colour barrier in professional sports but it would have eventually happened once common sense prevailed and people realised that black players traverse the entire spectrum of ability from rubbish to brilliant, just like everybody else.

There are undoubtedly professional footballers, rugby players, cricketers, swimmers and American football players who are gay.

Some will be brilliant, some could be your favourite sportsperson and others, without doubt, will be terrible. One thing’s for certain though, their ability has nothing to do with their sexuality.

That’s why professional sports doesn’t need a gay Jackie Robinson, it just needs the rest of us to stop asking stupid questions.

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About the author:

Steve O'Rourke

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