If you don’t follow sports, in the past week and a half Toronto Blue Jays centerfielder Kevin Pillar was caught calling a pitcher a ‘faggot.’ Ryan Getzlaf of the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks was caught calling an official a ‘cocksucker.’ Whenever the topic of a hypothetical gay athlete comes up, the discussion always swerves heavily towards whether or not they’d be a distraction. It’s a horseshit concern by itself for a lot of reasons; because making a championship is far more of a media circus than one gay player could ever be (especially in the NFL); because it’s never been much of a distraction in leagues that already have out athletes (like MLS, the NWHL, the NWSL, MMA, etc.); and because hand-wringing about it never seems to involve asking any actual queer people what they think.
It’s also a horseshit concern within the overall context of queerness because being queer doesn’t exclude anyone or make it harder for others to exist in a professional space. Being homophobic or transphobic does.
Being homophobic or transphobic in the locker room means you’re explicitly saying that 4% to 10% of people aren’t welcome. Sure, there are currently no out NHLers or MLBers, but you can bet there are players in the closet that look at situations like this and how teams respond and go ‘hmm, no thanks.’ There have been so many athletes who have come out later in or after their careers. Did incidents like this inform who they played for and signed endorsement deals with? You better believe it.
And even if you think that queer athletes are too small in number to warrant any action, queer fans aren’t. Do the Ducks want to alienate a substantial portion of their fanbase, or come off as anything but queer affirming in southern California. Fuck and no.
At the end of it all, teams should be welcoming to queer athletes simply because they are organizations staffed by humans, employing humans and it’s the right thing to do. But they should also see the sports benefits of being welcoming to those athletes.