Under no illusions about reality, former major leaguer Michael Young told ESPN on Monday that he surely played with gay teammates during his career, "and all the teams I played on, I know it definitely wouldn't have been an issue."
Call it informed speculation, because nobody ever came out on one of Young's teams and, Young added, he never played with anyone in partictular he thought might be gay. Young, who recently announced his retirement, just figures there were gays among his scores of teammates.
In the wake of Missouri football player Michael Sam coming out ahead of the NFL draft in April, football reporters have asked NFL executives how a player's sexuality might affect his draft status, or his place among teammates. Eight execs anonymously told Sports Illustrated it would be a problem. One even curiously told Peter King that Sam, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, wouldn't be drafted because he's "overrrated."
In the wake of that, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports asked eight MLB personnel chiefs if their team would accept a player like Sam, and they all said yes — and on the record.
Young's comments to ESPN echo those sentiments:
"This may be the first openly gay player in the NFL, but clearly we know there have been tons in every sport -- male, female, there have been tons in every sport. "We just don't know about them or who they are. They're out there right now. They're out there in the NBA, in the NHL, in the big leagues and in the NFL. Hopefully players are just comfortable being themselves."
While it's not realistic to expect there wouldn't be trouble somewhere, it's meaningful to have a player as respected as Young be supportive, even hypothetically, of an openly gay teammate. A seven-time All-Star who played 14 seasons, it's reasonable to say that Young was a leader in most of the clubhouses in which he worked. If one teammate had come out as gay and another teammate was making life unpleasant for him as a result, there's reason to think Young would have stepped in and stopped it. Like with Sam coming out, Young's position should be encouraging for any major leaguer considering going public. It's easier for any person not hiding his or her sexual identity to say "it's not an issue, it's not a big deal." But imagine being the person feeling like he or she needs to hide. Check that last sentence in Young's quote:
"Hopefully players are just comfortable being themselves."
It's unlikely that all — or even most, probably — of the closeted gay players in MLB are comfortable "being themself" if they have to keep such a secret. Young's words bring us closer to the day when being gay really won't be an issue anymore.
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