Michael Sam, Glenn Burke, and LGBTQ athletes breaking down walls

by | Feb 28, 2014 | Feature, Sports, Varsity

Kheon Clarke
Sports Reporter

The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered and Queer community has new representation in the sports world.

With the Brooklyn Nets signing Jason Collins to a 10-day contract, the first openly gay athlete in NBA history took the floor. He wasn’t professional sports’ first openly gay athlete; that was Major League Baseball’s Glenn Burke in the late 1970’s.

Burke came out about his sexuality to friends, family and teammates in 1976, but the media wasn’t ready for an openly gay pro-athlete and his status wasn’t public until 1982.

Now, with Michael Sam, the first openly gay NFL prospect, moving ever closer to draft day, the conversation about homosexual athletes in the locker room has reopened.

Manager of athletics and sports information at Humber College Jim Bialek said Sam’s sexuality shouldn’t matter. What should is if he can contribute to a team.

“Within his team unit the acceptance should be readily available,” Bialek said. “Within the team concept, if this guy can play and help the team, I think that gay barrier is slim.”

Pro-athletes and regular Joes have taken to social media to voice their opinions on the subject, and it ranges from positive to negative to impartial sentiment.

“The fans will look for the Jackie Robinson of the gay community and will be critical of his play rather than his sexuality,” Bialek said.

It should be said that Sam is one of the top defensive players in college football, and that his size, speed and intangibles seem to be the main focus for NFL franchises.

In a smaller sporting world, like Canadian college athletics, the emergence of openly gay and lesbian athletes is not new.

A few years ago, Humber Hawk’s star volleyball player Laura Bye came out to her teammates.

While Bye’s coaches and teammates continued their support for LGBTQ student athletes, it didn’t stop opposing teams from taunting Bye about her sexual preference during play.

Athletic events coordinator James Depoe said Humber has been open to any student that has the opportunity to be a varsity athlete.

“If you can play, you’re a part of the family,” Depoe said. “You’re on the team and the only discrimination is whether or not you can play the sport you are trying out for.”

When it came to Bye being taunted, Depoe said other teams would try to throw Bye off of her game but she wouldn’t crack.

“She performed well. Sometimes it did stress her out and she would feel it off the court, but it never affected her on the court.”

Depoe said for other schools to taunt her, or any athlete, for being part of the LGBTQ community was shameful, adding his hope those schools have had a chance to educate their fans.

Humber Hawks’ women’s basketball point guard and first year police foundations student Deirdre Beaumont is a proud, openly lesbian student athlete and said what Michael Sam is doing is admirable.

“I’m so proud of him,” said Beaumont. “It takes courage to come out, especially in a sport like football that isn’t typically accepting of gays. I have to give him props.”

Beaumont said she came out four years ago, and has been blessed to have a very accepting family along with being in a generation where gays are more accepted.

“It wasn’t really too hard to come out in today’s society because I have a good foundation and support system,” Beaumont said.

In high school, Beaumont said other students wrote things in the washroom stalls about her sexuality.

“There were a lot of harsh remarks,” she said. “Not only from the people in high school but also by people in the street because of the way I dress or if I was in public with another female.”

Beaumont said she deals with discrimination by walking away and ignoring the hateful remarks. Luckily, she said, she’s gotten great support from the Hawks family.

An athlete’s ability on the playing surface, while important, shouldn’t be all that matters, said Beaumont, adding Sam, Collins, Burke, and Bye’s strength of character should be valued just as much.

“You should know the person all around, you shouldn’t judge them solely based on if they can play sports or not because that’s only one factor of that person’s life.”