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Monday, May 16, 2011
Jock culture shifting toward acceptance

By Dana O'Neil

Editor's Note: To read Dana O'Neil's story on former Villanova basketball player Will Sheridan, click here.

In the past two weeks, Sean Avery voiced his support of same-sex marriage and an NHL agent quickly denounced him.

Two-time Olympic gold medalist Peter Vidmar, an opponent of same-sex marriage, was named the liaison between the U.S. team and the International Olympic Committee.

To Jim Buzinski, the CEO of Outsports.com, the news isn't that Avery was attacked or Vidmar appointed.

It's what came after.

It was Todd Reynolds, the agent who tweeted his disappointment, who was almost universally slammed for his comments -- not Avery. And within a week, Vidmar resigned from his position, concerned that his personal views would overshadow the athletes.

"The whole culture is changing," Buzinski said. "It's not cool to be homophobic."

In the 10 years since he and Cyd Zeigler began Outsports.com, a site for athletes and sports fans that are part of the GLBT community, Buzinski has watched a generational shift give rise to acceptance instead of tolerance. He points to the number of popular mainstream television shows -- "Modern Family" and "Glee," to name two -- that feature homosexual cast members as evidence to how comfortable we, as a society, have grown with homosexuality.

Sports, perhaps, aren't changing at the same meteoric rate, but the change is happening. Buzinski has more profile stories than he knows what to do with, tales of high school and college athletes who are comfortably out of the closet while competing.

Better, when those stories do surface, the expected outrage rarely happens and even more rare are the horror stories of athletes estranged or worse, attacked because of their sexual orientation.

"There's typically a flurry of interest for a while but then people move on," Buzinski said. "Eventually they're judged just as all athletes are judged -- by how they perform. The media is supportive and the fans, honestly, it's the same as always. If it's your team and your guy is good, you like him. If he stinks, you'll rip him for a million years."

What's missing, though, are athletes from the big sports -- the four major professional ranks and the high-profile college level -- to share their stories.

There is still, Buzinski said, a hesitancy at that level to come out. He privately knows of plenty of people who are gay but who aren't, as he terms it, publicly out.

And while stories of swimmers and golfers and runners matter greatly, they don't offer the same sort of impact that a person at the highest level can.

"It's like anything else. It's about having role models," Buzinski said. "It gives people encouragement when you can put a name and a face to a major sport. It will tell people or reconfirm to them that there are gay people playing every sport you can imagine and they're quite good at it. You can show people, especially younger people, this is possible for me."