Few industries have as storied a history of discrimination and prejudice as the world of sports. Before the late 1940s, this manifested as racial segregation, with African Americans kept from playing in the Big 4 professional sports leagues. Jackie Robinson and Kenny Washington helped do away with that.
Before 1972, this was a gender problem, with schools either offering very few and/or severely underfunded athletic opportunities for girls wishing to play sports. Cue Title IX.
Of course, neither of these divisions have completely disappeared: the NFL seems curiously dominated by white quarterbacks and black running backs, while WNBA players make less than 1 percent of their NBA counterparts. But no one can argue these situations aren’t far better than they were several decades ago.
Sexual preference seems to be the latest division in sports. Among the Big 4, only nine former players have ever come out of the closet. None have come out while still playing professional sports, though Golden State Warriors president Rick Welts has. Taking the Big 4 to the college level, only two have have publicly acknowledged their homosexuality: Brian Sims, defensive tackle for Div-II Bloomsburg University, and Brendan Burke, former goalie and team manager of Miami of Ohio’s men’s hockey team.
Burke, the son of Toronto Maple Leafs president and general manager Brian Burke, died in a car crash in February 2010, and his brother Patrick Burke, a scout for the Philadelphia Flyers, started the You Can Play Project in his honor. Intended to make it easier for openly gay athletes to play, You Can Play picked up a lot of steam when many of the NHL’s best appeared in this ad: