GLENDALE, Ariz — When University of Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam came out last week as an openly gay football player, it was a watershed moment in sports.
If the SEC Defensive Player of the Year is drafted this spring, he would be the first openly gay athlete to ever play in the NFL.
But what about Major League Baseball? How would major league teams respond to an openly gay athlete?
White Sox pitcher Chris Sale says he wouldn’t have a problem with it.
“For me personally, if you show up, you’re ready to play, I don’t care what you believe in, who you are, where you’re from, any of that stuff,” Sale told Comcast SportsNet. “If you’re going to play hard and you’re going to play with respect, give him a jersey and put him in the locker right next to me. I don’t care.”
With Sam coming out in football and NBA player Jason Collins doing the same last spring, one-by-one we’re seeing the ice begin to thaw. Gay athletes are slowly becoming comfortable announcing their sexual orientations.
Sale says that athletes who are opposed to having a gay teammate need to wake up and adapt to our changing world.
“The people that get all bent out of shape about that need a reality check,” Sale said. “It’s a level of maturity. Those are things you might make fun of in grade school and elementary school.”
Still, if and when a current major league player does come out — especially the first one — Sale believes that it will take a very special person who can handle the scrutiny and possible abuse.
“I think it would be tough, honestly. It’s not going to be easy, because you’ve got to have thick skin going in [the clubhouse]. It’s tough,” Sale said. “If I got mad every time someone made a skinny joke or called me ‘kid’ being a young guy it would have been tough. You have to learn to brush things off and laugh with it and go with it. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy. It’s just something that might have to be done, so just fight through it.”
White Sox manager Robin Ventura, who played 16 seasons in the major leagues, said Sunday that he’s sure he played with at least one closeted gay baseball player in his career.
“I’m not naive enough to think that it didn’t happen,” Ventura said. “I don’t see it as being as big an issue as in the past.”
In deciding whether the White Sox would draft a gay athlete or put him in the starting lineup, Ventura says his sexual orientation is a non-factor.
“Hopefully he’s a really good player. That’s the first thing we would look at,” Ventura said. “It would take the person to come out and say it, and then you adjust. I don’t think it would be a big change as far as the way guys are and the way the game is right now. There’s been one in the locker room, so it’s already happened, it just hasn’t openly happened.”
Not yet. Maybe one day.