Sports

Has 2011 Seen Growing Acceptance For Gay Athletes?

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Villanova's Will Sheridan goes up against Seton Hall's Stan Gaines in 2007. Sheridan recently announced that he is gay. i

Villanova's Will Sheridan goes up against Seton Hall's Stan Gaines in 2007. Sheridan recently announced that he is gay. Bill Kostroun/AP hide caption

toggle caption Bill Kostroun/AP
Villanova's Will Sheridan goes up against Seton Hall's Stan Gaines in 2007. Sheridan recently announced that he is gay.

Villanova's Will Sheridan goes up against Seton Hall's Stan Gaines in 2007. Sheridan recently announced that he is gay.

Bill Kostroun/AP

In the past couple weeks, Phoenix Suns President Rick Welts, former Villanova basketball star Will Sheridan and ESPN sports radio host Jared Max all announced they are gay.

But the locker room and sports arena are still difficult places for gay and lesbian athletes. NBA stars Kobe Bryant and Joakim Noah were both recently fined for using gay slurs, though both athletes later apologized and insisted they aren't homophobic.

New York Daily News sportswriter Michael O'Keefe tells NPR's Neal Conan that the question of how to react to gay athletes was first raised years ago, in professional women's league sports, when WNBA MVP Sheryl Swoopes announced she was gay.

"The world didn't end then; the skies didn't part," O'Keefe says. But that level of acceptance has yet to be reached among male athletes.

"Whoever the athlete is that ultimately comes out in the middle of his career, it's going to be a difficult thing ... [but] it may not be as difficult as we once thought," O'Keefe says.

He points to the prevalence of openly gay artists, lawyers and politicians and says it's only a matter of time before we see the same thing happen in men's professional sports.

"There [are] four major professional men's leagues in this country. They each have about 30 teams," he says. "[These are] thousands of athletes we're talking about. There's got to be some gay players in all four of those leagues."

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