The most telling sign of the lack of gay men in professional tennis is that the only player wearing rainbow clothes this summer was a straight guy who had to apologize for using gay slurs during the Olympics.
As the US Open begins its two-week run in New York City, I feel compelled to rehash this depressing statistic: There will once again be no openly gay male players at any of the sport’s main events.
âTo be honest I’m a little surprised that there still hasn’t been an active ATP level player,â said Nick Lee, a former college tennis player at Vassar who is openly gay.
âI think the exit of former professional tennis player Brian Vahaly was a big step in the right direction,â said Lee. âA lot of the top-ranked players in men, including Roger Federer and Andy Murray, responded very positively to Vahaly’s exit and said they would welcome an openly queer man to the tour.
“I think it would be amazing if more former ATP players who are gay came out, especially someone who was a top player, building a bigger support network for a male tennis player. active professional feels comfortable going out. “
The number of pro women on the circuit is not much better – Alison van Uytvanck, Greet Minnen and Sam Stosur will play singles and Demi Schuurs will play doubles at the US Open – but there have been female players throughout history, including legends like Billie Jean King (whose name adorns the stadium where the US Open is held) and Martina Navratilova.
The absence of our male professional tennis players is remarkable in a summer that saw the NFL’s first gay player and a gay NHL prospect come out and a record number of LGBTQ Olympians, including the greatest. number of men of all time. These developments make professional men’s tennis appear to be stuck in a prehistoric era.
Brian Bradley, who is gay and played tennis for Catholic University in Washington, DC, focused on the individual nature of the sport when he told Outsports why he thinks gay professional tennis players stay locked up .
âThere are no gay players on the ATP Tour because most of the players don’t pick up a racquet in the hope of being a role model for a whole marginalized community,â Bradley said. âIt takes a special personality to thrive in professional sport AND to live authentically as a homosexual. Tennis is an individual sport. For so long, homosexuality has been attributed to weakness – it can prevent a player from coming out. “
“What if you’re the first gay player to come out?” Bradley asked.
âNo more distractions.
âPossible reaction to sponsorships.
âYou are becoming a hero to so many people. Thus, adding more pressure. You are the first, so people want to see you succeed.
âThe coming out process is so nuanced, and I can imagine the intricacies that come with being gay and playing professional sport. This locked up player may not have signed on to be the first gay player. He probably signed up just to play tennis – and he may not be able (or interested) to be the focal point of queer tennis.
“To be the first one takes extreme bravery outside the parameters of success as a world class athlete.
Unlike the pros, there are college players and one of them, John Speicher, wrote in his Outsports coming out story earlier this year that one of his reasons for going public was to go public. ‘encourage others to go out.
âI’ve seen other stories of college tennis players on Outsports, and I think it’s important to increase representation so that people at the higher levels of the sport can come out and feel supported,â Speicher wrote. .
Speicher echoed Bradley in saying that tennis being a solo sport has an impact on players coming out.
âThe individual nature of professional tennis makes it particularly difficult for players to come out,â he said. “No one wants to be vulnerable and feel like they are showing some kind of weakness to the competition and you have no teammate to confide in.”
At a symposium on LGBTQ players held in conjunction with the US Open two years ago, Van Uytvanck said she believed “the world sees women who play tennis as more normal than men.”
Van Uytvanck is right. A pro tennis player gets a shrug, while a man coming out would be a big story. But fears that an absent player would be hunted down by the media was shattered by how quickly Carl Nassib’s story faded after the Las Vegas Raiders defensive lineman turned gay in June. At training camp in July, the media had moved on.
Lee sees potential for change and it revolves around young people.
âLGBTQ + youth are at risk of dropping out or exhausting themselves in sport because they don’t feel welcome due to their sexual or gender orientation,â Lee said. âTherefore, I believe that grassroots efforts at the junior level that create welcoming and inclusive environments in competitive sports for young people could lead to more potential for them to be an openly queer man on the ATP Tour at home. ‘to come up.”
I appreciate the ideas of players like Lee, Bradley and Speicher and I think their theories on why players stay locked up are perfect. Yet I have no doubts that a man who comes out would be overwhelmingly accepted by the people who run the sport, other players, fans and the media.
I think âgay professional tennis player comes outâ would be a story that fades quickly as an obsession in a culture where âbreaking newsâ ages very quickly. We need someone to put the theory to the test, and it doesn’t seem like it’s happening anytime soon.