Just a day after NBA player Jason Collins became the first active male athlete to come out in any of the four major North American team sports, Americans Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish announced their support for Athlete Ally, an organization working to end homophobia in sports.
Andy Roddick: “Yesterday was an incredible day for athletes everywhere. Jason Collin’s courage and leadership in coming out reminds me of how important it is for an athlete to be able to be true to him or herself. As an Athlete Ally, I want to support every athlete to feel comfortable and confident being themselves and to make sure that all people – players and fans alike – are welcome and included in tennis.”
Mardy Fish: “Everybody deserves a shot at playing sports. It shouldn’t matter in the least if that person is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Building community through healthy and inclusive activities should be one of the main focuses behind athletics, and that isn’t possible if you exclude LGBT individuals, especially our youth.”
Our quick take:
Amy: Though there have been high-profile female tennis players who have bravely come out, most notably Martina Navratilova (in 1981!), homophobia certainly still exists in tennis.
Several years ago, Justin Gimelstob made terribly offensive comments about the possibility of a male tennis player coming out, and Janko Tipsarevic also made shockingly ignorant remarks about both gay and lesbian players.
While perhaps some of the individuals in those situations may have evolved in their personal views since then, it’s unlikely that they are the only members of the tennis community who have made comments like that. So it’s wonderful to see Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish take a public stance on this important issue. Despite their absence from the ATP Tour as of late, both men are high-profile players, and their actions set the tone for other players on the tours.
In sports culture, it’s not only remarks like those two examples cited above that do damage, but also instances of “casual” homophobia, sometimes just in passing conversation or (unfortunately) common slang. Organizations like Athlete Ally and You Can Play are doing an admirable job to raise awareness about both kinds of homophobia.
Having tennis stars stand up for a cause that highlights the need for making gay athletes feel completely welcome in the locker room is the next step in hopefully one day eradicating these issues altogether. Thanks, Andy and Mardy.
Lindsay: There has long been a (false) assumption that because tennis is an individual sport and not one that requires team unity and contracts, that it would be more of a safe place for gay players to come out. In many ways tennis is very progressive, what with equal pay for women and the trailblazing coming out of Martina Navratilova. But, as we have noted in other ways here before, that progressiveness is often confined to the women’s tour.
The ATP has lagged behind other major sports recently in gay rights issues. Players regularly use homophobic slurs in their rants on court and are rarely if ever punished for doing so. As Amy noted, Tipsarevic and Gimelstob have both made offensive comments in the press with little to no backlash and no official punishment. Meanwhile, other team sports in bigger leagues with more media attention seem to have been leaning towards acceptance. The NHL has partnered officially with You Can Play, an organization aiming to end homophobia in sports. Kobe Bryant issued a public apology and filmed PSAs dismissing the use of homophobic language after he called an official a derogatory term during a game. Step by step, organizations are getting with the times, saying that “locker room culture” is not an excuse for homophobic and offensive language and acts.
Meanwhile, tennis has stood still, and yesterday when Jason Collins came out and words of support and congratulations rang across the greater sports community, I was left wondering if the tennis community was going to be left behind. And then Mardy Fish tweeted his support. Then Andy Roddick. And then even Justin Gimelstob. Today Roddick and Fish took it one step further with the announcement that they were joining the Athlete Ally foundation. Roddick and Fish are both very well-liked and well-respected in the locker room, even though Roddick’s retired and Fish is still on the sidelines. Their voice matters. A lot.
There are plenty of gay people in the tennis community. They are in the stands watching it. They are in the media covering it. And, even though they haven’t come out yet, they are in the locker room somewhere on tour as well. They are playing for their school teams, or hitting a ball against the garage door, or maybe just playing on the Wii and dreaming. Hopefully thanks to Andy and Mardy’s stance today, they will feel accepted and embraced. Hopefully this is only the beginning. Hopefully the tennis community will continue to stand on the right side of history.
Juan José: This is simply fantastic news. The positive snowball effect of Jason Collins is starting to be felt, in more ways than one (yesterday was apparently the biggest web traffic day in Sports Illustrated’s history, and the Washington Wizards – Collins’ last team – reported that all of their personalized online jersey sales yesterday were “Collins 98” jerseys).
This announcement made me wish Roddick hadn’t retired and that Mardy Fish was still in his top 10 days. The reason is simple: at the moment, neither Roddick nor Fish are in the proverbial “locker room” that Gimelstob painted in such a negative light five years ago. If Roddick were still active, and Fish weren’t dealing with his unfortunate health issues, their influence could be that much greater. This is the same reason I hope an NBA team signs Jason Collins to a contract for next season (Collins is an unrestricted free agent at the moment, which simply means that he doesn’t have a contract with any team): Jason’s influence as the leader of this cause would be much greater if he’s inside an NBA locker room.
Regardless, having Roddick and Fish involved in this movement is quite significant, because both of them serve as mentors to the younger generation of American players. Plus, there is still a chance Mardy Fish overcomes his health issues and becomes a fixture at the big events once again.
But here’s hoping that the premier figures in men’s tennis *cough* Big Four *cough* follow suit, so that the locker room has a constant positive presence regarding this very important issue.