Gay athletes got a new support network on Wednesday with the launch of the Sports Equality Foundation. The organisation that boasts the NBA's first openly gay player Jason Collins and gay ex-MLB player Billy Bean on its advisory board, will focus on empowering LGBT athletes and coaches to come out. This will spark change in locker rooms across the country that are so often perceived as unwelcoming to athletes who don't identify as straight, the organisation says.
"Since I came out a couple years ago, I've found that the most important tool we have to ending homophobia and transphobia in sports is people in sports coming out," Anthony Nicodemo, a New York high school boy's basketball coach, wrote on Wednesday in the Huffington Post. Nicodemo is on the foundation's board of directors and is the chair of its advisory committee.
"More than bringing in campus speakers or conducting sensitivity trainings, it's the people coming out who have truly changed sports culture and shined a light on change that has already occurred," he said.
The foundation, which already boasts a $100,000 commitment from the board, according to USA Today, will work on several different levels, according to Nicodemo, including providing resources to those who seek to come out and a platform on which those who come out can share their stories.
The foundation's founders know change may not happen instantly. A quick Google search of discrimination in locker rooms yields hundreds of results, ranging from cases of homophobia to sexual hazing, both subjects that hit the country's zeitgeist so hard it inspired this season of the critically acclaimed ABC drama American Crime.
"There's super homophobia [in locker rooms], yet [some athletes] use homosexual acts as ways to dominate each other," the show's executive producer Michael McDonald told The Washington Post last week. "It's a very strange, strange environment."
But according to Nicodemo, the current cultural makeup of the nation also offers hope.
"We're at a time when people in sports are ready to embrace their teammates and colleagues who are LGBT," he wrote. "[T]he vast majority of athletes in high school, college and the pros, the sports world around them is ready to embrace them: They just need to share their truth."
And the younger athletes feel comfortable coming out, the better, says Wade Davis, an openly gay ex-NFL player who heads up the advocacy group the You Can Play Project, which has worked with gay athletes seeking to come out since 2011.
"I really, truly envy any person who is out at a young age," he told People magazine in 2014. "I look at them with such admiration, and try to tell them how courageous they are, because they don't see what they're doing as something that's so great."