This weekend, the New York Times reported on New York Rangers player Sean Avery and his involvement in the New Yorker for Marriage Equality campaign. Avery has recorded a video for the campaign, becoming the only athlete to do so, and, the Times reports, one of the few active pro athletes to publicly voice support for marriage equality.
Avery, a 31-year-old from Pickering, Ontario, has played nine seasons in the N.H.L. Known as a fashion-conscious, on-ice agitator, he has never been afraid of what others think of him.
“The places I’ve played and lived the longest have been in West Hollywood, Calif., when I played for the L.A. Kings, and when I moved to New York, I lived in Chelsea for the first four years,” Avery said in a phone interview. “I certainly have been surrounded by the gay community. And living in New York and when you live in L.A., you certainly have a lot of gay friends.”
Avery, who lives in the SoHo section of Manhattan and keeps a home in Los Angeles, said some of those friends had wanted to marry, and he saw no reason they should not.
Pro sports remain an unfriendly place for openly gay men. There are no openly gay pro athletes in major American sports. There are very few resources for gay athletes, out or otherwise. “Gay” and “faggot,” as Kobe Bryant demonstrated a few weeks ago, remain slurs to be hurled at men who are considered insufficiently manly or deficient in some other way.
Out pro athletes are hard to find, and so too are active straight athletes who are willing to go on the record supporting LGBT rights. Most athletes wait until they’ve retired – until the stakes are much lower for them – before coming out or, if they’re straight, voicing support around these issues. That this is the case reflects the fear that being openly gay or openly supporting gay rights can damage an athlete’s career. Of course, this fear is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy: as long as gay athletes remain in the closet and straight allies stay silent about their beliefs, being out or an ally will remain unusual, the culture of the sport will remain unchanged, and staying in the closet will remain the safest choice.
Which is why it’s great to see Avery step up and publicly support marriage equality like this. But it would seem, based on the Times description of him, that Avery is an out-there kind of guy – pretty outspoken, a bit outrageous, and utterly unconcerned about what people think of him. Which is awesome (would that we could all be that way!), but it does serve to reinforce the sense that advocating equality is only for the bold and the brave.
And in many ways, it is. With athletic culture and definitions of ideal masculinity being what they currently are, what Avery did takes real courage. And while I’m glad he did it, I look forward to the day when openly supporting gay marriage rights isn’t a gutsy move, but good common sense, and a given. To that end, I hope more athletes – and not just the out-there ones, either – will follow his lead, and soon.