Hitting a tipping point

Phoenix Suns President and CEO Rick Welts (Michael Chow, The Arizona/Associated Press)

Sports figures’ decisions to come out can push LGBT community one step closer to equality

HARDY HABERMAN  |  Flagging Left

In his book The Tipping Point, Malcom Gladwell writes about what he calls “social epidemics.” Just like a disease epidemic can blow up and spread very quickly, ideas can suddenly become embraced by the public at large and spread at a rapid pace.

That point when something goes from being just a few people who embrace the idea to the critical mass needed to flood the mainstream consciousness of the country is the “tipping point.”

At its most fundamental level, the LGBT movement begins with opening the closet door. That coming out process is almost always difficult and sometimes it takes years, but it is the beginnings of genuine liberation.

Well, on the coming out front, we may be at the tipping point and for the LGBT rights movement that could trigger a big change

Today I read a story about Jared Max, a sportscaster for ESPN Radio who said this in his morning show:

“Are we ready to have our sports information delivered by someone who is gay? Well we are gonna find out. Because for the last 16 years, I’ve been living a free life among my close friends and family, and I’ve hidden behind what is a gargantuan-sized secret here in the sports world: I am gay.

“Yeah. Jared Max. The sports guy who is one of the most familiar faces in New York sports isn’t quite like the majority. And while you already knew I was a little different, this might help make sense of it. But more so, I’m taking this courageous jump into the unknown having no idea how I will be perceived. …”

This is pretty big news, but even bigger when you consider the other folks who came out in the just the past few weeks:

• Don Lemon, weekend anchor for CNN Newsroom announced last week that he is gay. He did so in advance of the release of his new book, Transparent, in which he discusses his life as an African-American newscaster and as a gay man.

• Look to sports again as the CEO of the Phoenix Suns, Rick Welts, came out in a story in the New York Times. Why? He said that he wanted to do something to help youth struggling with their own sexual identity issues, to assure them they could come out and still have a successful career.

• Former Villanova basketball star, Will Sheridan, kicked open his closet door coming out publicly on ESPN just a day after Rick Welts.

• And all this after former NFL player Wade Davis came out as part of a GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) Sports Project a couple of months ago.

Perhaps I am the only one to see a trend here, but when broadcasters and, more specifically, sports figures start feeling it’s OK to come out, we might be nearing that tipping point.

This trend is not that new either. In the past few years dozens of high-profile people have made their sexual orientation known. My hope is that the cumulative effect will push things over the edge.

What would that look like? Well, it would be somewhat of a continuation of what we see now: more and more people publicly coming out until the mere act of announcing one’s sexual orientation or gender identity will become so commonplace that it is no longer news.

That would signal that LGBT people had really taken a major step toward full equality. The day when a celebrity or sports figure comes out and is no longer headline material, or more importantly no longer feels the need to hold a press conference to do it, will be a great day for LGBT rights.

So to all those celebrities, sports figures, actors, politicians who are still in the closet: Come out! You may be the nudge that pushes things past the tipping point — and that is something that will benefit everyone.

Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a member of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas. His blog is at http://dungeondiary.blogspot.com.

—  John Wright