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Lately, pro athletes have also been ever more willing to use their celebrity for LGBT campaigns, both in their leagues and in their communities.
In Minnesota, where a near-deadlocked vote to constitutionally define marriage as between a man and a woman looms on next month's ballot, Vikings punter Chris Kluwe has emerged as the unlikely spokesman for Vote No. Kluwe garnered millions of hits in September with an op-ed for Deadspin slamming a Maryland congressman for questioning NFL players' right to stick up for gay people.
"He's going to save it for us, I swear it to you," Tracy Call, founder of Minnesotans for Equality, says of Kluwe's work against the amendment.
In South Florida, the Panthers' Campbell has taken perhaps the most visible stand by signing on to You Can Play, an NHL-wide effort to take homophobia out of the locker room. The campaign was started in March by Brian Burke, president of the Toronto Maple Leafs, after his openly gay son died in a car crash.
"The attitudes are finally changing, and it's just because it's talked about more. Everyone is much more educated now," Campbell says. "If someone did come out in the NHL now, I believe guys would be totally fine with it. If he's good enough to play, let's have him."
Pro sports certainly haven't eradicated homophobia. In September, Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar was suspended for etching "You are a faggot" in Spanish on his eye black. Athletes are routinely bombarded with gay slurs on Twitter after a bad play.
And even with the emergence of straight allies like Kluwe and Campbell, the final test has yet to come for the four major leagues. Real change occurs when a gay athlete like Orlando Cruz takes the ultimate step: coming out while still competing.
When they do, they'll confront a scene like Cruz did last Friday, when he stepped into the ring in Kissimmee Civic Center to fight Jorge Pasos in his first bout since his bombshell Twitter messages. Everyone from the BBC to NPR to HBO's Real Sports was there to document the moment and to show millions of viewers that a gay athlete can compete.
"There's only one thing that will knock down that wall entirely," says Dave Pallone, a gay former baseball umpire and author of Behind the Mask: My Double Life in Baseball. "That will be for a male athlete in one of the major sports to come out while he's still playing."
@BurkieYCP pretty sure at least 90% of nhl fans will be very supportive of the nhl player that comes out
Hmmmm. You said, "Yet in 2012, none of the four major American sports has ever seen an active, openly gay player like Cruz." Ever hear of David Kopay? Major League football player who came out in 1975, played for the 49ers, Lions, Redskins, Saints, and Packers. He even wrote a book about being a gay football player, "The David Kopay Story". This is not to denigrate Mr. Cruz in any way; as much as I am against the sport of boxing, he has gained high respect for his actions in coming out and continuing to pursue his dream. I merely wanted to set the record straight (you should pardon the expression).
i'm very happy to have someone like brian campbell playing in south florida. let's go panthers!! as soon as the lockout ends anyway.......
@BurkieYCP awesome! So proud of the nhl players regarding this topic. Wish someone would come out so others would find the courage as well