Burgess, Rob 4-21-12.jpg

Rob Burgess4-21-12

Jamie Kuntz, 18, freshman linebacker at the North Dakota State College of Sciences, was dismissed from his team earlier this month after stealing a kiss on the sidelines from his 65-year-old boyfriend. Coach Chuck Parsons said the fact that Kuntz lied about the embrace, initially saying it was his grandfather, was the cause for the termination.

“I was kind of scared I would get kicked off if I told him the right answer,” Kuntz told ABC News.

But Kuntz, who had been on a partial football scholarship and subsequently left the school, thought the deception itself wasn’t the real reason he was cut loose.

“I know if it was a girl in the press box, or even an older woman, nothing would have happened,” he told the Associated Press.

This comes soon after another collision of gay rights and football. On Aug. 29, Emmett C. Burns Jr., who represents Baltimore County in the Maryland House of Delegates, penned an open letter on state letterhead to Steve Bisciotti, owner of the Baltimore Ravens, asking him to silence linebacker Brandon Ayanbadejo, a vocal supporter of same-sex marriage.

“Many of your fans are opposed to such a view and feel it has no place in a sport that is strictly for pride, entertainment and excitement,” wrote Burns.

In response, Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe sent sports website Deadspin his own open letter.

“It baffles me that a man such as yourself, a man who relies on that same First Amendment to pursue your own religious studies without fear of persecution from the state, could somehow justify stifling another person’s right to speech,” Kluwe wrote to Burns.

Burns then relented, telling the Baltimore Sun that Ayanbadejo “has his First Amendment rights. And I have my First Amendment rights.”

While I’m sure gay rights supporters appreciate Ayanbadejo and Kluwe, imagine what would happen if an NFL superstar came out of the closet tomorrow. Future generations would study them the way I did Jackie Robinson. I’m sure every gay kid in America would buy their jersey too.

But in all my research I had an extremely difficult time turning up any historical instances of openly gay male professional athletes in any of the top three American sports. There have been only two openly gay Major League Baseball players ever. And only one of them, Glenn Burke, made this known during his career. The other, Billy Bean, didn’t reveal until four years after retirement. Only one National Basketball Association star, John Amaechi, opened up. And it was three years after hanging up his jersey. Last year, Rick Welts, Phoenix Suns owner, not a player, affirmed his sexuality. And the only such NFL player I could find was Wade Davis, who also waited until after he was out of the league. And was never on a team’s final roster.

In reality, there probably isn’t room enough in this entire space to simply name all the actual closeted gay male professional athletes in this country’s history. There are around 1,700 active NFL players currently. You mean to tell me they’re all straight? I don’t believe it and neither does NBA legend Charles Barkley.

“Every player has played with gay guys,” Barkley told the Washington Post in 2011. “I’d rather have a gay guy who can play than a straight guy who can’t play.”

I’m not asking anyone to do anything they’re not already doing, just to be honest about it. And I do understand the potential negatives, but they shouldn’t come out just for themselves. Ultimately, it would be a lot harder to dismiss gay amateur players if there was an example of a professional team having to deal with one of their players coming out.

People like Jamie Kuntz can’t wait any longer.

Rob Burgess, Tribune night editor, may be reached by calling 765-454-8577 or via email at rob.burgess@kokomotribune.com.

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