Just a few weeks ago, Nike made the landmark announcement that they would financially back and feature an out member of the LGBT community throughout their universe. In the statements that I read, Nike was fairly clear that they were interested in a professional athlete from a team sport. The fact that they were looking for an out team member didn’t deter me or my fans from making my presence and out-ness known to Nike and if push came to shove, I am a member of the United States Olympic Team.
I see Nike’s announcement as a huge step forward. As LGBT rights are on the chopping block of the Supreme Court in June, it’s no shock that major corporations are looking to support the community as best they can. Whether the decision was made out of the goodness of their hearts, or to protect them from lawsuits concerning discrimination once the LGBT community is considered a protected class, remains to be seen. Either way, Nike will bring other top brands and corporations along for the ride to support the gays.
I do view this as a major positive, but the cynical side of me wants to see how long it will take for a professional athlete to bite. How much money would it cost to come out of the closet publicly in the macho, beer-drinking, tailgating, face-painting professional sports world?
Never having lived in a closet myself, I owe a lot of my first-hand knowledge on the subject to my husband, who lived “in” for the greater part of 28 years. I have learned that you live in constant fear that someone will find out. You hide everything about your personal life from everyone, even those who are closest to you – and sometimes they’re your girlfriend. The greatest liberation could be coming out, but it is also viewed as the greatest tragedy. Once you’re out, there’s no going back in.
Cut to early 2012, when my marriage became public and my husband had to realize that his greatest fear was coming true, whether he liked it or not. Luckily, he had notified his closest family and friends of his lifestyle before it was front-page news across the globe. Still to this day, my husband wakes up quaking in the middle of the night having had a nightmare of epic proportions about someone finding out his secret. Being in the closet, to my best knowledge, is priceless. If you are a person living a lie, that lie can at times be worth death and not a penny less.
Homophobia and bigotry are commonplace in our country today. There is a huge population of worshipers whose Gods teach that homosexuality is a sin, so they themselves believe it to be a sin. There are those who follow their parents and grandparents opinions and think the LGBT community is filled with freaks and animals. Then there are the tough guys who are just afraid some horny gay dude is going to hit on them or rape them. With all the scary out there, who would subject themselves to all the hate, in addition to all the support and love you’d be getting from the masses of our supporters, especially if you were in the closet and death seems the only way out at times? Wouldn’t the fear of love and hate keep you in?
It takes a brave person to come out publicly, whatever your own personal public may be – your friends at school, your coworkers, your teammates, or the world’s media. Whether for your own financial gain and job security or not, coming out is a personal choice that goes beyond comprehension for people who haven’t lived through it. I am cut from the same cloth as my husband, Ellen Degeneres, and the talented and brave Jason Collins, yet I do not understand this life process as they do. My truth wasn’t the same as theirs.
While more companies like Nike should support the LGBT community – and more importantly, a non-discriminatory world – I hope they realize there is no price tag associated with this personal journey. The best rewards for coming out are the opportunity to live your life freely and to inspire the masses to live bravely and filled with love.