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updated: 2/27/2013 11:17 AM

Gays, sports will coexist just fine soon enough

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Many will find this hard to believe, but the openly-gay-men-in-sports issue will work itself out and we'll all survive.

The story surfaced again this week thanks to a report that some NFL teams want to know what Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o's sexual orientation is. They fear that a gay man -- Te'o says he's straight, by the way -- would disrupt the chemistry of a locker room.

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The conversation that ensued was a little more widespread than I expected, but everyone might as well relax.

Gays are in the workplace now. Some are openly and some are secretly, but they're here and they aren't going away any more than the rest of us are.

They're already in football and the Marines, baseball and the Army, basketball and the Navy, hockey and the Air Force. They're working in offices, newsrooms and convenience stores.

An openly gay man will be integrated into a sport, then into another sport and then into all sports, and sports as we know them will go on just fine.

The public will maintain interest new NFL regimes like the Bears' have now. Streaks like the Blackhawks are on will continue to grip fans. So will the dawning of a new baseball season.

Sports are durable, and so will openly gay men be once they arrive on the teams we cheer for.

That's not to say the process always will be smooth.

If the model is Jackie Robinson breaking through baseball's color barrier, challenges will mount.

This isn't 1947. Sports are a bigger business now. Americans, younger people especially, are less bigoted than they were then.

Still, the first homosexual to integrate a football locker room likely will face some of the same obstacles that confronted Robinson.

Some teammates won't like the idea of showering with a gay man, some of his own team's fans will sneer at him, and opponents will taunt him if only to rattle him.

So whoever crosses over the sexuality line first will have to have as strong a support system as Robinson had.

This latest social pioneer will need a teammate like Dodgers captain Peewee Reese, who put his arm around Robinson's shoulder for all in an angry crowd to see.

He will need someone in power like Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey, who made it clear that Robinson was on the team to stay and teammates who didn't like it could go.

Finally, he himself will need to be like Robinson, strong enough to endure resistance and talented enough to win games.

Even after a team in any sport employs a great openly gay player, the question will be how long before one will employ an openly gay marginal player over a straight player with less ability.

After Robinson's breakthrough, for a while baseball teams still would have only so many black bench players and basketball teams only so many black starters.

So this will be an evolution rather than a revolution.

Openly gay males will become common in sports sooner or later likely sooner than it seems now -- and everybody will at least coexist.

If writers can work with editors and Cubs and White Sox can work in the same hemisphere, straight athletes who might think they don't want to will adapt to working with gay athletes.

This is America, the most diverse nation on the planet. That's how it works here. We either celebrate our differences or tolerate them.

That's how it has worked for gays who came out in politics, show business and just about every other industry. Eventually that's how it will work in sports, too.

So relax because we have more important things to worry about in this crazy world.

mimrem@dailyherald.com

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