The Sports World Needs to Get With the Times

The recent revelation by the president and CEO of the Phoenix Suns that he is gay is another step toward cracking the door to one of the last vestiges of homophobia: the sports world. More athletes, coaches, front office leaders and fans need to step forward and put on a game face for gay athletes and young fans -- instead of defending offensive comments like those made last month by NBA All-Star cum diva Kobe Bryant. Another NBA heavyweight has weighed in on the side of tolerance, none other than "Sir Charles" Barkley. Any dissenters feel free to take a shot at that HRH.

Then there's the athletic staff at NC State University. Last week, men's basketball star forward C.J. Leslie made quite the twitter of himself with anti-gay slurs. One would think that the adults in a house of higher education (that graduates 45% of its men's basketball team) would take a stand against this sort of intolerance?

Think again. According to the News & Observer head basketball coach Mark Gottfried opted to speak privately with the rising sophomore while assistant athletic director Annabelle Myers responded: "Any student has the right to express his or her personal opinion, but those comments certainly don't reflect the diverse and welcoming atmosphere at N.C. State. Our student-athletes are reminded and encouraged to be circumspect in what they say, post or tweet."

Coach goes mum and the assistant AD suggests that athletes be circumspect. Circumspect? Welcoming atmosphere? The circumlocution from that limp duo sent a charged message to gay athletes past, present and prospective. I wonder what the reaction would have been to a similar incident by beloved Kay Yow, the former NC State women's basketball coach and Naismith Hall of Fame winner?

More principled are the efforts by another duo: a decorated collegiate wrestler and world-class English rugby star who have teamed up to combat bullying and homophobia in sports. And last season the Indiana Hoosiers Athletics Department declared a home game vs. Northwestern as LGBT Appreciation Day.

As a diehard UNC Tar Heel fan I don't have to wonder what our legendary basketball coach Dean Smith would have to say about tolerance and gay athletes. Though recently-turned 80 and struggling with memory loss- he's already had his say.