Should Straight Allies Back Away from the Spotlight in the LGBT Sports Movement?

Chris Kluwe

In the year and a half since its launch, the You Can Play Project has been working hard at supporting LGBT rights and fighting homophobia in sports by featuring a growing list of vocal athlete allies from across the sporting world. In a new article over at Outsports, however, founder Patrick Burke expressed his discomfort with the reality that the LGBT sports movement isn't actually an LGBT sports movement.

Said Burke:

Patrick BurkeI can't shake the feeling that we've gone too far. Allies have raised our profiles beyond what is necessary to help the LGBT community. It's been a big year for allies to get famous, grab a book deal, win awards, maybe pocket some speaker's fees for appearances. Resources that should be going to empower LGBT voices are instead going to enhance the visibility of straight people. We've created professional allies (or, as the history major in me would call them, mercenaries). We've created famous allies. Think of how absurd that concept is. I have a public presence because I treat gay people with respect.

Part of it is the fault of the allies. Part of it has been the unwillingness of the LGBT athletic community to stand up publicly and say, "Thank you for everything, but we'be got this now." A major part of it is that the leagues, media, and major financial donors are still more comfortable working with straight white men. This is often true even when dealing with members of the LGBT community, who donate to or otherwise empower straight voices over LGBT athletes.

Burke says that while the contributions from straight allies have been (and continue to be) invaluable, he would like to see more LGBT people become the "faces" of the movement. He points to last month's naming of Wade Davis Executive Director of You Can Play as progress in the push to better connect with LGBT athletes and athletes of color.

Check out Burke's thought-provoking article in full over at Outsports.  


  1. Grench says

    Burke is an idiot. (1.) There are few, if any, out athletes in major sports. (2.) There is still a stigma for straight athletes in major sports to support “the gays” or for gay athletes to come out. So, allies are stepping up when others won’t and breaking down barriers when others won’t. But even if those two things were to change, wouldn’t we still want allies?

  2. Ally to the Straights says

    “men” like Burke are the bane of every movement, worrying about who gets exposure, who gets credit, who gets The Money.

    Accept support from wherever it comes, accept it graciously, and keep reaching out. Recognize that straight athletes are taking a risk that they DON’T HAVE TO TAKE, and reciprocate the support that they offer.

    Burke is an IDIOT!

  3. says

    The truth is, sports people often make terrible role models. Case in point: Rugby.

    Ben Cohen (straight) is constantly engaging with his supporters and pushing the agenda of equality and standing up and challenging bullying and homophobia. Great!

    Gareth Thomas – the most prominent gay rugby player to come out so far – has made no noticeable connection with the LGBT community, apart from M. Louboutin. And has publicly stated that everyone should back off on the Sochi boycott stuff because sport success is more important than standing up for the principle of equality under the law.

    Chalk up a win for the straight ally.

  4. Gregory in Seattle says

    I see the point he is making, but I believe he’s wrong. It is pretty safe to be an ally when you can enthusiastically prove your heterosexuality on demand: it is much more risky, personally and professionally, to be out. It will take years and the labor of a few brave pioneers before it ceases to be a big deal; in the mean time, our allies are working to test and change public opinion.

  5. alex says

    The venom from some of you seems extreme. Just because you don’t agree with him doesn’t mean he’s an “idiot”. (For the record, I do think he’s wrong.)

  6. Paul R says

    None of these allies “got” famous. They already were, otherwise what would be the point. I don’t if any got book deals, and if they did I doubt it was solely because they’re allies. I would guess that most aren’t getting speaking fees. I guess he’d prefer silence?

    It’s not like the LGBT community has always done such a great job helping itself. Congress, the Supreme Court, and the vast majority of Americans are straight. We need as much support from them as we can get, and famous people (for better or worse) sway public opinion. Duh.

  7. Lucas says

    Burke is definitely not an idiot. He successfully turned YCP into the most influential gays-in-sports organization on the globe. I’m not entirely sure I agree with him here, but he is one of our community’s most strident, most effective allies.

  8. JMC says

    Um.. a lot of ignorance and knee jerk reactions in these comments. First of all, consider the fact that Patrick Burke IS a straight ally. He’s also a remarkable one, his stepping down as the executive director of You Can Play so that an actual gay man could head the organization is a perfect example of how allies everywhere need to be conducting themselves.

    He’s not saying allies are unwanted or unappreciated or that there is no space for them to advocate on our behalf. He’s saying more people who are actually LGBT need to be front and center in this movement, and our allies need to be more mindful of the space that they occupy. What exactly are you guys arguing against??

  9. Burke Is an Idiot says

    How do more gay athletes step forward when there are so few in high-profile league sports like the NFL or the NBA? And when they do—Jason Collins, no job. Kluwe, no job.

    The visibility that a straight ally in a high-visibility league like the NFL or the NBA provides is priceless. And any money that a straight ally might make from speaking fees pales in comparison to what they risk in playing contracts, product endorsements, or post-retirement coaching or broadcasting opportunities.

    It’s the height of penny-wise pound-foolish to be quibbling about whether this or that straight guy gets a speaking fee or a book deal or some tacky trophy to put on the shelf when they do so much to counter negative stereotypes and silence ignorant nacho-faced, beer guzzling sports bigots. I have seen that first hand.

    You have to respect the sacrifices that these people make, and the risks they’re taking. Burke seems to be over-compensating a bit, waving his own flag a bit to ostentatiously, and trying to out-righteous the righteous. Screw him.

  10. Rick says

    “Part of it has been the unwillingness of the LGBT athletic community to stand up publicly and say, “Thank you for everything, but we’be got this now.”

    Um, that is pretty much ALL of it, not part of it. The management of the NFL, the NBA, the NHL, and Major League Baseball, as well as the management of several teams….as well as individual straight male athletes…..have made remarkable progress and have gone way beyond where I thought they would in my lifetime in terms of trying to make gay men feel welcome.

    Problem is, there either are so few gay athletes in these leagues or the ones that are there do not want to come out…..that red carpet has almost no treads in it.

    I honestly think the problem here is much deeper than Mr. Burke can understand…..and that problem is that masculine gay men simply do not want to claim the “gay” mantle because they are so disgusted with what “LGBT” has come to represent, with its embrace of “gender-non-conformity” and leftist politics in general…..which is anathema to most athletes, regardless of race, and to men who think of themselves as men in general……and not something they can relate to.

    the same is true of masculine gay men in other professional fields, as well, which is why so few of them have come out, either.

    They look around them and mostly don’t see people they want to associate themselves with…and so they don’t….and the only thing that is going to change that situation is for the culture of effeminacy to be eradicated and buried ten feet deep.

  11. JMC says

    lol i always laugh to myself when i’m reading through a seemingly reasonable comment and then all of a sudden rick gives himself away with his absurd rhetoric and i scroll past the rest of what he has to say

  12. Tyler says

    Anytime Rick or one of his aliases posts, you know the resulting comment is going to be filled with homophobia, sexism, racism and anti-effeminacy overtones. Rick is just that predictable. And sad. And a big troll.

  13. Lars says

    If some straight athletes get famous and/or wealthy by vocally and articulately standing up for LGBT rights, I am totally ok with that.

    The (sad) reality is that, at this point, we still don’t have enough out gay athletes to carry the conversation forward by themselves. The more who come out, the better. But for the moment we pointedly need and should enthusiastically welcome the support of athlete allies. Realistically, we’ll always need to support of allies since we ourselves do not constitute a majority in all but a few arenas of life.

    (I say all this as someone who does not give two sh*ts about organized sports, but who also recognizes the remarkable social power and commanding bully-pulpit that athletes hold in our society)

  14. Eric says

    Arguments like these just floor me. Make too much money and complain about income inequality? You just want publicity. Poor and complain about income inequality? You’re jealous. White, straight, and male and fight for more minorities in the technology sector? You’re trying to rock the boat and/or steal the movement and/or crave attention. Screw this.

    All of these movements should be nurturing and valuing everyone that wants to get involved and make a difference. Fighting among ourselves is exactly what “the man” wants, no matter what your version of “the man” is.

  15. jeff says

    The support of ALL of our straight allies is invaluable, and much appreciated. I really don’t care if they get publicity, or money or anything else if they change a single heart of a child or teenager or adult who is tempted to hate instead of accepting LGBT people. All the favorable court decisions in the world won’t change minds and hearts. I would hug them all if I could. Don’t listen to cynical op-ed writers who twist and wring every possible contrary notion out of a subject.

  16. FFS says

    Gee, Rick. You managed to eek out three whole paragraphs that were more or less reasonable before finally taking your trademark hard-left turn into crazy town. I was worried about you there for a bit. Cold & Flu season is upon us. Take care of yourself, bud. Drink lots of fluids. Avoid women like the plague. You know the drill.

    So, where are all of these out gay athletes that Mr. Burke seems to feel have been unfairly overshadowed? The only meetings Jason Collins takes, these days, are with his investment banker to make sure his assets are in place for his unfortunate early retirement. Is Robbie Rogers supposed to shoulder the burden all by his lonesome?

    Poor Robbie. People are just lining up to tell him what to do. Burke wants him to be a gay superhero. I want him to dump the TV nerd and be my boyfriend, instead.

    Pick me, Robbie! I’ve got cookies.

  17. jjose712 says

    He is not an idiot, in fact, he is totally right. Unfortunately we are not in the point when something like he describes is possible.

    It’s simple, there are very few out athletes, Robbie Rogers is probably the only with a decent profile who came out when he was in the middle of his career.
    People like Gareth Thomas or Jason Colling came out (when they were ready obviously) clearly at the end of their careers.

    In a sports team is very dangerous came out of the closet. No matter how good you are, a coach can ostrazise you and put and end (or at least a stop) to your career.

    The only sport that i think it will be safe to come out is tennis. If you are good, you make enough money without the help of sponsors. And i think an openly gay player would receive a lot of sponsors (specially if he is good and marketable). Amelie Mauresmo didn’t have any problem, and she wasn’t exactly Sharapova in terms of marketability.
    But even in tennis (a sport with a lot of gay fans) nobody comes out, and lately is even rare in the female circuit.
    Because sometimes is not the problems you could have, it’s that you can be blind by the spotlights and lose focus in your sport. And of course not everybody wants to be the poster child of gay rights.

    Anyway, straight allies are very important. For a lot of young fans, the attitude of their idols can be a model to follow. So the more straight allies, the better. But of course, in an ideal world, it will be gay athletes the ones who carry the torch

  18. Fenrox says

    I get what he is saying and it’s a very good point. And no part of it is untrue, we really need more gay players taking the mantles from people like Chris Kluwe and Ben Cohen. I think the straight allies can still be allies but they are literally getting famous for being civil to gays and are getting paid to speak in situations that a gay player would be great for. They are a “problem” mind you it’s one of the lowest priority problems I can think of!

  19. Rowan says

    What is this guy on. ALL the straight allies who have stuck up for gay rights, also get soo much BS in public but they never complain.

    LGBT people can be so dumb and selfish-as well as awkwardly insane.

    We insult Macklemore and these guys when they get soo much cr*p for supporting us-the liberal media unfortunately guys is NOT the whole world-but we let so many Hollyweird weirdo’s jump on to the ‘we love gays’ train when all they are seeking is media attention!

    Morgan Freeman hooks up with his step grand daughter, gets blasted by the media & Hollywood BUT does a Prop 8 reading and says a phoney line about how gays are equal…BANG! He’s back on top!

    Didn’t that guy who is just pictured lose his position because of his support of gay rights? Didn’t Adejabeyo(spelling!) speak about who much sh*t he gets for supporting gay people vocally?

    People like this guy makes me sick.

  20. @MileHighJoe1 says

    Patrick has good ideas, but this change is premature, by years. I feel like he’s withholding the true reason for stepping down.