The professional sports world has been called the last closet. There are no current professional athletes in the NHL, NBA, or NFL that are out of the closet. Some other professional athletes, like Canadian Olympian Mark Tewksbury, have come out, but only after retirement. There’s a general fear that athletes will lose team mates, lose coaches, or lose the sponsorships that allow them to have a professional career. No one has been brave enough to take that step when there is so much to lose.
I may have squealed with joy when I read the story. I then wrote the following, an open letter of thanks to Skjellerup, which I have also sent to Xtra West and to Skjellerup directly.
An open letter to Blake Skjellerup,
I don’t know how else to say it: Thank you.
Some people don’t want to make a big deal of it. Some people say it’s none of the public’s business. Some people aren’t fans of labels. But the simple truth is, young gay athletes need to see — publicly, visibly, overwhelmingly — that they can be both gay and athletes. And it’s not just athletes — young gay people in general, like me, need the very existence of public gay figures to look to, in every arena of life.
The sad contradiction is that no one would come out until someone else did. There’s always been fear — fear of losing friends, losing team mates, losing sponsorship, losing an entire career. No Olympian has taken that step before retirement.
But you’ve broken that loop.
The end of homophobia starts with visibility, and the journey of sexual self-identity needs road markers. You have taken the step to provide both. I can’t speak for every gay boy out there — but thank you. Hopefully this is just the beginning, but whatever happens now, you’ve done your part. And what a huge part it is.
Whatever happens in your career, know that there are thousands of people who support you. And I know I, for one, won’t only be cheering for the Canadian team next time I watch speed skating.
Thank you. And good luck.
Lucas J.W. Johnson
Edit: In my excitement over this news, I actually made an error. There have been other out Olympians before Blake — apparently 11 of them in the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, including gold medalist Matthew Mitcham. The sentiment remains, however; and Blake Skjellerup may be the first Winter Olympian.