Gay Sports Community Buoyed by Unprecedented Support

VIDEO: NBA fined Joakim Noah 50,000 follars for comment made to fan during Miami Heat game.

It would seem there's never been a better time to be gay in the sports world.

Two Phoenix Suns basketball players have participated in a public service announcement this year denouncing the phrase "that's so gay."

National Football League linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo -- and National Hockey League forward Sean Avery -- backed same-sex marriage in videos, and several people came out: a former Villanova University basketball player, two sports journalists and Phoenix Suns president and CEO Rick Welts.

Indeed, 2011 might turn out to be a watershed year for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in athletics, some sports experts and leaders of gay organizations say. Even so, not one active gay male in any of the four major U.S. leagues has publicly come out.

Some say that could change after the San Francisco Giants -- the World Series champions -- complete their video spot for the "It Gets Better" campaign, a movement compiling more than 10,000 videos of those who overcame bullying and social isolation because they were gay, lesbian or transgender.

Giants spokeswoman Staci Slaughter told the team planned to finish the video in the next few weeks. The Giants have yet to announce who will be in it but Slaughter said, "We do have players participating."

In the meantime, former NBA star Charles Barkley's decision to speak out about LGBT acceptance has already created shockwaves.

Barkley Interview Makes National Headlines

Barkley announced on a Washington, D.C., radio show this month that he'd played with gay teammates, and claimed major sports teams are often unfairly portrayed as hotbeds of homophobia.

"I really like ESPN," Barkley told reporter Mike Wise. "They do a great job. But like once every two or three months, they bring all these people on there, and they tell me how me and my team are going to respond to a gay guy."

Barkley, who is already well known for his sometimes controversial, provocative presence on TNT's "Inside the NBA," is considered one of the 50 best NBA players in history. So when the former power forward says: "I'd rather have a gay guy who can play than a straight guy who can't play," people pay attention.

For ESPN Radio host Jared Max, Barkley's comments became a "tipping point."

The interview spurred Max to come out last week on the air, something he equates with jumping out of a plane (which he said he has always wanted to do).

"There's that moment beforehand ... that moment of, 'I can't do this' and the moment where you say, 'Just shut up and go; do it."

Afterward, people began sending him congratulations on Facebook. And he was surprised and relieved to receive a supportive email from a former colleague and close friend whose reaction he had feared.

"We had a bro-relationship," Max said. "Two dudes."

The support came from within his company as well. While driving home from a business meeting, he got a call from ESPN president George Bodenheimer, who complimented him on the broadcast.

"To get that phone call was humbling, it was like, wow, this is just unbelievable," Max said. co-founder Cyd Zeigler said he believes this year marks a turning point for the LGBT community because support for gay equality within athletics is happening so publicly.

"It's a direct result of what happened in this country from 2008 to 2010, where we saw voters withdraw the civil rights of gay people and we saw so many young gay kids killing themselves," he said. "Those two things woke people up."

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