Nov. 28, 2007 -- Nude and racy photographs of a National Hockey League top draft pick that were posted widely on the Internet have raised questions about responsible online behavior for people in the public eye, and also about sexuality in Major League sports.
Toronto Maple Leaf forward Jiri Tlusty, 19, originally posted the photos on his Facebook page, according to The Toronto Sun, which first broke the story. One of those pictures show Tlusty nearly touching tongues with another man.
Other images that depict the player nude have turned up on various Internet sites and blogs. Those were cell phone photos the player apparently sent to a woman he met on the Internet, who then posted them.
Tlusty apologized publicly for the photographs, and in a statement released by the Leafs said that he had "learned a valuable lesson."
Tlusty's actions were a "naïve mistake as a teenager," John Ferguson, the general manager of the team, said in a statement provided to ABCNEWS.com. It's a "lesson in how something private can easily become very public in the Internet age."
And while Tlusty did deny he is gay or even bisexual, the reactions to the photos largely focused around Internet safety. The incident is a sign that the increasing number of private photos getting leaked on the Internet underscores the care people, both ordinary and celebrity, need to take, experts told ABCNEWS.com.
"We have so many more users around the world taking advantage of these new technologies that we are seeing more instances of people making mistakes," said Arthur Cockfield, a cyberspace guru at Queen's University in Kingston, Canada. "[This hockey player] probably thought he set his privacy settings and that the picture wouldn't get out."
And as if the Maple Leafs hadn't had enough media attention, "Breakfast With Scot" a fictional movie about a gay hockey player -- donning the Maple Leaf team logo -- premiered in theaters just last week.
This is the first instance of a Major League team permitting its name to be used in a movie with a plot hinging on homosexuality, according to a New York Times columnist, who also hailed the Leafs for delivering "a fissure to a homophobic culture of sports."
But it's questionable whether one team brushing aside racy online photos as an immature mistake and openly allowing its logo in a movie about a gay player paves the way for an active gay professional athlete to come out. Many people in tune with the sports world argue that is still highly unlikely.
Professional Sports Don't Foster Openness
"There's a lot of closed-mindedness when it comes to any outside issues -- whether it's homosexuality or sexual abuse or drug addiction," said Sheldon Kennedy, a former NHL star who played for the Detroit Red Wings. "[Hockey] players are kept in fear to keep their mouths shut because if you rock the boat, you'll get buried, and in sports you can be buried so fast. Nobody says anything about anything, that's just the way it is."
In 1996, Kennedy wrote a book, "Why I Didn't Say Anything," chronicling the years he spent playing for a Canadian junior league hockey team whose coach molested him.
"When there is fear hanging over your head, you don't say anything," Kennedy told ABCNEWS.com. "There is this fear of an individual who shows any type of weakness or holes that people can dig at."
Former NBA player John Amaechi, who played for the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Orlando Magic and the Utah Jazz before coming out, said that even when he considered revealing his sexuality while he was still playing, there was never an appropriate time to do so.
"When is a good time to come out -- is it at the beginning of the season, after you've won some games or after you lost during the playoff?" asked Amaechi. "You get in this quandary that whenever you come out; it's going to be a distraction."
Amaechi and former Major League Baseball player Billy Bean both told ABCNEWS.com that there was no doubt in their minds that coming out during their careers would have severely jeopardized their spot on their respective teams.
"Most athletes who make it to the Major League have learned that for job security and peace of mind, it's a more prudent decision to wait [to come out] until they're done playing," said Bean, who played for the San Deigo Padres and later wrote "Going the Other Way" after coming out. "Otherwise, it's inviting a lot of uncertainty into your career."
Where Are the Active, Openly Gay Pro Athletes?
A 2000 Newsweek poll showed that 86 percent of respondents believe that gays and lesbians should be hired as professional athletes, yet there is not one active, gay athlete in Major League sports.
Cyd Zeigler, a sports commenter and co-founder of Outsports.com, said that while that statistic may be dismal, there are a few improvements that lead him to believe the environment for gay athletes is actually getting better.
At the institutional level, said Zeigler, more teams are offering their employees domestic partner benefits, and the National Football League recently instituted gay sensitivity training for their rookies.
Still, sexuality in Major Lagues still seems taboo, and athletes who have experienced what it's like to hide their sexual orientation while they don a team uniform say there are a number of obstacles that must be overcome before a gay athlete will truly feel comfortable coming out in uniform.
Amaechi noted that many of his teammates knew he was gay while he was still an active player. But the way fans would react was another big fear of Amaechi, who also said that in many of the more contact-heavy sports, such as football or hockey, gay players he knows have shared concerns that they would be targets on the field or rink if they came out.
"The idea of walking through that tunnel and apart from the home team wanted to get you, I don't think I wanted the word 'fag' rained down on me by 20,000 people," said Amaechi. "It should be embarrassing in this day and age to be surprised that gay people can be moderately athletic."