But after seeing the coverage of Ayanbadejo, the Ravens linebacker who compared laws barring same-sex marriage to opposition to his parents’ interracial relationship, Haber decided he should find a way to be involved.
The world of sports has become one of the most-watched slices of the debate over gay rights. Cyd Zeigler Jr., co-founder of OutSports.com, said he struggled to find things to write about when the site launched in 1999 to cover the intersection of sports and gay culture.
At the time, Zeigler said, “no one was talking about the intersection of the gay community and sports. It was on both sides: Sports people didn’t want to talk about gays, and gay people didn’t want to talk about sports.”
Taylor, the former University of Maryland wrestler, became a story in 2010 when he stuck a Human Rights Campaign sticker on his helmet. Taylor, who is straight, majored in theater at Maryland and also spent a bunch of time in locker rooms. He was struck by the dissonant conversations in the two spaces, which he found open and accepting in theater but hostile in athletic circles.
After word of his sticker supporting the gay-rights organization spread, Taylor said he heard from 2,000 gay athletes — many of them closeted. In response, he founded Athlete Ally, which doesn’t explicitly support gay marriage but does ask straight athletes to sign a pledge to “respect and welcome all persons, regardless of their perceived or actual sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.” More than 11,000 athletes have signed on.
There are important historical markers, according to people who have tracked the movement of support in macho culture. In 2007, San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, a Republican and former police chief, gained national attention after he declared his support for same-sex marriage at a teary news conference in which he discussed his gay daughter and staffers. In 2011, NFL Hall of Famer Michael Irvin appeared shirtless on the cover of Out magazine addressing his passion for LGBT equality and his kinship with his late brother, Vaughn, who was gay.
Kimmel, the sociologist and author of “Manhood in America: A Cultural History,” compared the straight tough guys who have made their support of same-sex marriage in recent months to the Walt Kowalski character Clint Eastwood played in “Gran Torino.” In the film, Kowalski is a hardened Korean War vet who is at first distrustful of his Hmong neighbors but befriends them and soon becomes their avenger. (The film is rife with Hollywood stereotypes, but the tough guy metaphor holds.)
“Because the closet doors have swung open as dramatically as they have, we are far more likely to know someone who is gay, and what we find out is that it doesn’t make a big difference,” Kimmel said.
This month, Eastwood signed on to a Supreme Court brief, along with other social and political conservatives, moderates and libertarians, backing gay marriage.