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Is American professional sports becoming gay friendly?

Kobe Bryant apologizes at a press conference for using a homophobic slur.

Ever since Kobe Bryant’s foul mouth got him into trouble for calling a ref a “f–king faggot” during a game a few weeks ago, professional sports has been exploding with verbal gay bashing controversies one after the other. Though homophobia in athletics isn’t a new phenomena, the responses coming from professional sports’ top brass and the sports community at large is definitely changing.

I mentioned a little while ago that Atlanta Braves coach Roger McDowell was under attack for his homophobic rant at an away game in San Francisco. He was suspended and is now under investigation by the league.

Then NC State basketball star CJ Leslie came under fire recently for saying he wouldn’t want a gay teammate in his locker room. After the push back, he immediately sent out a series of tweets apologizing for his comments.

And now the hockey community is up in arms after New York Ranger forward Sean Avery filmed a video in support of gay marriage for HRC’s New Yorkers for Marriage Equality campaign. Uptown Sports, a major hockey agency based in Canada, then released a statement on Twitter calling Avery’s support “misguided.” The tweet was sent by Todd Reynolds, the firm’s Vice President and son of owner Don Reynolds. Don told reporters he supports his son’s tweet and compared gay marriage to beastiality.

Everyone soon began giving their two cents, including Damian Goddard, anchor of Canadian cable television channel Sportsnet, who tweeted: “”I completely and whole-heartedly support Todd Reynolds and his support for the traditional and TRUE meaning of marriage.” He was immediately fired by Sportsnet over his comments. And now a horde of other athletes have also come out in support of Avery.

It looks like the tides have changed a bit when it comes to the simple acceptance of homophobia in professional sports. It used to be that John Amaechi and other out, but retired, pro athletes would just stand on the sidelines yelling about how horrible the homophobia was in locker rooms and on courts around the country. But now the heads of the various professional sports leagues and agencies are actively issuing consequences and the message that this type of discourse is not okay.

Bryant was fined $100,000 for his slip up and the Lakers even released the below PSA against hurtful language.

Other NBA stars also partnered with GLSEN to release a PSA in conjunction with the AD Council specifically focusing on the use of homophobic slurs in sports.

A bevy of professional athletes have also come out in support of marriage equality through posing for the popular NOH8 campaign photo shoots. The photos below include New York Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie, NBA Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas, Carolina Panthers linebacker Nic Harris, Mike Chabala of the the MLS’s Houston Dynamo, pro wrestler Hudson Taylor and professional figure skater Michael Kuluva. (All NOH8 photos by Adam Bouska)

In response to Uptown, other sports agents are expressing their displeasure with the companies homophobia. And Paul Bissonnette, an NHL player for the Phoenix Coyotes, tweeted a response (below) in support of Avery. Change.org has also started a petition against Uptown Sports for their very damaging homophobic stance.

The sports news corps has also been covering the Avery story and the homophobia-in-professional-sports issue with fervor lately. ESPN recently did a poignant segment that featured Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo who also publicly supports marriage equality.

When it comes to out professional sports players, America is way behind globally. Athletes like European rugby star Gareth Thomas are leading the way for equality in athletics around the world. (See his It Gets Better video below.)

One of Thomas’ best friends, Ben Cohen, is a also a professional rugby player and amazing straight ally who’s currently on the U.S. leg of his Ben Cohen Acceptance Tour in support of eradicating homophobia in professional sports. (UPDATE 5/15: Cohen just announced that he’s retiring from rugby to lead the global fight against homophobia full time. He’ll be spending most of his time running the StandUp Foundation, an anti-bullying organization he founded.)

Swedish soccer player Anton Hysen is also just one of the many out professional sports players in Europe. Below is video of his photo shoot and interview with European gay magazine Attitude.

So what do you think? Is the sports world becoming more accepting? Or does the fact that a professional athlete in America still has yet to publicly come out mean we’re just kidding ourselves?