Is the country ready for an openly gay professional athlete?
Last week that question was posed across numerous sports media outlets, both nationally and locally.
In my mind, the answer is yes. Without a doubt. If an athlete -- most likely a male playing in one of the four major team sports -- were to "come out," I think there would be relatively little backlash.
Although I've got very real concerns about zealots on either side of the issue, I'd like to think we, as a modern society, are more than ready for something -- or more specifically, someone -- different.
After all, we're not really talking about a Jackie Robinson here.
A pioneer, yes.
But Jackie Robinson? No.
Robinson came along and broke barriers more than a half-century ago. He came along during a time when our world was much less tolerant and far more ignorant. In fact, in a very real way, what he did then helped pave the way for athletes of all backgrounds today.
Look, I understand we don't live in a perfect society. Injustices exist because we live in an imperfect world populated by imperfect people. There's no getting around that fact, no matter how hard we try.
Still, our imperfect world is far more accepting -- more understanding -- than it was in 1947, when Robinson first broke the color barrier.
That's why the answer is, yes, the majority of sports fans across the country are ready for the first openly gay professional athlete.
Better still, I think the majority of sports fans across the country really wouldn't care one way or the other.
It's my belief -- my hope, certainly -- that most of us would simply shrug our shoulders and say, "Oh, OK. No big deal."
Perhaps I've got a Pollyanna view of things, and if I do, well, so be it. But to me, as someone who enjoys sports, the more important questions are the ones I already ask about sports figures.
No. 1, is he a good person?
And No. 2, can he play?
If the answers are yes, then welcome aboard.
If not, well, I've already lost interest.
But it's interesting, isn't it? For a while now I've heard my colleagues in the media ask if the country is ready for an openly gay professional athlete. Some have certainly pushed the issue, almost as though there's some sort of an underlying agenda.
To me, that's laughable.
Yes, I think sports fans across the country could handle it just fine. But I've got my doubts whether the media could.
Like a bulldog gnawing on a bone, the media -- nationally and locally -- would latch onto the story and never let it go. Sadly, the need for good, honest, accurate reporting would be pushed aside by the instinct to sensationalize and hype.
We live in a world of 24/7 news cycles, with thousands of media outlets screaming for our attention. We live in a world where people get their news in the palm of their hand, often through social networking websites.
Reliability gave way to marketability a long time ago and it sure doesn't feel like the scales are going to even out any time soon.
Consequentially, if someone was courageous enough to "come out" today, the glare of the media spotlight would be infinitely more burdensome than the fans in the stands or the teammates on the bench.
Jim Burton is the Standard-Examiner's sports columnist. He also covers the Utah Jazz and the NBA. He can be reached at 801-625-4265 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets at http://twitter.com/jmb247