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Monke: Are we ready for openly gay male professional athletes?

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Monke: Are we ready for openly gay male professional athletes?
Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

The moment Jamie Kuntz was dismissed from the North Dakota State College of Science football team, the double standard that exists in the world of sports became all too clear.

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Gay women can play.

Gay men cannot.

As a sports reporter, I've covered several lesbian athletes throughout my career. All of them are fine, normal people and their teams accept them no questions asked.

We rarely hear about controversial lesbians in sports anymore. That barrier was broken long ago and largely brushed aside.

The same isn't true for gay men in sports.

There has never been an American athlete in any of the four major sports -- football, basketball, baseball and hockey -- to come out of the closest while still competing. Those players who are gay waited until after their retirement to come out.

That's why Kuntz's story presents a new twist for gay athletes.

Kuntz, an 18-year-old Dickinson High School graduate, was dismissed from the NDSCS football team on Sept. 3 for conduct detrimental to the team after admitting he lied to Wildcats coach Chuck Parsons.

It happened two days after he admitted to the coach he was gay after being spotted kissing his 65-year-old boyfriend while filming NDSCS's football game against Snow College in the press box of a Pueblo, Colo., football stadium.

The story is now national news.

Kuntz has spoken with countless reporters since Tuesday morning and said that he has been contacted by ESPN's "Outside the Lines" about a segment.

The story is essentially everywhere.

So what do we take from this and the debate that it has sparked?

Could it be that, despite all of the openly gay female athletes in this country, we're still not that close to seeing an openly gay male athlete in a major sport?

Kuntz's story has gained a considerable amount of publicity and traction.

Yet, we have to remember that he was an obscure freshman college football player at a small junior college in North Dakota.

Imagine if he would have been playing for a NCAA Division I university? What if an NFL player would have been cut from his team after coming out?

How big would the story be then? And what closeted gay athlete would be willing to come out publically and subject himself to the wringer that Kuntz has been put through the past two days.

Dan Savage, the gay rights activist and writer for the Seattle Stranger who broke the story about Kuntz, said he is intrigued by the amount of coverage the story has received and praised Kuntz for the courage to come out in such a public manner.

Savage said Kuntz's story is inspiring to the gay community but added Kuntz could have perhaps even become a symbol for young, closeted gay athletes had his boyfriend been closer to his own age.

Nonetheless, Savage believes one day there will be an openly gay pro athlete in a major sport. But, he also said it could be a while if players like Kuntz aren't accepted after coming out to their coaches.

"This feeds into that whole narrative because there will never be an openly gay player in the NFL if gay kids are thrown out of high school or college football programs," Savage said.

Kuntz, who was a Class 3A, all-West Region linebacker for the Midgets as a senior in 2011, said he wants to find a place to play football. He never got a chance to suit up for NDSCS after suffering a concussion during a preseason practice.

On Wednesday, Kuntz posted on Twitter that he had spoken to a representative of the Florida Atlantic University football program.

Though he wants to stay in the Midwest, Kuntz said he would listen to any type of offer Florida Atlantic, a NCAA FBS team in Boca Raton, Fla., would make to him regarding a spot on its football team.

"My main focus right now is finding a school where I can go play," Kuntz said on Tuesday.

Regardless of one's personal feelings regarding homosexuality, Kuntz's actions or his boyfriend's age, we should all be able to admit that Kuntz is in a difficult situation.

If he can find a team that accepts him for who he is, then it may be a step toward seeing openly gay male athletes in professional sports.

If he cannot, the world may have to keep waiting.

Monke is the sports editor of The Dickinson Press. He can be reached at dmonke@thedickinsonpress.com. Read his blog at areavoices.com/monke.

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Dustin Monke
Monke came to The Dickinson Press in July 2006 as the newspaper's sports editor and was hired as its managing editor in March 2013. During his tenure at The Press, Monke has won multiple awards for sports reporting, feature reporting, column writing, page design and photography. He was a key part of The Press winning the North Dakota Newspaper Association's General Excellence and Sweepstakes awards in 2009 and 2012, and oversaw The Press' Sweepstakes and General Excellence wins 2014. As the newspaper's editor, he writes an occassional Sunday column, contributes feature stories and breaking news, designs pages, and oversees the day-to-day operations of the newsroom and editorial staff.
(701) 456-1205
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