Tennis spotlight

Roddick, Fish show support for Collins

 

mkaufman@MiamiHerald.com

Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish were among the many athletes to publicly support NBA center Jason Collins on Tuesday when he announced that he is gay. Collins is the first male athlete playing a major U.S. team sport to come out, and the two tennis players congratulated him for his courage.

On Wednesday, Roddick and Fish took their support a step further by joining Athlete Ally, an organization of straight athletes speaking out against homophobia in sports.

“Yesterday was an incredible day for athletes everywhere,” Roddick said in a statement. “Jason Collins’ courage and leadership in coming out reminds me of how important it is for an athlete to be able to be true to him or herself. As an Athlete Ally, I want to support every athlete to feel comfortable and confident being themselves and to make sure that all people — players and fans alike — are welcome and included in tennis.”

Roddick has been known to stand up for fellow athletes. In 2009, he withdrew from a tournament in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, after Israeli player Shahar Peer was denied a visa to play in the same venue a few weeks prior.

Fish tweeted on Wednesday: “Very happy to be joining @AthleteAlly today alongside my buddy @AndyRoddick. #timesarechanging.”

“Everybody deserves a shot at playing sports,” Fish later said through a statement. “It shouldn’t matter in the least if that person is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Building community through healthy and inclusive activities should be one of the main focuses behind athletics, and that isn’t possible if you exclude LGBT individuals, especially our youth.”

Tennis legend Martina Navratilova, who sits on the advisory board of Athlete Ally, praised Roddick and Fish for their actions.

“It’s people like Andy and Mardy who will help pave the way for LGBT athletes in tennis,” she said. “Though coming out is an intensely personal decision, with each new Athlete Ally that speaks out, an LGBT athlete could feel more comfortable coming out.”

Navratilova, who has a home in Miami, wrote an essay for Sports Illustrated that was published Wednesday on its website. It begins:

“Recently in Miami I ran into NFL receiver Donte’ Stallworth at a gas station. I was filling up my moped. He came over, introduced himself and then told me he had just joined a group called Athlete Ally. Growing in membership by the day, Athlete Ally consists of straight athletes supporting gay athletes at every level, combating homophobia in sports.

This was just another indication that we’re living in a time of transformation. I mean, a gorgeous, straight football player stopped me to talk about his very public support for LGBT athletes? How cool is that?

We’ve come a long way.”

She wrote that it is more difficult for athletes in team sports to be openly gay than in individual sports.

“When I came out, in 1981, I didn’t have much public support, and I know I lost endorsements. But I never had to worry about losing my job. In tennis, there are no bosses, no general managers and no coaches who can keep players from competing. So I was safe in that regard. For team sports athletes, this is not the case. A homophobic coach at any level — high school, college or pros — could keep a player from playing.

Now that Jason Collins has come out, he is the proverbial ‘game-changer.’ One of the last bastions of homophobia has been challenged. How many LGBT kids, once closeted, are now more likely to pursue a team sport and won’t be scared away by a straight culture?

Collins has led the way to freedom. Yes, freedom — because that closet is completely and utterly suffocating. It’s only when you come out that you can breathe properly. It’s only when you come out that you can be exactly who you are.”

•  Local teens honored: Stefan Kozlov of Pembroke Pines and Katarina Stewart of Miami, both 15, were selected to represent the United States in the Junior Davis Cup and Jr. Fed Cup, which runs Sept. 24-29 in San Luis Potosi, Mexico.

Kozlov, No. 19 in the world junior rankings for players ages 18 and under, is the youngest player in the top 20. He helped lead the United States to a third-place Jr. Davis Cup finish last year.

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