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Gay athletes more comfortable living their lives openly — and that’s a good thing

It’s not as though gay athletes suddenly appeared out of the blue. They’ve always been here, just hidden, fearful, living closeted lives while playing the games they love.

WNBA All-Star Game
Sky guards Allie Quigley (left) and Courtney Vandersloot are married.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Gay athletes have been trickling into our consciousness for quite a few years now.

What is a small, meandering stream of self-declaration, I am certain, will become a torrent in the near future.

I’m sure you’ve heard about Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib coming out recently, via a brief video on Instagram.

‘‘I just wanted to take a quick moment to say that I’m gay,’’ Nassib said. ‘‘I’ve been meaning to do this for a while now, but I finally feel comfortable enough to get it off my chest.’’

Not long after that, rising Predators prospect Luke Prokop announced he is gay. Just 19, Prokop is the first active player under an NHL contract to come out.

It’s not as though gay athletes suddenly appeared out of the blue. They’ve always been here, just hidden, fearful, living closeted lives while playing the games they love and often excel at.

‘‘Big Bill’’ Tilden, named by sportswriters in 1950 as the greatest tennis player of the first half of the 20th century, was gay. He came out late, amid scandal, and died alone and in public disgrace, almost all of it unfair, as a sign of the mores of the era.

In his autobiography, Tilden made this desperate plea about homosexuality: ‘‘Greater tolerance and wider education on the part of the general public concerning this form of sex relationship is one of the crying needs.’’

Times change. Minds change.

What always is needed for social acceptance is understanding of the once-unknown, of that which confused and disturbed us because of its ‘‘unnaturalness,’’ behavior that made us fearful and oppressive.

It’s obvious we don’t have much of a problem with female homosexuality in elite sports.

Many WNBA stars are gay and out. The Sky have the first two teammates who were married to each other, Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley.

Women’s soccer star Megan Rapinoe and her purple hair and perfect smile seem to be everywhere, and she has made the fact she’s gay part of her message to all: tolerance.

And guess who helped carry in the U.S. flag during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics? WNBA star Sue Bird, who happens to be engaged to Rapinoe.

Early gay athletes suffered mightily as they lived secret lives. They mostly came out, if at all, after their careers were finished, when it would be safer.

NFL running back Dave Kopay came out in 1975, three years into retirement. Tennis great Billie Jean King was ‘‘outed’’ by a former lover in 1981.

Four-time Olympic diving gold medalist Greg Louganis finally came out at the Gay Games in 1994.

And in 2013, veteran NBA center Jason Collins came out as gay in a first-person cover story for Sports Illustrated. But Collins only played a handful of games after that and soon retired.

Now the dam seems ready to burst, the world coming to understand that not everything is binary, black-and-white, simple. Sexual orientation — even the very concept of gender — is under inspection and revision.

So athletes and people around the world in general will continue to come out. Remember that Pete Buttigieg, openly gay and married to a man, was a strong candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020 until Joe Biden took control. Buttigieg is now the Secretary of Transportation.

And the question is, does anybody really care if he is gay? So what?

We have a world burning, oceans rising, species becoming extinct and a deadly pandemic raging. Who has time to worry about whom another person is attracted to, what others’ private lives might hold?

There is resistance to the sexual revolution, the shaking off of tradition

and old teachings. We know that. Change is hard.

But someday this will happen: A true male superstar in an old-school, macho sport such as football, baseball or basketball will come out in his prime. Or even before his prime.

Think somebody of the caliber of Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, Derrick Henry, Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Nikola Jokic, Stephen Curry or Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Not those players, per se, but someone of their ilk.

Maybe a coveted rookie bonus baby such as quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Maybe the first pick of the NBA Draft on Thursday. Maybe an athlete fans know can lead their franchise to the promised land, a savior, a bell cow, the dude.

Will folks complain if that superstar is gay and out?

I doubt it. Not much, anyway.

And it’s gonna happen.