Kwame Harris, a former offensive lineman for the 49ers and Raiders, made headlines today because he was in San Mateo Superior Court for an assault charge. It was a hackneyed narrative, the kind we gawk at for some minutes before moving on and forgetting about it: "retired pro athlete accused of beating up significant other."
The news of the assault charge, however, is not the story. The story is that, as the San Mateo Daily Journal first reported, the alleged victim is Harris's "ex-boyfriend."
Which means that, if those reports were accurate, Harris has been outed, a notable point at a time when very few former professional athletes -- and even fewer current ones -- have come out as gay.
According to the Daily Journal, the conflict heated up when Harris and Dimitri Geier met at Su Hong restaurant in Menlo Park in August:
Harris was to drive Geier to San Francisco International Airport but instead became upset when he poured soy sauce on a plate of rice, according to the suit filed in San Mateo County Superior Court.
The men argued for approximately seven minutes and Harris said he would no longer take Geier to the airport, the suit states.
As the men left to remove Geier's belongings from Harris' car so that he could instead take a cab, Harris tried pulling the other man's pants down and accused him of stealing his underwear, according to the suit.
Geier unsuccessfully tried pushing Harris away but the bigger man shook him violently and punched him in the arms, the suit states.
The men allegedly traded punches. Harris, a 6-foot-7 ex-pro athlete, got the better of the exchange, and Geier needed "surgery to repair broken orbital bones and required a metal plate to repair the damage." Harris' attorney, Alin Cintean, told the paper that "the pair were previously involved but were just friends at that point."
The lead of a news story about an assault charge is an unfortunate time and place to be outed. Indeed, on the short list of openly gay former pro athletes, Harris is the first to not come out on his own terms. Retired NFL players Esera Tuaolo and Wade Davis, former NBA forward John Amaechi, and ex-MLB outfielder Billy Bean are the only other men on that list.
So far no active athlete in any of America's major sports has stated that he is gay. But tides are quickly shifting. For the first time, a current generation of athletes is participating in an open dialogue regarding how a locker room would treat a gay player. Reflecting the country's shifting views on homosexuality, a growing chorus of athletes have proclaimed support for any colleague who comes out.
You don't even have to look beyond the two teams still playing. The 49ers became the first NFL team to produce an "It Gets Better" video, and Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo e-mailed the New York Times to ask "Is there anything I can do for marriage equality or anti-bullying over the next couple of weeks to harness this Super Bowl media?"
So perhaps Harris' court appearance represents an important footnote in the expanding history of gay people in sports, a point of comparison for the future. Because there will eventually come a time when a "Former 49er charged with attacking ex-boyfriend" headline will receive little more attention than a righteous head shake and sigh.