Nobody knew who these people were and nor did anybody really care to know. People wanted to believe that everybody involved in leagues such as the NFL and NBA were the same and should be the same. I.e. Only heterosexual men should be involved in these leagues. The role of women and members of the LGBT community in these leagues wasn't even though about since it was falsely assumed that when it came to male professional sports, people in those demographics had other interests.
Thankfully, as time has gone on, we have finally seen barriers be broken. Last season, Jason Collins came out as a gay man and was welcomed on an NBA team as a member of the Brooklyn Nets while just a few months later, Michael Sam was drafted by the St. Louis Rams of the NFL after announcing that he too was gay.
In addition, we saw Becky Hammon become the first woman to be hired as a full-time assistant coach in the NBA when the San Antonio Spurs hired her earlier this week. NBA fans and NFL fans alike are seeing a more diverse group of people become involved in their favorite sports, and whether they like it or not, they're going to have to deal with the fact that times are changing, and that they are changing for the better.
Out of all the four major pro sports leagues in the United States, the NBA has by far been the league that has done the best at breaking barriers for people of all walks of life with the other leagues (especially the NFL) still having a lot further ways to go.
When Jason Collins came out as gay, he was welcomed by the NBA; when a woman had all the qualifications to be an assistant coach on an NBA team, she was hired; when an owner recognized that the name of his team could make other people feel uncomfortable (Washington Bullets), he changed it; and when it was revealed that an owner had intense feelings of hatred for people of other races, he was punished to the fullest extent and banned from the league by the NBA's commissioner Adam Silver.
In contrast, the NFL has seen a team cut a player who was trying to promote gay rights, an owner who defends the racist name of his franchise, and a player only get a two game suspension for knocking his fiancé unconscious in an elevator. The only bright spot for the NFL when it comes to breaking barriers is Michael Sam coming out as gay. Every other opportunity for progress and breaking barriers has resulted in the NFL falling flat on its face to the point that Keith Olbermann is rightfully calling for the resignation of its commissioner Roger Goodell.
While the NBA isn't perfect and has made its share of mistakes over the years (E.g. players punching fans), it is still leading the way when it comes to fighting against intolerance and every other kind of moral indecency that might exist within its walls. Hopefully the other major pro leagues in the US will take notice and look for ways to improve when it comes to being progressive and inclusive of all people. Especially the NFL.
---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord