I’m not a role model. I’m not paid to be a role model. I’m paid to wreak havoc on the basketball court. Parents should be role models. Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids .- Charles Barkley in 1993.

During his NBA playing career, Charles Barkley was infamously known for his stance on why athletes shouldn’t be considered role models. Barkley’s actions on and off the court were a prime example of why kids shouldn’t look up to their favorite ball player — ranging from spitting on a young girl while with the Philadelphia 76ers in 1991 to his well publicized compulsive gambling problem.

(I’m not even going to dive into Barkley’s 2008 DUI arrest when he ran a stop sign because he was in a hurry to receive oral sex.)

Whether he’s intentionally trying or not, Barkley is turning into the ideal role model when it comes to the topic of accepting homosexual athletes.

The writing has been on the wall since Tim Hardaway’s homophobic comments about hating gay people in 2007. Barkley was one of the first athletes to speak out in opposition to Hardaway’s comments, for which the former NBA guard later apologized.

Earlier this month, Sean Avery of the New York Rangers came out in support of gay marriage and the question was raised to Barkley if an openly gay athlete would be accepted into sports.

“If somebody is gay, that’s their own business,” Barkley said in an interview on Sirius XM Radio. “But it bothers me how people try to say that jocks are not going to like a gay…. I think gay people should be allowed to get married and God bless them, that’s their own business. Listen, if a guy can’t play that’s the only time we don’t want to play with him. We don’t care about all that extracurricular stuff.”

Since Barkley’s original comments on May 12, Phoenix Suns general manager Rick Welts and former Villanova basketball player Will Sheridan revealed they were gay. Welts decided to finally speak up in hopes of mentoring gay people in the sports world. Even in the front office, the idea of a gay front office executive is still considered taboo in 2011.

As for Sheridan, most of his teammates at Villanova knew he was gay. The team’s response? They didn’t care. In fact, Sheridan’s teammates were more open to his sexuality than his own parents. His father still holds out hope that his son will “change.” Sheridan traded his high-tops for a microphone as the 26-year-old is currently pursuing a singing career.
Barkley followed up his original comments by adding this week that athletes have played with gay players and just didn’t realize it.

“First of all, every player has played with gay guys,” Barkley told The Washington Post. “It bothers me when I hear these reporters and jocks get on TV and say: ‘Oh, no guy can come out in a team sport. These guys would go crazy.’ First of all, quit telling me what I think. I’d rather have a gay guy who can play than a straight guy who can’t play. Any professional athlete who gets on TV or radio and says he never played with a gay guy is a stone-freakin’ idiot. I would even say the same thing in college. Every college player, every pro player in any sport has probably played with a gay person.”

It might seem like an obvious observation, but nobody outside of Barkley has been as vocal of a supporter of gay athletes. In a perfect world, the Rick Welts’s and Will Sheridans of the world shouldn’t be making headlines. An athlete’s sexual preference shouldn’t matter to their teammates and the fans that cheer them on. Real progress won’t be made until we see a current superstar ready to make the leap of faith and face the potential scrutiny from not only teammates but also fans alike.

John Amaechi, who came out after his retirement in 2007, doesn’t think it will happen anytime soon, however.

“There’s a lot of pressure to stay in the closest so that you don’t cause any kind of uproar,” Amaechi said in a radio interview with ESPN 850 in Cleveland. “I spoke to David Stern recently and I know that he wants to make this league and embracing place for everybody, but it’s very difficult to control some of the old-fashioned thinking from some of the people in charge.”

When that time does come, that athlete will have at least one advocate in his corner.

Charles Barkley.

What a difference 18 years makes.