Homophobia in U.S. Sports

The LGBT movement has made tremendous strides in the past decade in the United States. From the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on same sex marriage to greater public support for their cause, progress has been made. However, there are still forces and people who try to erase this progress. These forces try to overturn laws, stop laws from being passed, and discriminate against people due to their sexual orientation. It is clear that despite all the progress that has been made, there is still a lot of progress left in numerous areas, one of them being in sports. In today’s world of American sports, homosexual athletes face psychological and physical dangers, are persecuted out of sports, and prefer to keep their identity hidden rather than have their sexual orientation known due to the dangers associated with it.

According to Sean Gregory, a recent study called “Out on the Fields” found that of the countries surveyed, the U.S. ranked the worst in terms of having the most homophobic environment in sports. The other figures found throughout this study are also alarming. For example, it found that “80% of all participants and 82% of lesbian, gay and bisexual participants said they have witnessed or experienced homophobia in sport…Of those reporting personal experience with homophobia, 84% of gay men and 82% of lesbians said they had received verbal slurs like faggot and dyke.” On top of this, only 1% of participants thought that a homosexual would accepted, and about 8 out 10 participants believed someone who was open about their homosexuality would be in danger of harm.

These findings are very troubling because it shows just how much people are scared of showing who they truly are and how sports have not done a good job of making athletes feel included and safe from discrimination and prejudices. According to Mona Chalabi, around one third of participants responded that they did not reveal their sexual orientation primarily due to “fear of discrimination from coaches or officials”. It is also pointed out that athletes “in the closet” fear breaking up the dynamics that the heterosexual players already have in place. For example, a heterosexual athlete can openly talk about the girls he’s sexually been with. However, a gay athlete can’t openly talk about his sexual experiences with other men because teammates will judge, discriminate, and not allow those things to be said. A homosexual athlete will “…either have to make up stories or be excluded” from these conversations with their teammates.

This fear of being judged by fellow teammates isn’t just a theory; it has been seen time and time again. According to Darin Gantt, NFL player, Chris Culliver, made homophobic comments to the media when asked about the possibility of having a gay teammate in the locker room. Culliver said, “I don’t do the gay guys man… No, we don’t got no gay people on the team, they gotta get up out of here if they do…” This isn’t even one of the most homophobic comments. For example, according to Michelangelo Signorile, Mike Priefer, an assistant coach to the Minnesota Vikings, said all gays should be rounded up and to “nuke them”. Priefer was not fired for this, but was forced to take sensitivity training. It’s these comments, jokes, and hate-filled emotions that make homosexual athletes keep their identity hidden out of fear of discrimination.

However, despite this fear, there have been homosexual athletes that have come out and made their sexual orientation known. Michael Sam is one of these who came out. Before he was to be drafted, he said he was gay. Sam was recognized for his amazing talent, and was most likely going to be drafted in the earlier rounds. However, according to Aron Macarow, Sam started the “pre-draft ranked 90th by CBS Sports, it took just three hours for sports pundits to drop Sam by 70-points” after his announcement. Is this not clear evidence that there is rampant homophobia in sports? According to this same article by Macarow, many scouts and people in the industry considered Sam a threat to locker room dynamics and other aspects of everyday life for teams, labeling him as a “distraction”. One scout said “Do you want to be the team to quote-unquote ‘break that barrier?” The Rams drafted Sam, but then cut him at the end of training camp. Sam was juggled to another team, but was waived later on. This is a modern tragedy due to the fact that a very talented and promising player was not given the opportunity due to homophobia and fear that a gay athlete will disrupt the status quo of hetero-normativity in a male dominated sport.

Some have pointed out that even if none of the decision makers in sports leagues were homophobic, they still listen to what the fans think and believe. Since leagues like the NFL, NBA, and MLB are inherently businesses, they’ll want to avoid controversies that might hurt revenue. These homophobic attitudes by fans have led to anti-gay practices in some stadiums. According to Steve Charing, a lesbian couple was ejected from the Raven’s stadium for kissing in public. In order to decrease the present homophobia, teams and owners should make a push for more inclusion, regardless of whose feelings get hurt because they see homosexual couples in public. Furthermore, according to Mona Chalabi, many sports figure argue that if more players come out, the process of inclusion will be accelerated. The basis of this argument comes from women leagues, in which the higher level of athletes who are “out of the closet” is higher, and thus there is more acceptance of these athletes, refered to as the “snowball effect”. The problem is that it is hard for the first few to come out and endanger their careers.

There have been steps by numerous teams to be more inclusive towards homosexuals. According to Maeby Gever, some teams, like the Atlanta Braves for example, have had social media campaigns in which they encourage fans to show support for the LGBT movement. On top of this, players are heavily fined when they use homophobic slurs. For instance, Kobe Bryant was fined $100,000 for referring to a referee as a “faggot”. Also, many teams joined the “It Gets Better Campaign”, which was an effort to help homosexual teenagers who were being bullied. There are other examples as well that show just how homophobia is being combated. However, it can’t be forgotten that many of these same inside forces are the ones that spread homophobia. Chris Kluwe, an NFL player, was heavily criticized and effectively chased out after very publicly supporting same sex marriage legislation. Many analysts believe the Vikings released Kluwe due to his position on the issue.

It is very evident that despite all the challenges that have been overcome by the LGBT community, there are still more to be overcome. Teams and owners must work together to create an environment of inclusion for its athletes and fans to feel safe with being who they are without fear of discrimination from coaches, teammates, and officials, as well as more punishments towards homophobia in sports. Only then will homosexual athletes be able to be safe from prejudices.

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