Sports epitomize manliness. The world of professional sports hones masculinity through power, strength, and obscene amounts of testosterone. With this comes the inherent assumption that these men, who spend their days in sports arenas and fields across world, are straight. Like any other profession or world, generalizations about sexuality are never true. Thus, the world of sports is home to plenty of homosexuals, but is largely unaccepting toward homosexuality. Bill Velasco writes this perfectly, “mainstream sport media (primarily in the US often characterizes male professional athletes as being avatars of idealized masculine traits such as aggressiveness, power, assertiveness, and emphatic heterosexuality. They revel in asserting their masculinity over their opponents, and, in most cases, are more attractive to the opposite sex.”
The public turns to professional athletes as the macho symbols of society. We tend to think that there is nothing manlier than a bunch of men huddled around a television watching Sunday football. And while manliness and homosexuality are by no means mutually exclusive, they tend to be coupled with each other. This ‘blanket’ thinking has plagued the world of sports and those who live as both homosexuals and athletes. Homosexuality in sports has been a taboo topic since the beginning of time. A lot of this is linked to the fact that athletes travel in packs, live alongside each other in hotel rooms, and are constantly around fellow men. While many people would argue that these homosexual athletes are not necessarily thinking about their teammates sexually, the concept of a homosexual athlete is still rejected and ignored.
The sexual orientation of athletes is something that teams are concerned with from day one. In an interview with NPR, Stefan Fatsis stated that “One player, a tight end named Nick Kasa from the University of Colorado told a radio station in Denver that he was asked: Do you have a girlfriend? Are you married? Do you like girls?”. This of course is wrong, and speaks volumes about how wary sports teams are when they are recruiting athletes. Later in the article they discuss how players who are gay are often encouraged to fake heterosexual relationships to land a career in the NFL. Teams are concerned with their image to the point where they will harm their own players, “teams want to know how their locker room would be impacted by a gay player and what they might have to deal with if a player came out.” Unfortunately for these teams, it’s not about them, it’s about their players and the players’ well being. Luckily, some response are positive, and gay athletes who’ve come out during their professional career have received support from the public. Fatsis continues, “the support for Rogers has been unlike anything I’ve seen in sports: a flood of tweets from players, even a video made by coaches and players for the Seattle Sounders of Major League Soccer.” One can only hope that all athletes facing sexual discrimination can see the manner in which Rogers was supported, and hopefully feel safe enough to be themselves among their teams and around the public.
Leigh Steinberg of the Huffington Post, who has spent a large portion of her career representing gay athletes writes, “For most of the 40 years I’ve represented professional athletes, homosexuality has been a frightening taboo. This is the reason that virtually no team sport athletes have ever “come out” during their careers. At one point in the 90s when I was asked whether I would encourage a gay client to announce his sexual preference publicly, my response was “not on your life.”” This speaks largely to how intense the taboo was: one’s sexuality is something that looms over them constantly–gay or straight–and the notion of one’s sexuality being so chastised is sad to say the least. Additionally, the emotional and psychological repercussions of being silenced by a massive industry is something that few of us to begin to understand. Surely athletes have rejected participating on major teams or even walked off major teams to merely live a life in which they can be free. Steinberg’s experience with the taboos concerning homosexuality are also reflective of the industry’s awareness in their overt discrimination and silencing of homosexual athletes, further exacerbating the ‘wrongness’ of the situation.
In all areas of society, times are changing, and we are becoming more receptive to those who defy traditional stereotypes. Although a sports environment may appear to be a peculiar environment for a gay man, one of the main elements of being on a sports team, is teamwork. Steinberg states, “They train together, bleed together, and watch each others backs. The real test of acceptance of a teammate is reliability and courage under pressure, that is what earns respect in team sports” and this notion should only be seen further in locker rooms across the country. Any discrimination against a teamwork on the basis of sexuality and is inherently wrong, thus, the discrimination toward a homosexual should be as untolerated as discrimination against a black teammate.
Though progress has been made, there is still tremendous room for improvement in how homosexuality is viewed in sports. ‘The battle for gay rights’ is one that will continue to be extremely difficult. Though many athletes in professional sport history have been gay, the ideal straight, macho man is still a figure that is worshipped, especially by Western society. In the United States, athletes may be lucky enough to play for a city that is okay with their sexuality, and perhaps even supports them, however, gender testing for events like the Olympics is still a reality that human beings have had to undergo. The emphasis on sexuality in sports is unfair, because while sports figures are viewed as heroes, they still deserve the courtesy as a human being first. The atmosphere surrounding homosexuals in sports is still tense, but the tensions will loosen as we become more familiar with the various types of individuals around us. Fighting the taboo of homosexuality in sports can only be done with the cooperation of the public, as the public is the driving force in athletes’ success.
Steinberg, Leigh. “The Time Has Come for Gay Athletes.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, n.d. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.
“Gay Athletes Face Discrimination In Professional Sports.” NPR. NPR, n.d. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.
“The Battle for Gay Rights in Sports.” Philstar.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.