Progress on Gays in Sports, but Still a Ways to Go


johnamaechi1By Jacob McCormick

As homosexuality takes on a stronger and more visible presence in modern American society, so do their vocal opponents. Yet no matter how hard people work to silence the homosexual voice, gays and lesbians continue to come out of the closet and prove that no matter how loud people piss and moan about them, they’re not going to give up on living a happy and productive life.

Gays and lesbians are the most persecuted minority in society today, but the acceptance and tolerance of homosexuality will eventually improve as people realize “yes,  gays do indeed deserve an equal chance at succeeding in life.”

However, the world of professional sports is the one realm of society that stands little chance for changing in the near future. As a general sports fan, it’s embarrassing to see athletes who are more comfortable with teammates’ criminal records than their private lives away from sports. You tell me which area has the most negative impact on team chemistry on and off the court/field/diamond?

From kindergarten to the professional ranks, sports have become the pinnacle of masculinity in America. How many fathers do you know that push for their sons to join the cheerleading squad or become interior decorators? Those are two good examples of stereotypical “gay” hobbies or professions, but nowadays the line separating gay and straight archetypes has almost been erased.

Straight men enjoy matching clothes and gay men enjoy playing sports. The problem is that those gay men engaging in stereotypical “straight” hobbies continue to live a lie by disguising their sexual orientation from fear of severe alienation by their ignorant peers.

A prototypical example of idiotic bigotry towards homosexuality in sports is to look at the reaction of ex-NBA player Tim Hardaway right after the coming out of another ex-player, John Amaechi in February 2007.marksanchez2

Obviously Amaechi deserved some attention because of his courageous admission in the wake of a career that could just as easily been pushed into the back of a closet. But because he wasn’t a recognizable face to NBA fans, the attention seemed over-hyped. Yes, it is a big deal, but Amaechi was never All-Star caliber and his coming out hasn’t resulted in a much needed change in anti-gay attitudes in the NBA and/or other professional sports around the country. Since Amaechi’s coming out party and the three month media hangover of coverage, no professional male sports figure has followed suit.

The fact that Hardaway had the guts to speak his mind to the media demonstrated the exact reason why many homosexuals in Amaechi’s position choose to play out their careers in silence. NBA players, along with many other professional athletes in popular leagues such as the NFL and MLB, carry Hardaway-like resentments towards homosexuals. arod1Ironically, as Amaechi points out in his personal biography, the locker room is filled with “gay” activities, such as swapping expensive and flashy clothes, flexing muscles to each other and showing off jewelry. The recent Alex Rodriguez and Mark Sanchez’s photo shoots? Yeah, totally straight.

The only way these bigoted sentiments against gays in sports will change is if a current or former All-Star, who has already won respect from the rest of the league, opens up about his or her homosexuality. People don’t change their positions on hot button issues until it directly impacts their lives and relationships with family and friends.commies

American society is more accepting of homosexuality than it ever has been, given that 25 years ago it was more acceptable to be openly Communist then gay. For famous athletes still wrestling their inner demons, Amaechi sparked the fire. But a proven, successful athlete needs to fan the flames if we want to see real attitude changes on a mass scale. It is possible as long as a higher tier player is willing to become a martyr for the cause. Only at that point will the sports world see larger steps towards equality than the baby steps that have been taken for too long.

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  1. paulmbanks says

    I know this type of material can be heavy sledding for some people, but these are the conversations that America needs to have. And if TSB is the launching pt. for our citizenry to take a long hard look at itself. So be it!

    Thanks Jake for having the courage to write about this…

  2. Melanie Zanona says

    I think sexuality in sports is an important topic to discuss. How can we ensure that there are equal rights for lesbians and gays in sports if we don’t even recognize that there are lesbians and gays in sports??

    I personally know a guy who plays a college sport in the Big Ten and struggles with his own sexuality and identity. His teammates don’t know he’s gay and so he cannot come out to the rest of the community for fear of the sports world finding out. I think the hardest part of this situation is the constant fear that he will not be able to live up to a certain masculine standard, which could impact his image in negative way.

    I wouldn’t want my talent to be devauled as a result of my sexuality either, so I don’t blame athletes for not wanting to come out to the rest of the world. Even though it would be amazing if an all-star athelete did so, I really think the only realistic way for this to happen is through a change in attitude from the community and media first. Once we establish that we are ok with athletes being open with their homosexuality, then it is more likely that athletes will feel comfortable coming out. A change can really only come from the bottom-up.

    But the question is, how can we initiate this change? And if the problem is inherent within the concept of sports (like “masculine” stereotypes), then can there ever really be a change?

  3. Andy Weise says

    Solid article. I disagree that a big name needs to come out in order for it to be a big deal. Granted it might be more acceptable if a star athlete comes out because fans won’t turn on someone who does well, right? Athletics just need a few different male athletes to come forward, and that will happen eventually. When it happens, I hope the athlete will be able to continue to focus on the sport .. but they will likely hope for others to come out too in order to avoid the circus that is the media, which would eat this story alive!

  4. Melissa W. says

    Kudos for sparking conversation on this and as we like to say at U of Wisconsin, education is the continued ‘sifting and winnowing’ of information. I hope our generation sifts and winnows to find truth & justice on issues in society.

  5. Seth Johnson says

    Great article Jake, just one problem. The photo you have is of A-Rod kissing, A-Rod. Here is the link:
    Its from deadspin, a great website.

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