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Opinion: The Last Bastion of Homophobia

September 29, 2010

The sporting world is the last bastion of tolerated homophobia in our society. In the last twenty years, the acceptance of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people has permeated much of Western society. There are openly LGBT singers, actors, newscasters, entertainers, and politicians. In the male dominated arena of sports, however, there are few openly gay LGBT athletes. Why is this? In an article published in August of 2010 in the Edmonton Journal, writer Kristopher Wells argued that homophobia would continue in sports as long as patriarchy and sexism prevailed.

Wells asks the readers to think about “how men’s team sports are privileged over women’s teams in terms of status, funding and prestige.” We do not have to look much further than the US Women’s National Soccer Team and the WNBA to prove Wells’ point. Even female fans, who, one would think would be more likely to watch sports featuring women, generally favour men’s sports. Events such as the NBA finals and the MLB playoffs regularly attract more viewers than the WNBA or the Women’s World Cup. While women may have their own leagues, they are still not as popular as their male counterparts.

Why aren’t women’s professional sports as popular as men’s? Wells believes this is related to sexism and patriarchy, the societal belief that femininity means one is weak and vulnerable, two qualities that cannot exist in sports. Female athletes suffer quite the opposite problem, although it stems from the same mindset.  Jokes and rumours regularly surround female athletes, particularly those in soccer and basketball, as being too butch, being lesbians, or both. This sometimes goes too far, as is the case with Eudy Simelane, the female soccer player in South Africa, who was raped, and then murdered for being a lesbian.  It does not seem to matter that many of these women could probably go toe-to-toe with many male athletes; these women are clearly trying to emulate men. Society does not want femininity in sports, and they do not want women participating in them either. Where do we draw the line?

The more important question is: how can we change this? Who needs to step out, or rather, who needs to come out in order for people to stop using “f–” when referring to teams or players they see as weak, or that they hate? What needs to be done to stop people from calling female athletes butch lesbians? Wells argues that fans are generally receptive to the idea of gay soccer players, but yet the derogatory insults still continue. Obviously, many things need to change before a gay athlete feels comfortable enough to come out.

Firstly, perceptions of gays in the media need to change. Hollywood needs to reflect reality. People outside of the LGBT community need to realize it is diverse, and also includes men who enjoy sports and want to be athletes. Unfortunately, there are not too many of these types of characters currently on television. However, one character immediately comes to mind, Riley Stavros from Canada’s teen drama, “Degrassi.”

Riley’s story is not one typically portrayed on television. When the audience is first introduced to Riley, he is your stereotypical homophobic jock. Eventually we learned that Riley acts in such a manner because he is hiding his own homosexuality. Moreover, he has anger issues that are amplified by the steroids he takes to make him feel stronger, more masculine, and to “cure” his homosexuality. Instead, it makes him even more violent, and prone to lashing out. Riley is not initially a likeable character. The most important thing to take away from Riley’s storyline is this: not every gay male readily accepts his sexuality, and that not every gay teen is as effeminate as “Glee” character Kurt Hummel. Though Riley is not necessarily a positive gay role model, he shows that there are gay teens that love and enjoy sports, but also struggle with their sexuality due to stereotypes.

Secondly, it is time for those directly involved in the sports community to take responsibility for the homophobia in their clubs and in their stands. While there are quite a few professional sports figures that support LGBT issues off the field, they have been reticent to do anything on the field. This support is important, but the fight to end homophobia in sports needs to start from within, with players themselves.  How will gay and lesbian players feel comfortable coming out, when they are unsure if their teammates will support them? Players, coaches, and managers alike should look to Scott Fujita for direction.

Scott Fujita, a former linebacker for the Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints, is a vocal supporter of gay marriage.  He is not too shy to discuss this contentious issue with his team mates either, although managers and coaches try to keep politics out of the locker room. According to Fujita, male athletes are a lot more accepting and tolerant than people realize. If this is true more athletes who support gay rights should take this next step. They might be labelled a “fag,” as Fujita was, but times and opinions are shifting. Fellow players and fans look to sports athletes that are leaders to speak out. Now is the time.

Sports culture has certainly come a long way since the tragic suicide of openly gay British soccer player, Justin Fashanu. As the case of Eudy Simelane demonstrates, however, there is still much work to be done. I am not sure if the sexism and patriarchy that seems inherent in Western culture will ever truly disappear, but surely, we, as a society can take steps to ensure a more welcoming and accepting sports community for the LGBT community. It is no longer acceptable to ridicule female soccer players’ sexuality, or to shout homophobic slurs at players from opposing teams. The rest of the world has slowly moved forward, and it is time that the sports world does the same.

– J.B.

20 Comments leave one →
  1. ttensquared permalink
    September 29, 2010 12:08 pm

    great job on this! i would also add that the movie “Valentine’s Day,” also dealt with the issue of gay professional athletes coming out. so maybe hollywood is taking baby steps, and hopefully we’ll see them taking on more stereotypes until it’s a non-issue.

    • Lia permalink
      September 30, 2010 9:47 am

      I remember that! I was so excited about that part in the movie, actually.

  2. Kem_Viva permalink
    September 29, 2010 12:16 pm

    excellent article, I definitely agree with the points you make here.

  3. Natalia permalink*
    September 29, 2010 12:20 pm

    Brilliant piece. Definitely agree with all the points you made here. It seems as if Scott Fujita is doing a lot for LGBT athletes. I hope he continues, and continues to get support as well.

    Thanks for writing this piece 🙂

  4. Jenn permalink
    September 29, 2010 12:50 pm

    Wonderful article, I completely agree with your point about the sports being considered really masculine and that causing problems for women and the LGBT community who are part of it. I’m also glad you brought up the role media plays in this and how it affects the way people view the LGBT community and other minorities.

  5. carladk permalink
    September 29, 2010 3:10 pm

    This was so well-written and informative!! Thank you.

  6. Marloes permalink
    September 29, 2010 3:35 pm

    Lovely article!

    I strongly agree with what you said about players, coaches, and managers giving the right example. They should be more open and supportive when it comes to this issue.

  7. Jen permalink
    September 29, 2010 6:01 pm

    Very good article, it was a really interesting read. Thank you!

  8. Christine permalink
    September 29, 2010 9:50 pm

    This brings up some really good points. Having supportive attitudes out in the open, even in television or in other sports, is the first step to changing social norms. And changing social norms have been shown the most effective way to affect large-scale change. It allows revolutions without firing a shot.

    Great, great article.

  9. Sarah permalink
    September 29, 2010 11:30 pm

    Very well written and so very informative.

    Thank you!

  10. Elizabeth permalink
    September 30, 2010 2:56 am

    Great article. The points you brought up about sexism and patriarchy and their relationship with sports were great, and I agree.Until people no longer associate sports with the the rough manly man it will be difficult for others (gay or female) to succeed.

  11. Zinaid. permalink
    September 30, 2010 3:02 am

    Brilliant article. You brought up so many valid points and great examples for each. It would be so amazing to read of so many more athlete’s openly supporting the gay community.

  12. Lia permalink
    September 30, 2010 9:46 am

    Amazing article – you’ve done a great job highlighting some of the major problems with stereotypes and perceptions in society. Hope to see more amazing pieces like this soon!

  13. Tessa permalink
    September 30, 2010 9:55 am

    A really great aricle 🙂 I really enjoyed reading it.

  14. Nadine permalink
    September 30, 2010 8:20 pm

    amazing article. loved reading it.
    I agree with all of it.

    loved the point you made about how we need to stop using ‘fag’ or ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ in inappropriate situations. it only adds to the insecurities and fears of those people who are gay. and that makes me sad. I have gay friends and most of them can ignore these kinds of statements but I do believe that it somehow still hurts their feelings to some point.

    also, loved the connection with the media references to gays being portrayed in a certain way on television.I personally follow A LOT of tv shows and also watch a bunch which feature homosexual couples. I think theirr love and their relationships are portrayed beautifully on screen. of course sometimes there are certain stereotypes (see Kurt on Glee) but most of the time the gays/lesbians are strong, athletic personalities who are not weaker than straight people.

    and btw, Riley + Zane <333. haha.

  15. Sairax permalink
    October 1, 2010 3:55 pm

    I just wanted to share this It was started by Dan Savage and is for people to share their stories about experiences they’ve had as a gay/lesbian and to tell young people that it will get better one day. Too many young people commit suicide because of the bullying they get and this project is trying to reach out to those who need to hear that things will change. I know it’s not strictly football related but I think it’s a good idea and should be shared.

    • jenn permalink
      October 1, 2010 5:49 pm

      Thanks for sharing!

      I started a discussion thread on the forum for people who are concerned about the recent teen suicides

      • Sairax permalink
        October 1, 2010 10:43 pm

        No problem. You can add me on twitter btw, I do a lot of tweeting on @ArsenalOffside and fill in sometimes at the Arsenal Offside blog.

  16. Kris Wells permalink
    October 3, 2010 3:11 am

    Thanks for citing my op ed. Nice article you’ve written with great examples to continue the dialogue on this important issue.


    • jenn permalink
      October 3, 2010 8:05 pm

      thank you for taking the time to read it, greatly appreciate your feedback!

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