A Deep Look: Homophobia in Sports

How well do sexuality and athletics mix?

Women are almost expected to be a part of the LGBTQ+ community. The assumption is that they are gay, especially in the more “masculine” sports like basketball, softball, soccer, and so on.

Nothing differentiates sports from being more masculine or feminine except society’s interpretation of masculinity and femininity. The overlap in sports being played by both sexes might have caused this categorization and the stereotype that female athletes are women loving women in some shape or form if they play in “masculine” sports.

On the other hand, sports like volleyball, cheerleading, and gymnastics still can carry the stereotype that female athletes are gay, but it is assumed way less, especially compared to the more “masculine” sports. Male sports follow a similar trend between the more “masculine” and “feminine” sports, but indulge in more homophobia and hate.

Just like female sports, many assume straight men play the more “masculine” sports like football, basketball, baseball, soccer, and so on. There are not many male athletes in these sports who have come out as openly-gay during their careers or after. However, in recent years, a handful of gay athletes have made strides, serving as some of the first openly-gay men in their respected sport.

Jason Collins became the first openly-gay player in the NBA in 2013.

After playing for the Dallas Cowboys and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Ryan Russell, a free agent, became the first openly bisexual person in the NFL and in any major professional league.

Additionally, Michael Sam was the first openly gay man to be drafted into the NFL in 2014.

Collins retired after 13 seasons in the NBA. And Ryan Russell is still a free agent.

There is no current LGBTQ+ male athlete who is out and actively playing in those four sports; which are also the biggest and most popular sports in the nation.

Then, many assume male athletes in more “feminine” sports such as ice skating to be LGBTQ+.

Why are athletes in “masculine” sports assumed to be women loving women or men loving women while athletes in “feminine” sports are assumed to be women loving men or men loving men? Nothing about these sports imply sexuality, so why do we take these stereotypes at face value in 2020? And why is sexuality in sports so important?

Has sexuality conformed its way into sports, becoming a basic requirement for athletes in their respected sport to be a certain sexuality? Of course, there is no written rule about this, but subconsciously, does this rule exist- encouraging homophobia in sports?

It seems as though LGBTQ+ female athletes are more accepted than LGBTQ+ male athletes, which is true. Bu.t unfortunately, regardless of sex, homophobia is persistent in sports for both females and males.

“Out on the Fields” was the first international study on homophobia in sports in 2015. 9,500 people were surveyed in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, New Zealand, and Australia.

Researchers found that 84% of participants, regardless of sexual orientation, have witnessed or experienced homophobia in sports in the United States. 83% believe an openly gay person would not be safe as a spectator at a sports event.

50% of gay men, 53% of lesbians, and 33% of straight men have been targeted. Of those people, 89% of gay men and 82% of lesbians have heard verbal slurs. 35% of gay men and 20% of lesbians have been bullied, while 29% of gay men and 19% of lesbians have recieved verbal threats. 19% of gay men and 8% of lesbians have been physically assaulted.

89% believe gay people are “not at all accepted,” “accepted a little,” or only “moderately accepted” in sports culture.

For youth sports under the age of 22, most gay people play team sports but 78% believe youth team sports is not safe for gay people. Lastly, 83% of gay men and 63% of lesbians are, “completely or partially in the closet while playing youth sports.” Many of these athletes fear backlash from coming out.

Although researchers compiled data from all six countries as well as overall statistics, the U.S. ranked worst among homophobia in sports. However, the authors wrote, “unfortunately, the study found few positive signs in any country that LGB people are welcome and safe playing team sports.”

It is also worth noting that the Human Rights Campaign Foundation did a survey in 2019 which found that “over half of LGBTQ people would be more likely to follow a sport in which there were openly LGBTQ athletes or coaches.”

Acknowleging the challenge LGBTQ people face when coming out, “over 70% of respondents said they did not disclose their LGBTQ identity to coaches and teammates when they participated in sports. Of those who did not disclose their identity in sports, the majority said it affected their mood, relationship with teammates, and overall engagement.” HRCF adds, “athletes thrive when they have the ability to be their full selves in sports.”

The bottom line is there have always been gay athletes, whether they were out or not. It is foolish to believe this is a “new trend” we see when athletes do come out or are openly out. Nevertheless, homophobia in sports is a norm that needs to be addressed and changed.