Being Gay in Sports Tougher on Men

By Jason Menard

Sheryl Swoopes, arguably the greatest female basketball player on the planet, has come out of the closet. But what must have been a trying and gut-wrenching decision for her to go public with her sexuality gets met with a collective yawn from the sporting public.

So why is it that female athletes can come out and be greeted with a “been-there-done-that” reaction from the world at large, yet the male sporting world remains suspiciously devoid of prominent gay athletes? It’s a combination of the public’s double-standard of sexuality for men and women, and the stone-age throwback macho mentality that permeates sports.

Swoopes, like others female athletes in the past like Amelie Mauresmo and Martina Navratalova, will continue her dominance of the sport. She’ll be lauded for her bravery and then relegated to the back pages of the sports section from whence she came. All the while, the clock continues to tick as anxious sports writers keep an eye on the closet door for that first high-profile male to peek his head around the corner.

Forget sports, homosexuality in male team sports is truly the final frontier. But why is it different? Why is it acceptable to the public for a woman to be gay and not for a man? It’s hard to say, but much of it has to go to public perception.

Lesbianism is almost chic these days. Modern media is rife with Sapphic sensuality. The male-dominated marketplace swallows up this imagery as titillation – despite the obvious fact that there are just two more girls who aren’t interested in them! Is it a penetration thing? Is the idea of women being with women more visually appealing to most than the thought of two men copulating – despite the acts being inherently the same at their root?

Or is it because we’re accustomed to displays of affection between women? Whether it’s holding hands walking down the street, dancing together, or calling each other “girlfriend,” women have been far more liberal in their ability to express affection. Now try picturing a man referring to his drinking buddy as his “boyfriend” or comforting each other after a sad movie – it doesn’t happen.

It’s why Ellen Degeneres can host a wonderful talk show that millions enjoy without her sexuality mattering, as it should be. But where are all those gay male hosts and actors? Why is it so much of a challenge to come out?

In a sporting environment it’s even worse. Locker rooms are rife with “fag” and “homo” jokes and comments, there are strict protocols of where your eyes can linger in the shower (keep ‘em above the waist), and overt displays of masculinity bordering on the puerilistic are considered essential for team-building — so much so that for many players, the idea of having a gay teammate is anathema.

It’s sad to think that the next person who comes out while playing professional sports like football, hockey, or baseball, will be considered a trail-blazer. It’s a poor commentary on our society that in 2005 we’re still not comfortable with the concept of love that we’ve yet to come to a time when a gay athlete can feel comfortable coming out of the closet, not because of the public perception – but rather because of the perception amongst the very people he’s gone to war with on the playing field.

Being gay or straight doesn’t affect your ability to play a sport any more than being black or white does. And in a sporting environment wherein even a comment that may or may not be misconstrued as being racist is met with swift and decisive action, rampant homophobia and borderline gay-bashing can run unchecked and be used as a source of humour.

We need to stop thinking that gay males are sexual deviants looking to ravage unsuspecting heterosexuals at the next available opportunity. The gay athlete that hasn’t taken any interest in his straight teammate is certainly not going to turn into a molesting deviant preying on his teammates once he comes out of the closet. He’ll just be like everyone else – a person looking for love.

And even if your teammate finds you attractive, what’s really wrong with that? Most of us aren’t running the risk of finding ourselves on the cover of GQ anytime soon, so we should be kneeling down and thanking whatever deity or spiritual force we believe in that someone – anyone – thinks we’re not half-bad looking. Hell, I thank my lucky stars that my beautiful wife thinks I’m attractive – anything else is just gravy! The fact is we’re all human, gay or straight, and we have the choice to say yes or no to suitors of either sex. It doesn’t diminish our sexuality in one iota – so where’s the problem?

There’s a double-standard of gayness in our society and it’s something that has to end. Male-male, female-female, either way we should accept the fact that two people have found happiness with each other, regardless of what they’ve got below the belt. The women have figured it out. Now it’s the men’s – and the rest of society’s — turn.

Sports is just a game, but until we live in a world where sexuality is irrelevant to judging a person’s worth on the field or off, then we’re all losers in the game of life.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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