Homophobia in Professional Sports

The Sad Reality of Today’s Modern Sports Landscape

By Alex Cole (Contributor)

A men’s professional sports locker room is one of the most psychologically dangerous places to be in the world. It is a place of constant hazing, playful ribbing, and jabs at one’s sexuality. The terms “gay” and “fag” are spread around locker rooms more frequently than bottles of Gatorade. It is a harsh reality of the “macho man” culture that has dominated the sports world for decades.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that this past week, Michael Sam, who was drafted in June, was cut by the St-Louis Rams. Michael Sam was a standout defensive end at the University of Missouri, and scouts had projected him to go high in the draft. This all changed when, in February of this year, Sam came out as gay. Even though he wasn’t a professional at the time, he became the second openly gay professional athlete, the first being Jason Collins of the NBA.

Source: iStockPhoto
Source: iStockPhoto

After Sam’s revelation about his sexual orientation, his stock fell in the draft rankings. In June, he placed lower than projected. His hopes of becoming an NFL star quickly diminished due to the increasing unwanted media attention surrounding him and the Rams organization. After a couple of NFL pre-season games, in which his stats were promising, he was cut. Now Sam is being looked at by the Dallas Cowboys but has no permanent contract with the team.

Some might say that he simply wasn’t good enough to make the team, but that would be a simplification of the situation. Jason Collins, who I mentioned earlier, revealed his sexual orientation during last year’s off-season in which he was looking to renew a contract. Collins, who had been a career bench player, was considered a reliable player to have on one’s team. Yet, after revealing his sexuality, he found himself without a contract and was forced into an early retirement.

Why is this so? In an age of increasing tolerance and acceptance of the gay community, why is sports, a median of bringing people together, so intolerant? The answer is simple and all comes back to my first point. The locker room is too unstable a place for an openly gay athlete. On a daily bases, homophobic slurs become part of the athletic vocabulary. They have become as natural as breathing, and it is something that hasn’t changed since the conception of sports.

Michael Sam after a Mizzou win    Source: Bill Carter
Michael Sam after a Mizzou win Source: Bill Carter

The ignorance portrayed by athletes in the locker room setting has also shown to be quite genuine in some cases. Chris Culliver, a player for the San Francisco 49ers, went as far as to say, “we don’t got no gay people on the team, they gotta get up out of here if [we] do.” Sound bites like that are the reason why gay athletes fear coming out. They fear not being accepted by their teammates, the very people they have formed a bond with on and off the field.

Michael Sam                  Source: Brandon Wade
Michael Sam Source: Brandon Wade

In the United States, 2.2% of men identify as homosexual. The statistics show that there are quite a few closeted homosexuals in the world of professional sports, but the motivation to come out isn’t there. The thought is that coming out as gay is career suicide, and the two cases so far have proved just that.
The locker room isn’t the only thing to blame. A lot of it lies in the hands of the organizations that won’t accept openly gay players because of the media frenzy that surrounds them. Just like the breaking of the colour barrier during the civil rights movement, the coverage of openly gay athletes has hit an extreme. All major news agencies jumped on the Michael Sam story and created a media circus around the Rams organization. This created a lot of unwanted attention and distractions around the organization. In a business where gaining a competitive edge is key, distractions are unwelcome.

The way it is now, gay athletes will most likely remain in the shadows, waiting to come out until they can finally be accepted. This will take a lot of work though. Players need to realize the impact of the language they use with their peers. Teams need to start respecting a player’s talent regardless of sexual orientation, and media outlets need to realize that in today’s society, being gay is not news. Being gay is simply a small part of who someone is. In an age where tolerance is a major component in today’s society, professional sports has simply fallen behind.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *