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the gender of the survivor

Anne Dalke's picture

From Secret Dread @ Penn State (NYTimes, 11/19/11):
"In a culture that increasingly accepts gay life, organized athletics, from middle school to the professional leagues, is the last redoubt of unapologetic anti-gay sentiment .... What lurks behind so many male athletes’ vociferous antipathy to homosexuality seems to be deep anxiety about masculinity, the very quality that aggressive team sports showcase .... Maybe it’s time for a new kind of sports hero....?"


venn diagram's picture

Homosexuality and Sports

Anne and Sara,

Thank you for posting about homosexuality and sports, a topic I have am very interested in both academically and personally. I tackled this subject with my creative project for the course “Global Queer Cinema” in Fall 2010. I asked my friends on Haverford’s Baseball Team to reenact in their bedrooms scenes of homosociality and homoeroticism common in sports. These included behind-slapping, hugging, intimate stretching and team huddles. I began the film with a short clip of the team playing baseball and used the original sounds of fans cheering at one of their games as the soundtrack to highlight the differences between the physical space where the actions are acceptable, the baseball field, versus their house, an inappropriate location.

I consider myself an incredibly dedicated sports fan, especially of the NBA, NFL and MLB, the three major sports organizations in the U.S. Although I am aware of the homophobia within these sports, it has thus far been far easier for me to ignore this while I watch the games, read the articles, discuss the stats and monitor my fantasy teams, than confront the irreconcilable conflict between my own views on homosexuality and the homophobic culture maintained (or at times promoted) by these organizations. Is my unquestioning fandom complicit in their homophobic culture? Or their pro-life (Tim Tebow, an NFL quarterback, created a pro-life commercial with this mother that played during the SuperBowl) culture? Or racist (Tony La Russa, the general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, came out in favor of the Arizona immigration laws) culture? As the economic power of the fans has been documented and as many sports fans are gay themselves or allies, where is our voice?

Sara raises the question “But this brings up an issue we discussed in class: should one man be obligated to out himself for the good of an entire community?” and draws the comparison to the “questions we were asking about the obligations of survivors to report their assailants.” I would also extend this idea to the pressure intersex individuals may feel to educate those around them, including teachers, friends, family, etc. My suggestion, like it was for the question of intersex individuals, is education. It is a very real problem to wait for one person to be a martyr for their cause and to put their careers, or even their bodies, in danger. It is a problem that Jon Amaechi, the ex-NBA player discusses in the article Sara posted, who came out as gay 3 years after retirement, suggests the need for an all-star athlete to come out to “cure” homophobia in sports. The author of the article, and many other sources I have read on the subject, agree that this gay Jackie Robinson would be the answer. Maybe. But I am bothered by the passivity and therefore implicit acceptance of the current culture in this model.

In the so-called gayest month in sports, Charles Barkley, an incredibly famous NBA analyst came out as pro-gay marriage. He did many interviews for newspapers, blogs and podcasts, like the Washington Post article quoted in this piece in which he explains that “I’ve been a big proponent of gay marriage for a long time, because as a black person, I can’t be in for any form of discrimination at all.” I remember being very excited as other sports personalities picked up this piece, including my favorite writer Bill Simmons, who did a podcast with Barkley on the subject. However, six months later and the topic has largely been ignored. It has fallen off. If you happened to be on vacation during the few weeks that the Barkley quotes made waves you may have no idea he came out with these sentiments. This was a moment that could have really started a push for actual change—a push to reform education and to really put an end to sanctioned homophobia across the major sports. Fining players who get caught using the F-word is a start, but what about the thousands of times the word is used and there just isn’t a microphone around to hear it? There is a lot of work to be done here--but starting somewhere is better than waiting for some gay all-star to come around.

sel209's picture

The Last Closet

I read an article several months ago similar to the one Anne quotes that was published in New York Magazine entitled “The Last Closet”. Its author uses the Todd Reynolds Twitter controversy (among other incidents) to highlight what I found to be a shocking fact: 

“Of course, for all the talk about the “gayest sports month ever,” there has never been an openly gay-male active professional athlete in a major sport. (Lesbians have been out in women’s sports for years.) How can sports say they are making progress when gay men can’t express their sexual orientation publicly?”

 The Last CLoset

In a week when our class discussion is focused on making alliances and forming right relationships, it seems that a significant alliance that has yet to be made is one joining the athletic community and the queer community, particularly in the arena of men’s athletics. The clear lack of such an alliance continues to have negative repercussions (in fact, devastating consequences is a more appropriate phrase to describe the aftermath of the Penn State scandal). Though the author of this article makes clear that there are gay male athletes who have come out to their teammates, no player on a major sports team has outed himself to the world. Should a beloved gay pro athlete publicly reveal his sexuality, enormous steps would be made towards redefining masculinity and making athletic environments safer space for all. But this brings up an issue we discussed in class: should one man be obligated to out himself for the good of an entire community? (This vaguely parallels questions we were asking about the obligations of survivors to report their assailants). By staying silent (or not going public), is this person actively exercising his right to disappear? If he chooses to appear when he feels that there is less threat of exclusion or harassment, is his statement less powerful? And the big one that joins my article with Anne's: if there were more (or any) publicly gay male athletes, would Mike McQueary have been more likely to report what he saw that day in the Penn State locker room? I tend to think that team loyalty and camaraderie played a role in his unforgivable decision, but I’m also pretty confident that stigma and shame did, too. What do you think?