Gay Athletes Deserve Equal Treatment

nba-player-jason-collins-becomes-first-openly-gay-athlete-in-a-major-american-team-sport  What started as just a game has now transformed into an important aspect of life for most Americans. Sport has evolved from something casual into an obsession with most of the attention falling on professional athletes. Within every team sport lie players whom are deemed “superstars”. These are the players who grab most of the attention from the media due to their consistent high level of play. Whether they know it or not, star athletes not only have a huge impact on the game that they play, but also on the fans who watch them. Image means everything in professional sports where most viewers are male. Male professional athletes have a need to exude masculinity due to the social pressures that have been place upon them from the media. Whether they are playing their sport or appearing in public. As a result, a culture revolving around sport has been formed in which homosexuality is taboo. Recently, there have been many well known athletes who have come out to the public as being gay. The reception to those who have come out has been greeted with mixed emotion. Many have shown support for gay athletes while on the contrary there are those who condemn them and wish to ban them from participating. This disagreement as to whether or not gay athletes should be treated equally is preposterous. All athletes should have the same rights to play their respective sport and should be treated with equal respect.

A study in 2002 showed that three-fifths of Americans have a relationship to some type of sport. The internet, television, and smartphones allow anyone to have 24-hour access to any sport. As a result, people can now follow their favorite athlete during every minute of every game and even when they are not playing. Athletes serve as role models for their fans. The same study in 2002 showed that ninety percent of Americans felt that recognizable athletes should take on the responsibility of being a positive role model for the youth. The University of Massachusetts men’s basketball team had a successful 2013 season that resulted in a trip to the NCAA tournament. Even though they lost their first game, UMASS inspired a lot of people from the New England area who have not seen the Minutemen in the tournament since 1998 prior to this season. A key component to UMASS’s success this season was the play from sophomore guard Derrick Gordon. On April 9th, 2014, Gordon became the first openly gay athlete in Division 1 men’s basketball. After coming out, Gordon stated to the media “I didn’t want to lie or sneak. I’ve been waiting and watching for the last few months, wondering when a Division 1 player would come out, and finally I just said, ‘Why not me’”.  Gordon just wanted to be himself and relief can be interpreted from his comment “I feel so good right now. It’s like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders”.

Earlier this year, All-American college football player Michael Sam came out to the public. Although he was embraced by many, there were still a few who were not pleased. NFL linebacker Jonathan Vilma went on record saying that he would not feel comfortable with having a gay teammate. He felt that the atmosphere of the team would have to change in order to accommodate a gay. He uses the example of if he is taking a shower and a gay teammate looks at him he would not know how to react. Michael Sam spent his entire college career taking showers with his teammates and there were no reported problems. In addition to being a role model from his work on the court, Gordon has inspired many people for his courage off the court by proving that being gay has nothing to do with the performance of an athlete and that it is better to be yourself rather than hide behind the shadows of a false persona.

Sports are dominated by a majority of male viewers. In fact, a study conducted by the Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles shows that 98 percent of boys between the ages of eight and seventeen watch professional sports and sports media. The same study also shows that the combination of violence and hatred are normal in male sports when trying to express masculinity. A common stereotype towards gay males is that they exhibit feminine qualities all of the time. However, in a study that involved 2,729 gay males a majority of them admitted to expressing masculine traits over feminine traits. So why is there such a fuss about having gay male athletes participate in team sports? If performance and behavior is not an issue, then what is? Homophobia is a common response to these questions.

Homophobia can be instilled into a person whether they are aware of it or not. When someone is raised with others who share the same values and mindset, it is hard to accept another person who is different. In America, males are taught to act “macho” and try to get girls. Consequently, when a straight male is in the presence of a gay male, he feels uncomfortable knowing that the person next to him may believe in complete opposite values than he.

Jason Collins made headlines last year when he became the first openly gay professional basketball player. Collins was greeted with an overwhelming amount of support from other athletes to celebrities. At the time, Collins was a free agent hoping to land a spot on a team’s roster by relying on his reputation as a solid center for most of his career. However, Collins was unable to earn a single contract offer from any of the 30 professional teams. Some analysts speculate that all of the teams in the NBA were set at the center position and did not need Collin’s services, however in a league that lacks productive big men and thrives in injuries; that seemed highly unlikely. Maybe the fact that an NBA team had never had to deal with the media attention that would follow if a gay player was added to their roster was a driving factor. Things brightened up for Collins during the 2013 season as he was offered a contract by the Brooklyn Nets just months after the coming out of a few more gay athletes. Although Collins has had the full support from his teammates on the court and in the locker room, another player in the league had a different reaction. During the 2013 season, Collins was playing in a game when a member of the opposing team made a racial slur towards him. Instead of getting upset, Collins brushed it off and continued to play the game. He even de-escalated the situation in post game interviews choosing not to act as a victim. That moment solidified Jason Collins as a role model for not only gay athletes, but for everyone. It was a great moment for sports to see a man who had taken the leap of faith by coming out about his sexual orientation and having the strength to remain self-confident in himself that he didn’t let anyone’s word hurt him. He just ignored it because deep inside he was relieved to be open about the person that he truly is.

On the contrary, there are NFL players who constantly go into the public and get into trouble with the law. During the mid 2000’s Michael Vick was convicted of animal abuse for the action of dog fighting. Vick was allegedly accused for the death of many dogs. He was able to keep his fan-base and eventually returned to the NFL after his trial and received a lucrative contract with a different team. How is it that an animal abuser can be popular among sports fans, but gay athletes who have done nothing wrong are scrutinized?

It all falls back on the idea of masculinity. Dog fighting is a brutal activity that commonly results in dogs dying when all is said and done. Even though it is a cruel and disgusting act, Americans are exposed to violent behavior through the media and that makes it seem okay in their minds. Men hear about and see the violence that dogs are put through during dog fights and immediately correlate that to masculinity. However, when the thought of a man loving another man pops up, heterosexual men usually get thrown in a situation that is sometimes out of their comfort zone because they cannot resemble it to any behavior in which they commonly observe.

Male sports are dominated by the widespread expression of masculinity. Whether it’s all out screaming after making a big play or striking a dominant pose as a celebration, masculinity is accepted by many as a norm when it comes to professional sports. So why is there so much buzz about gay athletes coming out? Why do sponsors fear the promotion of their company via a homosexual athlete? Before announcing to the public about their sexual orientation, gay athletes can seem just like straight athletes. Gay or straight, if an athlete can handle his/her responsibilities and play at a high level, there should be no controversy about him/her being eligible to play. If indeed homophobia causes discomfort, measures should be taken in order to decrease the uneasiness. First, public talks by former and current gay athletes could be held so that they may share their experiences which could be beneficial to athletics. If straight athletes can hear about some of the experiences that gay athletes have gone through, maybe there would be some sort of respect to be gained. It takes a lot of effort and courage for a person to hide who he/she really his. It takes even more courage to come out to the public knowing that there will be scrutiny in comparison to already being accepted and being able to focus all time and energy on a sport. Second, the media can start acknowledging and promoting gay athletes. Most commercials feature the top players in every sport who would appeal to the public eye. If gay athletes are given more coverage, there is a strong possibility that homophobia could be put at ease. In order for homophobia to stop, people need to be exposed to the culture and remember that everyone has equal rights and deserves to be treated equally.

 

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6 Comments to “Gay Athletes Deserve Equal Treatment”

  1. It’s unfortunate that we still live in a world where people feel they need to hide behind a false persona in order to meet expectations set forth by society. It’s great that there are big-name athletes that are setting the example that it is okay and acceptable to be open about your sexuality. Although those who have come out have faced some backlash, the overwhelming amounts of support should serve as encouragement or consolation to those who are still pretending to be someone they’re not. I like your line “Gay or straight, if an athlete can handle his/her responsibilities and play at a high level, there should be no controversy about him/her being eligible to play” because it is true, sports organizations and viewers should not discriminate based on sexual orientation. I hope that as more gay athletes continue to come out to the public, they will continue to become more accepted and serve as a role model to all sports fans, regardless of their own personal orientation, because in the end, we’re all human and that should be all that matters.

  2. I don’t think you linking Michael Vick to this is at all a good comparison. Michael Vick wasn’t welcomed back because his activity was more masculine than coming out as a gay player. The fact of the matter is having a gay player in the locker room changes the atmosphere that the players feel comfortable in. You aren’t okay with the locker room atmosphere? Well, I would say that is your problem. Wouldn’t you say it’s inconsistent to say that it’s wrong of them to feel uncomfortable, yet you are equally as uncomfortable with their position? They have a problem with it, and you have a problem with them having a problem. That sounds like a vicious cycle.

    We shouldn’t impose values into the player’s locker room or certain organizations. If you have a problem with it, then stop supporting it. And I don’t think that these players don’t have support from the community. Sure, there are many people who have an issue with gay players in sports, but that isn’t the pressure that these players are seeing. It’s from within the sports and the owners. And, again imposing your beliefs on them doesn’t make your position anymore right. If they’re not comfortable, then they shouldn’t forced to feel differently.

    • Kim Berg,
      I do agree that comparing Michael Vick’s experience to a gay person’s experience isn’t a good one. However, having a gay person in a locker room does not change the atmosphere unless the room is occupied by people who are religious ideologues.You are scarily anti-gay and you are entailed to your feelings, but you have no right to endorse the mistreatment of individuals due to their sexual orientation. There was a shameful period in American history when Black players, such as Jackie Robinson made players uncomfortable in locker rooms too. Do you think it was wrong for them to feel that way because of the color of his skin or do you think that they were entitled to their feelings? The point is this: you don’t treat people differently because of their gender, their skin color, and sexual orientation. The only vicious person is one who encourages and applauds intolerance. Luckily, the author is one who is promoting tolerance and harmony. I can’t say the same for you. You insist that the ” we shouldn’t impose values into the …locker room..” , but here you are imposing your religious ideology on the rest of us, while dictating what the author should or should not do. Anti-gay individuals are becoming a minority in America. THANK GOD.

      • Apologies… I should have said that the anti-gay movement is losing support in America. THANK GOD!

      • That was a clear misreading of my post, calling me “scarily anti-gay”, something that I am certainly not. Also, linking a change in the atmosphere to “religious ideologues” is also incredibly misleading and probably anti-religious of you (how ironic…”). Players get naked in the locker room, and they might feel uncomfortable with a person who is attracted to the same sex. Would it be wrong for a woman to not want to undress herself around a man because she’s uncomfortable with it? If that’s okay, then why is it wrong in this situation? You’re blinded by your position, which isn’t really much of one.

        How am I imposing any religious ideology? At one point did this become about religion? You are a bit paranoid about religion, it seems. No need to assume anything about my person. If you actually got to know me, you would know my feelings about homosexuals and they are nothing as you’ve outline, at all. I do welcome the judgement, though. Just shows how intolerant you are of me. Which… Well I guess I thought you valued.

  3. Aloha,
    Wow this article is extremely intense and it stirred a lot of anger for me and after reading some comments, I really don’t know what else to say.

    I do agree that people should just get over the fact that some sport players are gay because their quality and skills definitely do not change once they come out of the closet. It is completely not fair for the gay players to lead a different life then they are because of how majority of people who are homophobic.

    As for the locker room situation. One rule that is true that “ALL” people that are homophobic should just get over is that: just because a person is gay and is attracted to the same sex, doesn’t mean that they are going to flirt and hit on you in the locker room. Don’t think too high of yourself. If you don’t feel comfortable changing then i am sure there are stalls. And besides, don’t guys joke around about things like that? So why all od a sudden when there is a gay person everyone freaks out.
    Sorry. I am venting out because as a person, I identify myself as bisexual (yes I am and am not confused). I have gone through that locker room issue and it was so stupid. It took a while for some girls to get over the fact that i wasn’t going to hit on them. I told them straight up that just because i like guys and girls does not mean i will hit on every straight or gay girls. I was just comforatable with myself and with the girls who didn’t have a problem it was great.

    We definitely live in an era where homosexuality is being accepted so people should just open up. Because like all gays say, it is not contageous, and we are human just like everyone else. But great article! I enjoyed reading it.

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