The LGBTQ community has faced discrimination in many aspects of life throughout history. In professional and high-level amateur sports this is also true. In many different sports, LGBTQ individuals are faced with unfair treatment motivated by homophobia. Often LGBTQ athletes are forced to remain in the closet to compete, or they could face discrimination not only from fans but their own teammates as well. However as in most cases of discrimination, homophobia in sports has become less common over time. Those cases of who are closeted, while not able to be studied, do need addressing. These athletes are however one of the best examples of the lengths an LGBTQ person may go to in order to be accepted in society.
A study conducted recently stated that “ Unfortunately… the study found few positive signs in any country that LGB people are welcomed and safe playing team sports.” This study was conducted across six countries and found that in all countries athletes and found that 80% of all participants had experienced homophobia or witnessed it while participating in sport, typically manifesting itself in homophobic slurs. This study is more evidence of prejudiced behavior which forces gay athletes into the closet. The study also found the US was by far the worst country in regards to these incidences of homophobia.
In professional sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, and hockey LBGTQ athletes have for most of history struggled to get recognition and acceptance. Teammates may reject an athlete if they are even suspected of being LGBTQ. This is much more true of male athletes than female. Homophobia in pro sports is most likely rooted in the cultural backgrounds of those athletes who participate in them. The typical “jock” stereotype has also created a culture of homophobia amongst male athletes. Studies have also shown a large difference in the effects and “consequences” of a homosexual of ethnic background as opposed to their white counterparts. In sports, like basketball and football which are dominated by ethnically black athletes, it can be seen why there have been virtually no cases of players being homosexual in the NFL and the NBA.
Jayson Collins and the NBA
An important case of a player being openly LGBTQ was NBA big man Jayson Collins. Collins was already a thirteen year NBA vet when he publicly announced he was gay. The announcement was met by support from fans and the players of the association.
Collins, a free agent when he made his announcement, signed multiple short term contracts to play for the Brooklyn Nets before retiring. This was not only the first instance of a player in the NBA making their homosexuality public, it was the first case for a North American athlete in any pro team sport announcing that they were LGBTQ. However, Collins only played 22 NBA games coming off the bench once he came out of the closet.
NBA player Dwight Howard has recently faced rumors regarding his sexuality. While Howard maintains he is a heterosexual. The wave of homophobic redirect directed at him on social media was a stark reminder of how big of an issue homophobia can be for sports fans.
Michael Sam and the NFL
The only case of an NFL prospect being openly gay, Sam was a defensive end for the University of Missouri. He played well and won SEC defensive player of the year honors. This accomplishment built a lot of NFL hype around the prospect and he gained the interest of scouts. While in college Sam was openly gay to his teammates and coaches, it was a locker room secret and they respected his sexuality and his privacy. Once his senior season had ended, Sam decided to make his sexuality public and he came out. His coming out was the hot subject for sports talk shows. The prospect of the first openly gay man to play in the NFL was a subject talked on by current and retired players, coaches, commentators, and front office members. He worked out for many teams. He did okay but compared to other NFL prospects he was not a standout. He was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the later rounds of the draft. He participated in their training camp and was given the chance to make the team. He was cut, and never played in a regular-season NFL game. There have been no other cases of a gay player in the NFL.
The NFL and NBA are both institutions. Both entities have a wide-reaching influence and garner billions in revenue every year. They are constantly evolving, and have united people from many different backgrounds for decades, the NFL currently in its 100th year. Will the leagues ever evolve to allow for gay men to openly compete without a second thought? The answer is impossible to say.
Edsall, N. C. (2006). Toward Stonewall: homosexuality and society in the modern western world. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press.
Gregory, S. (2015, May 9). Sports Homophobia Study: U.S. Ranks Worst. Retrieved from https://time.com/3852611/sports-homophobia-study/.
Michael Sam’s pursuit of happiness. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://sports.yahoo.com/michael-sams-pursuit-of-happiness-045127853.html.
Pingue, F. (2019, February 28). NBA: Barrier-breaking Collins still awaits next openly gay athlete. Retrieved from: