Gay Athletes and Their Fans Have A Lot To Be Proud Of

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This spring has seen some high-profile athletes come out, but they aren’t the only ones.

With numerous reports about the American public being ready for a gay or lesbian professional athlete, they finally got a male one. In late April, Jason Collins, an NBA free agent who played with both the Boston Celtics and the Washington Wizards this past season, came out in Sports Illustrated. He is spoken of as the first out professional male athlete. In the world of hyper-masculine male sports, this is seen as a huge achievement, and that he will help make popular male-dominated sports more accepting and open of gay athletes.

Earlier in April, Alan Gendreau, a year-out kicker from the southern Christian college Middle Tennessee State, came out and announced his plans for kicking in the National Football League (NFL). A month later, Jallen Messersmith came out, and is believed to be the first openly gay player in men’s college basketball. He’s a shot-blocking specialist form Benedictine College, and his reasoning was similar to Collins and Gendreau: to make other gay athletes feel comfortable with themselves and that they are not alone in their sports.

However ground-breaking both of these men’s public coming out stories are the men seem to be a bit behind the women in American sports.

Lesbians have been out and about in pro sports for more than thirty years; they just aren’t as popular or as commended as the men are, as Buzzfeed  illustrated this week. Tennis had both Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King in 1981, Golf had Muffin Spencer-Devlin in 1996, Patty Sheehan in 1998, and Rosie Jones in 2004. The Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) has Sue Wicks in 2002, Michele Van Gorp in 2004, Sheryl Swoopes in 2005, and three teammates from the Minnesota Lynx in 2012: Amber Harris, Jessica Adair, and Seimone Augustus. Volleyball has Stacey Sykora, and soccer has Megan Rapinoe and Lori Lindsey, all in 2012.

This year the WNBA added a new out member to their list who came out just weeks before Collins: Brittney Griner. She’s currently playing for the Phoenix Mercury, was the WNBA number one pick for 2013, and recently turned down the Harlem Globetrotters, deciding to focus on her professional career instead. She is considered to be the new face of the WNBA, and she is expected to have the chance to transform the WNBA and pull it out of its slump.

Bisexual women can look toward Jessica Aguilar, a mixed martial arts fighter who came out last year, and although an unincorporated territory of the U.S., has Orlando Cruz, a gay boxer who has been out since last year.

Some guess that the reasoning for the prevalence of women’s coming out is that because of the more familial attitude women have in athletics teams. Women already have to fight to be recognized as “true” athletes, and so they foster support for each other, and create a very welcoming space for all players. Both sexes have to contend with gender stigmas and stereotypes in their sports, because being too “masculine” or “feminine” isn’t acceptable.

Any athlete coming out is a huge step forward, especially for young athletes. With the amount of athletes coming out so recently, we’re seeing professional sports change and the attitudes of the American public evolving in all areas of our culture.

Coming Out No way In

The true story of why professional soccer player Robbie Rogers had to retired immediately after coming out as the UK’s only openly gay top flight professional soccer player.

It was only this February that the then Leeds play who has also represented the United States in 18 international football matches, opened his heart and revealed his true sexuality, then promptly walked away from the beautiful game. In his first interview for UK media since he came out, he explained his hurt, anger and how it is still virtually impossible for gay players to come out and remain in the game.

Robbie Rogers is a long way from home and the self confessed Californian dude who grew up playing soccer, surfing and going to church faces a somewhat uncertain future after his recent revelation which stunned many in the professional football world. “Life is simple when your secret is gone. Gone is the pain that lurks in the stomach at work, the pain from avoiding questions, and at last the pain from hiding such a deep secret.” Robbie wrote on his website, “Secrets can cause so much internal damage,” Rogers wrote. “People love to preach about honesty, how honesty is so plain and simple. Try explaining to your loved ones after 25 years you are gay.”

As soon as those words were out there in the public domain, Rogers instantly became only the second gay footballer in Britain to ever publicly come out. The first was the late Justin Fashanu, whose experience after coming out was far from celebratory and positive. He faced a saver backlash from colleagues inside the professional footballing world and his family, including homophobic brother John, turned their backs, Justin took his own life in 1988, hanging himself at home in Shoreditch, London. Coincidentally, just a short walk from where Robbie Rogers now lives.

Since coming out, Rogers says he’s been besieged by large offers of money for expose type interviews and contracts, as well as moving emails from thousands of people who have thanked him or asked for advice on coming to terms with their sexuality. Last weeks interview with the UK’s Guardian newspaper marks the first major interview since coming out and readdresses some of the issues his declaration raises. Not least the difficulties that professional sportsmen and women face when coming out publicly. “Football is an amazing sport,” Rogers says. “But it is also a brutal sport that picks people up and slams them on their heads. Adding the gay aspect doesn’t make a great cocktail.”

The interview poses the question what would have happened if Rogers had still been playing for Leeds when he came out? “That would have been interesting,” he says wryly. “I don’t think I would have been able to go training the next day. That would be so scary. The guys might have said, ‘That’s great, Robbie.’ Maybe. But because no-one’s done it and because of the things I’ve heard in the dressing room I just thought: ‘I need to get away from this – make my announcement, find peace, go from there.’ So I can never imagine announcing that at Leeds.”

Would it have been different if he were back in America? “No. Not at any club – anywhere.” He says emphatically. It is true to say that In almost all sport, especially at a professional level there is a certain about of bravado and banter, but even light hearted banter can be callous and hurtful, “There were different emotions.” Rogers explains when asked how he reacted when team mates made homophobic quips and jokes. “Sometimes I would feel bad for them. Sometimes I would laugh because it was kinda funny. And, sometimes, it got malicious.”

“That was when I would get this awful feeling in my stomach. I would turn my head and try to chat about other things. They often don’t mean what they say. It’s that pack mentality – they’re trying to get a laugh, they’re trying to be the top guy. But it’s brutal. It’s like high school again – on steroids.”

The fear of hostility from team mates is one issue that prevents more gay soccer plays from coming out, another would be the reaction from the supporters. “Maybe a lot of fans aren’t homophobic. But, in a stadium, sometimes they want to destroy you. In the past I would have said: ‘They don’t know I’m gay so it doesn’t mean anything.’ But, now they know it, am I going to jump in the stands and fight them?” Indeed homophobic chanting from the terraces is regular occurrence during many games up and down the country on a Saturday, despite various campaigns to combat homophobia in the sport.

Robbie Rogers

Rogers came to the realisation that “In football it’s obviously impossible to come out – because no-one has done it. No one. It’s crazy and sad. I thought: ‘Why don’t I step away and deal with this and my family and be happy?’ Imagine going to training every day and being in that spotlight? It’s been a bit of a circus anyway – but that would have been crazy. And you wouldn’t have much control because clubs are pushing you in different directions. I was just fearful. I was very fearful how my team-mates were going to react. Was it going to change them? Even though I’d still be the same person would it change the way they acted towards me – when we were in the dressing room or the bus?”

It would be incredibly powerful if a gay footballer could face down that hate and abuse – just as black sportsmen like Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali stood up to racism in America. “Sure,” Rogers says. “I’ve thought about that. I might be strong enough but I don’t know if that’s really what I want. I’d just want to be a footballer. I wouldn’t want to deal with the circus. Are people coming to see you because you’re gay? Would I want to do interviews every day, where people are asking: ‘So you’re taking showers with guys – how’s that?’

“If you’re playing well it will be reported as: ‘The gay footballer is playing well.’ And if you have a bad game it’ll be: ‘Aw, that gay dude … he’s struggling because he’s gay.’ Fuck it. I don’t want to mess with that.”

Thoughtfully when pressed on the possibilities of other gay footballers, Rogers says “No. Even now, one of my best friends said: ‘Do we know anyone else in football who could possibly be gay?’ And we couldn’t think of anyone. We’re such great actors because we’re afraid to let people know who we are. We’ve been trained by our agents how to do interviews, how to present ourselves. No footballer has since said to me, ‘Robbie, thank you, I’m gay too…’ I don’t know if anyone will.”

“I know things will change. There will be gay footballers. I just don’t know when and how long it will take. The next step is how do you create an atmosphere where men and women feel it’s OK to come out and continue to play? It’s a great question. Football has so much history. It’s a great sport with so much culture and tradition. But I’m positive there will be changes.”

The full interview can be read at The Guardian website here.

 

Former England Player Says Times Right For Gay Players

A top former England international football player and now TV pundit says that he thinks players would now accept a gay teammate in the changing room.

Popular former player and manager Gareth Southgate claims the real problem might well be the fans on the terraces that may not be quite as open, tolerant and welcoming to gay players not the sportsmen themselves.

Garreth Southgate

Garreth Southgate

Speaking with BBC Sport, Southgate said: ‘I’m sure there might be some reaction from crowds, but within dressing rooms I think it would be accepted.’

There has been a surprising amount of rather high-profile male and female athletes and sportspeople choosing to come out and be open in public with their sexuality, such as professional boxing’s Orlando Cruz, Rugby’s Gareth Thomas not to mention many of the British Olympic Team. However, there has not been a single top flight British footballer to come out since Justin Fashanu back in 1990.

Gareth Southgate who used to live in Northgate in Crawley made the comments in reaction to Manchester United’s goalkeeper, Anders Lindegaard saying ‘homosexuals are in need of a hero’. Lindegaard said the attitude of fans doesn’t encourage gay players to be open about their sexuality. “They are in need of someone who dares to stand up for their sexuality. But homosexuality in football is a taboo subject and the atmosphere on the pitch and in the stands is tough.” he said. “The problem for me is that a lot of football fans are stuck in a time of intolerance that does not deserve to be compared with modern society’s development in the last decades. While the rest of the world has been more liberal, civilised and less prejudiced, the world of football remains stuck in the past when it comes to tolerance.”

“It will take someone who is brave enough to be open and honest,” said the ex-England international, Southgate who was a key fixture of the line up of the national squad from 1995 to 2004. He added “Players mix with players of different nationalities, races and religions so I don’t see it being an issue in the dressing room. We can’t control the reaction of all supporters, so unfortunately there will always be an adverse reaction to parts of society. But the honest answer is that we don’t know until somebody steps forward.”

Homophobia is still regarded as one of the biggest problems in the modern UK football industry, despite various campaigns to ‘Kick Homophobia Out’ of the sport.

More Gay Athletes Than Ever

The London Olympics are simply a matter of hours away now and these 2012 games look set to be the most gay and lesbian inclusive in the history competition.

There will be at least fourteen openly gay and lesbian athletes participating during the games in the UK’s majestic capital. The information comes from OutSports.com, who published the list last week yet simple statistics would suggest that there are many many more gay or lesbian competitors taking part, yet for whatever reason are not publicly ‘out’ about their sexuality. Even if it was just one per cent of the total athletic contingent of 12,602 were gay or lesbian then we’d be talking of a number around 126, rather than the fourteen currently accounted for.

Some of the courageous athletes known to be openly gay or lesbian include:

Matthew Mitcham (Australia, diving);

Edward Gal (Netherlands, equestrian);

Lisa Raymond (U.S., doubles tennis);

Judith Arndt(Germany, cycling);

Seimone Augustus (U.S., basketball);

Imke Duplitzer (Germany, fencing);

Megan Rapinoe (U.S. soccer);

Marilyn Agliotti (Netherlands, field hockey);

Maartje Paumen (Netherlands, field hockey);

Natalie Cook (Australia, beach volleyball);

Alexandra Lacrabère (France, handball);

Jessica Landström (Sweden, soccer);

Carole Péon (France, triathlon):

Jessica Harrison (France, triathlon);

There is still a perceived or actual fear of hostility and / or rejection by many sportsmen and women which may indicate the relatively low number of out athletes. Whilst most sporting bodies purport to be inclusive and non discriminatory in their selection process many insiders suggest an athlete typically stands a better chance of making a national team if they remain in the closet.