Gender Roles and Homosexuality in Sports

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Gender Roles & Homosexuality in Athletics

As society progresses, homosexuality becomes more prevalent and people become more comfortable with the subject of sexuality. Homosexuality is something that has dated back to Greek times, but just in the past 50-100 years has become more common; not that homosexuality did not exist, just that more people are becoming more comfortable and coming out. Gay and Lesbian people are all around us, weather it be the work place, schools, and specifically athletics. Many coaches, players, and athletic directors are gay and are becoming aware of the double standard and homophobia that exists in the heterosexual world, most commonly at the collegiate and professional level.

Homophobia is the unreasoning fear or prejudice of homosexuals and homosexuality. It manifests itself in many different ways in the athletic world such as discrimination, name-calling, segregation and alienation. An estimated 10 percent of the population is gay which thus makes it a difficult subject to bring up and discuss. In 2002 the National Gay and Lesbian task Force reported that violence against the LGBT community has increased year from years 1998 to 2002.

The molding and bending of gender roles in athletics contributes greatly to homophobia. For centuries sports have produced an image of masculinity. Fathers and sons have bonded over athletic prowess in a competitive environment. At a young age, males often use athletics to help create their own gender identity. This sometimes leads to homophobia and prejudice. Males use homophobia in athletics as a way of constructing their male identity especially in front of their piers. Unfortunately for females, their gender roles are somewhat reversed. Women are forced to be careful not to be “too physical” or “too tough”, for fear of people questioning their sexuality (Cashmore).

Homophobia in athletics impacts many aspects of life such as one’s career, family and a team dynamic. Coaches and players are forced to stay in the closet for fear of loosing one’s job or spot on the team. There is often a double standard that exists in the idea that heterosexual coaches and players can talk and display their “straight” lifestyle, but homosexual coaches can’t put a picture of their partner on their desk. In Sheryl Swoops’s coming out article in ESPN, she explained that she “(was) tired of having to hide (her) feelings about the person (she) cares about.” She also commented “What really (irritated) (her) is when people talk about football, baseball and the NBA, you don't hear all of this talk about the gay guys playing. But when you talk about the WNBA, then it becomes an issue. Sexuality and gender don't change anyone's performance on the court.” She is right in the idea that homosexuality does not influence one’s athletic ability and one should not be judged because of their personal life. Athletes all the time are put in the lime light, by the media, when they become involved in a sex scandal, but never is their job in jeopardy or do their teammates alienate them from the rest of the team.

Fear of being cast as a supporter or an actual lesbian or gay person has forced some to be homophobic among their own piers within the realm of athletics. Laurie Priest who is an openly gay athletic director at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts says that "Statistics say that about 10 percent of the population is gay or lesbian. So it's many more people than we realize. People who are gay and lesbian are suffering in silence, and so are people who are not gay but are terrified of being labeled gay if they acknowledge that homophobia is a problem.”
One coach in particular named Rene Portland, who coached at Penn State for 27 years, was outwardly known not to accept lesbians on her team. She said in an interview, “I will not have it in my program. I bring it up and the kids are so relieved and the parents are so relieved. But they would probably go without asking the question...
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