How Sports is Helping Gay Athletes — And Vice Versa

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  • Monday April 29, 2024
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How Sports is Helping Gay Athletes — And Vice Versa

Sports has not always been as positive about the LGBTQ community. That's not to say that there have not been gay athletes, gay fans, or even positive messages and stories coming from the sports world. However, the more stereotypical view of sports has always been more negative when it comes to LGBTQ issues.

Many will have bad memories of sports at school and those experiences will have put off many for life. But things are getting better and there are visibly more gay fans getting involved in the running of sports, the reporting of games, and even using California betting apps to back their favorite teams.

Sports seems overwhelmingly pro-LGBTQ these days, with many initiatives and programs designed to support our communities and create better awareness in others. We thought we would celebrate some of those movements, as well as suggest a few things the sports world might want to consider to make things even more inclusive for all.

Athletes Speaking Out

It was only in 2021 that we had an openly gay athlete in all of the big four US sports. There had been openly gay athletes in individual sports before then, of course, as well as in smaller sports. But it seemed like a big deal that football, hockey, baseball, and basketball all had openly gay athletes at the highest level of the game.

But surely a sole openly gay athlete in an entire league is not something that should be celebrated too widely? As welcoming as that fact is, there is a need for more top athletes to be vocal and visible on their own terms, even if it is heartening to see Megan Rapinoe becoming such a figurehead for soccer in the US and Carl Nassib becoming so popular after coming out as the first openly gay NFL player.

Many sports athletes have waited until their playing careers have ended before coming out — and it is a perfectly reasonable way of thinking when their livelihood may be at risk. With more visibility, there will be greater acceptance and the more gay athletes currently playing the game are regarded as role models, the better the sports world — and wider society — will be.

Gay Sports Clubs

The first gay sports club was formed in Cologne, Germany in 1980 and the numbers have been on the increase ever since. Set up with the idea of opening sports to communities that felt excluded previously, these clubs have provided a safe space for many gay athletes to do what they love.

There has been hostility, of course, and even criticism about a kind of segregation of gay sports. But the counterargument is usually that the clubs are not restrictive in their selection and recruitment policies, and that there would be no need for a gay sports club if the wider sports world was more accepting in the first place.

These clubs have helped break down barriers for gay athletes and fostered the idea of sports as a place that does not have to be wholly heterosexual. As much as professional sports athletes being visible is needed, the opportunity for non-professionals to feel accepted and safe playing sports is vital.

League Initiatives

Fortunately, we have come beyond the days of professional leagues shunning LGBTQ athletes, or pretending that they don't exist. Although there is still much that could be done there have been a range of pro sports initiatives that have made headlines around the world.

Professional soccer players wearing rainbow-colored shoelaces in England's Premier League is a very high-profile way of promoting inclusivity and showing that intolerance will not be tolerated. Individual sports athletes, such as cricket's Joe Root calling out homophobia on live TV is welcomed but the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) becoming part of the Stonewall Diversity Champion scheme can have a longer-lasting effect.

Respecting Individuals

As in all areas of life and society, as much as greater visibility of gay athletes is to be applauded, there is still the need to respect the rights of individuals as a priority. Different people have different ideas of how they want to do things and that means that it must always be down to the individual when it comes to coming out — especially sports athletes who are currently playing.

Hopefully, the experiences ofathletes like Megan Rapinoe and Carl Nassib will inspire others to be more visible in the future. We already know that kind of visibility is a lifesaver for many younger children and amateur athletes. Greater visibility will always result in greater acceptance of LGBTQ involvement in sports.

Work to Be Done

The days of media witch-hunts when it comes to an athlete's sexuality seem to be over. Surveys of players routinely show that a teammate coming out would not alter views inside the locker room and the majority of the limited evidence to hand shows that the fans would be supportive too.

Women's sports has traditionally endured fewer problems with anti-LGBTQ sentiment, with openly gay athletes in the WBNA and NWSL, as well as in sports like tennis, accepted as the norm. Men's sports still seems to have a way to go but more openly athletes and more pro sports initiatives would undoubtedly help all gay athletes, whatever level they play at.