In a time where there is growing support for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer rights and equality, the sports world has some catching up to do. While there is work being done by a number of athletes to support the LGBTQ community, homophobia is still a prevalent issue in the culture of sports.
Take the example of Michael Sam, Missouri defensive end and current NFL draft prospect who would become the first openly gay player in the NFL. In an ideal world, this wouldn’t be an issue for NFL owners and players. Despite the support that Sam has received for his brave actions, some NFL personnel are saying that this could affect his draft stock.
In an anonymous interview with Sports Illustrated, one NFL executive stated “I don’t think football is ready for [an openly gay player] just yet. In the coming decade or two, it’s going to be acceptable, but at this point in time it’s still a man’s-man game. To call somebody a [gay slur] is still so commonplace. It’d chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room.”
Former New York Jets head coach Herm Edwards also said that Sam would be “bringing baggage into the locker room.”
With NFL personnel making anonymous statements on how Sam’s sexual orientation will hinder his ability to have success in the league, this suggests that the problem could be even bigger than it seems. Clearly there are some people affiliated with the NFL that are not ready to accept an openly gay teammate or employee.
The prevalence of homophobia in the NFL can be further highlighted by looking back at former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe who has alleged that he lost his job largely due to the Management and Coaching Staff’s displeasure with his activism and advocacy for gay rights.
The attitudes of players such as former Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk, who has publicly spoken out in opposition to gay marriage, shows the potential for hostility that Sam needs to be prepared for coming into the league.
Though he will undoubtedly have to deal with hostility and opposition in the NFL, Sam will also have plenty of support coming into the league. There has been substantial public support for Sam via Twitter by current and former players including Deion Sanders, Kurt Warner and 2014 Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith.
Despite all this support, it’s clear that Sam’s road to success in the NFL will be more difficult now that he is openly gay. But perhaps there could be a silver lining.
His coming out will make things that much easier for other athletes who are in fear of coming out because of how it might affect their relationship with teammates and coaches — or their athletic careers in general.
Sam’s decision to be himself and live with the consequences will support others looking to do the same thing. The consequences remain to be seen, but hopefully Michael Sam can move the sports world one step closer to acceptance.
Another major step forward in the sports world learning to embrace homosexuality is the Brooklyn Nets’ signing of Jason Collins to a 10-day contract.
Collins is the first openly gay man to play in the NBA. While Collins came out at the conclusion of last season, he was a free agent and wasn’t signed until Feb. 23. Hopefully, Sam and Collins are just the beginning of a much needed change in sports — the elimination of homophobia.
As an athlete myself, I’ve seen a lot of change in terms of combating homophobia in sports. That being said, there are still times when I hear homophobic slurs in the locker room or at competitions. With that kind of hidden, private atmosphere people might think that their comments aren’t hurtful because a gay person isn’t hearing them.
In sports if we publicly support LGBT athletes but privately use insensitive homophobic language, we are not doing anything to remove homophobia from sports culture. If we want to promote acceptance, and remove homophobia from sports altogether, it’s up to athletes, coaches and fans to stand up against it.
This might seem like a lofty goal but it is attainable if we change our actions and words.