No one is really surprised when a musician comes out of the closet, I guess. It’s even less surprising when actors come out of the closet. We’ve still internalized all of the stereotypes from high school to the extent where we still think of actors as theater geeks at some level, and think of musicians as chorus geeks. In all fairness, that’s what a lot of actors and musicians were when they were in high school.
However, we have our stereotypes about the jocks, too, and one of the unifying factors is that they are aggressively and even evangelically heterosexual. The gay star athlete shocks more people than the gay star of the school play, even if it’s the exact same person.
This is one of those very gendered stereotypes, of course. I know that one of the stereotypes about all female athletes is that they’re lesbians. Bisexual people are still often invisible in the minds of a lot of folks, including LGBT folks who forget what the ‘B’ stands for. Still, LGBT people in general are still fighting for visibility in culture, so it makes sense to help us recognize the LGBT people who have managed to succeed in athletics in general.
One person who would agree with me about the weird gendered disparity with sports homophobia is Megan Rapinoe. Megan Rapinoe is a soccer player who was talented enough to make it to the Olympics. She is also a lesbian who has been with her loving girlfriend for years. She said that her teammates were fairly accepting of her, and that this isn’t the sort of thing that usually stays secret among female athletes.
She went on to say that it is much different for male athletes. I also wonder if it’s different for professional athletes who don’t play team sports. They only have to be at the mercy of their fans and their coaches. Team sports amplify everything. If you get along great with your team, it makes your career so much better. If you’re at odds with them, then every problem gets so much worse.
NBA star Joe Amaechi has set an example for LGBT athletes in many ways. We have to stand up for one another, and we have to call out homophobia when we see it happen or it’s still going to be normalized in the world of professional athletics. When Kobe Bryant used a slur against gay people, Joe Amaechi criticized him for it. This is Kobe Bryant we’re talking about, and he is clearly a terrible person to begin with. I doubt he’s listen to anyone calling him out on anything. The thing is, Joe Amaechi’s criticism wasn’t really aimed at Kobe Bryant. It was aimed at the culture at large.
Joe Amaechi spoke to the admirable fact that it is no longer socially acceptable to use racial slurs in the public sphere, and that as a black man, he doesn’t have to put up with them as much any more. However, he still has to put up with homophobic slurs from people like Kobe Bryant, and he contends that those should be just as politically unacceptable. We need more LGBT folks and our allies to have the courage to say things like that.
One of the great things about coming out in the world of sports is that every single time someone does it, it makes it that much more common and it will make it that much easier for people to do it later on. When Ellen came out back in the 1990’s, it was a scarier time to be openly gay, but you could still be openly gay. Before then, it was even harder. Today, celebrities come out right and left, and it isn’t even newsworthy anymore. I’m hoping that we’ll get to the point where it is no longer newsworthy for professional athletes to come out as LGBT. We all know that plenty of them are. Society is finally becoming mature and compassionate enough to accept that reality.