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Sports: Gay Male  
 
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The Future

Neither Bean nor Johnson were stars in their sports, and their stories became public only after their competitive athletic careers were over. This familiar pattern has existed since Kopay first told his story in 1975.

In the major North American team sports of football, baseball, basketball and hockey, plus in individual sports such as tennis and golf, not a single athlete had come out as gay during his career as of November 2000. The same also holds true for prominent athletes in major college sports.

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At the 2000 Summer Olympics there were six openly homosexual athletes, but only one of them--U.S. diver David Pichler--was male.

Bean and Kopay, speaking at a San Francisco symposium on gays in sports in March 2000, were not optimistic that this situation will change any time soon. There is still too great a stigma attached to homosexuality in the male locker room, they said, and too great a fear that disclosure would cost an athlete dearly in salary, endorsements, and fan support.

The example of professional football player Esera Tuaolo's widely publicized coming out on HBO's "Real Sports" in October 2002 may give some cause for optimism. As with other elite athletes, Tuaolo, who played in the 1990s with the Green Bay Packers, the Minnesota Vikings, and the Atlanta Falcons, waited until he had retired from active participation in football before he told his story of the pain he experienced in the closet, including feelings of depression and loneliness, even thoughts of suicide. His announcement received a great deal of attention and elicited mostly positive comments from former teammates.

Others, however, hinted darkly at the violence that would be directed toward an openly gay professional football player, and San Francisco 49ers running back Garrison Hearst gratuitously proclaimed, "I don't want any faggots on my team," a remark that he apologized for after it sparked an uproar in the gay and lesbian community of San Francisco.

A similar reaction greeted the coming out of National Basketball Association player John Amaechi, who did so in 2007, four years after his retirement.

During his playing career, Amaechi was aware of speculation about his sexual orientation. He even called his homosexuality "an open secret" among sports writers; nevertheless, he did not make any public declaration about it because of possible negative reaction from other players or coaches. "It would be like an alien dropping down from space," he said. "There'd be fear, then panic. They just wouldn't know how to handle it."

After retiring, Amaechi returned to his native England, where he works as a commentator on the weekly telecast of an NBA game and heads the ABC Foundation, which builds sports centers and offers mentoring and athletic programs for children.

Of Amaechi's coming out, his publicist, Howard Bragman (who also represents two prominent lesbian athletes, basketball star Sheryl Swoopes and golfer Rosie Jones), said that Amaechi is "an activist for a lot of different causes and thought it was silly that he wasn't an activist for the LGBT community, so he decided there was no reason for him to stay in the closet."

While reaction to Amaechi's coming out was mostly positive, former NBA player Tim Hardaway used the occasion to announce his homophobia. "You know, I hate gay people, so I let it be known. I don't like gay people and I don't like to be around gay people," he told a Miami radio station, and proceeded to obsess about having gay players in the locker room. In response, superstar players Shaquille O'Neal and Charles Barkley condemned Hardaway's comments. After he was publicly rebuked by NBA commissioner David Stern, Hardaway issued a half-hearted apology.

Still, the fact remains that active players, at least on the major competitive level, are reluctant to come out. Sports is still the final closet for gay men in society.

In the popular imagination, the terms "gay" and "sports fan" seem like oxymorons. But this particular stereotype--like many others--is inaccurate. Gay men have not only participated in athletics to a far greater degree than is acknowledged, but they follow sports with the same intensity as their heterosexual counterparts.

Not only are there specialized websites devoted to gays in particular sports, such as Rainbow Ice (www.plover.com/rainbowice), which follows gays in figure skating, but also Outsports.com (www.outsports.com), a website launched in 2000 for gay fans and athletes, which attracts tens of thousands of hits each month.

The popularity of such sites help disprove the theory that gay men are not interested in sports. Lively discussions on Outsports about all aspects of sports by a diverse readership demonstrate that love of athletics is shared by gay and straight men alike.

Jim Buzinski

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arts >> Overview:  Sports: Lesbian

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Fears and misconceptions about transgendered and intersexed athletes abound.

arts >> Amaechi, John

Closeted throughout his professional basketball career, John Amaechi is the first player from the National Basketball Association to acknowledge that he is gay; since coming out, he has become an eloquent spokesman for glbtq rights.

arts >> Bean, Billy

Former baseball player and current television personality, Billy Bean was closeted throughout his major league career but has since become a proud advocate for glbtq rights.

arts >> Bingham, Mark

Mark Bingham, San Francisco businessman and rugby enthusiast, is believed to have helped avert the crash of United Airlines Flight 93 into a populated landmark on September 11, 2001.

arts >> Boitano, Brian  

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arts >> Burke, Glenn

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arts >> Cranston, Toller

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arts >> Galindo, Rudy

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social sciences >> National Center for Lesbian Rights

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arts >> Navratilova, Martina

One of the greatest tennis players in history, Martina Navratilova has become an outspoken supporter of gay and lesbian rights.

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At the height of his athletic career, Australian rugby superstar Ian Roberts made the courageous decision to come out as a gay man.

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In 2005 basketball star and three-time Olympic champion Sheryl Swoopes publicly came out as a lesbian and acknowledged her committed relationship with another woman.

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Olympic medalist Mark Tewksbury was closeted throughout his competitive swimming career, but since coming out has become an advocate for glbtq rights.

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Acclaimed Welsh rugby star Gareth Thomas is among the small number of professional athletes who have found the courage to come out as gay at the height of their careers.

arts >> Tilden, William "Big Bill"

One of the best tennis players of all time, William "Big Bill" Tilden achieved spectacular success on the courts only to suffer an equally spectacular fall when his homosexuality and penchant for underage boys became known.

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arts >> Weir, Johnny

Flamboyant figure skater Johnny Weir won three United States Championships and twice represented his country as an Olympian; although there had been widespread speculation that he was gay for several years, he did not come out publicly until 2011.


    Bibliography
   

Bayless, Skip. Hell Bent: The Inside Story of the "Win or Else" Dallas Cowboys. New York: HarperCollins, 1996.

Deford, Frank. Big Bill Tilden: The Triumphs and the Tragedy. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1975.

Galindo, Rudy, with Eric Marcus. Icebreaker: The Autobiography of Rudy Galindo. New York: Pocket Books, 1997.

Kopay, David, and Perry Deane Young. The David Kopay Story: An Extraordinary Self-Revelation. New York: Arbor House, 1977.

Lipsyte, Robert. "Icon Recast: Support for a Gay Athlete.'' New York Times (April 30, 2000): 1.

_____. "A Major League Player's Life of Isolation and Secret Fear.'' New York Times: (September 6, 1999): 1.

Louganis, Greg, with Eric Marcus. Breaking the Surface. New York: Random House, 1995.

Messner, Michael A., and Donald F. Sabo. Rethinking Masculinity: Sex, Violence and Power in Sports. Freedom, Calif.: The Crossing Press, 1994.

Mirza, Hassan. "Basketball's John Amaechi Comes Out." Gay.com. (February 7, 2007). www.gay.com/news/article.html?2007/02/07/1.

Pallone, Dave. Behind the Mask: My Double Life in Baseball. New York: Viking, 1990.

Roberts, Ian. "Interview." The Pink Paper (London) 423 (March 29, 1996): 4.

Woog, Dan. Jocks: True Stories of America's Gay Male Athletes. Boston: Alyson, 1998.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Buzinski, Jim  
    Entry Title: Sports: Gay Male  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated June 17, 2007  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/arts/sports_gay.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
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    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  
 

 

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