Is sport inherently homophobic?

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The question of homophobia in sports is something that will always be hard to prove or disprove. Image by: David Michael Morris
The question of homophobia in sports is something that will always be hard to prove or disprove. Image by: David Michael Morris

The recent crackdown on the LGBT community in Russia, along with the recent ban imposed on the planned gay rights parade in Serbia has brought angry finger-pointing from the vast majority of western society.

But when one of the biggest social norms (sport) in western society is examined for homophobia, should the finger really be pointing towards a mirror?

The four most popular professional sports in the US are Football (NFL), Baseball (MBA), Basketball (NBA) and Ice Hockey (NHL). These four sports have a combined annual attendance of 130 million people.

The four most popular leagues – Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A – from the most popular sport in the world, football, generate an annual attendance of 45.5 million people.

That is a combined figure of 175.5 million people visiting stadiums yearly to watch these sports – yet alone the billions of people that view them across the world.

The most recent Super Bowl had a television audience of 164.1 million viewers. That puts the sheer volume of people who consume these sports on a yearly basis into perspective.

But how pro-homosexual are these sports?

Jason Collins became the first openly gay sportsman of the four major US sports when he announced his sexual persuasion earlier this year. And despite big-name NBA stars such as Kobe Bryant congratulating Collins on his decision, the NBA centre is finding a new team hard to come by.

Collins was a free agent after the 2012-13 season, but was expected to be picked-up in free agency, though he has yet to find a suitor for his skills.

Ironically, Bryant was fined $100,000 by the NBA in 2011 for a gay slur that commissioner David Stern called “offensive and inexcusable.”

The highest grossing, and most popular US sport – NFL – has an extremely poor history when it comes to homophobic behavior from its stars.

Prior to the 2013 Super Bowl, San Francisco 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver said, “I don’t do the gay guys, man. I don’t do that, Ain’t got no gay people on the team. They gotta get up outta here if they do. Can’t be with that sweet stuff.”

As idiotic as these comments were, they seem even more so when you consider that Culliver just so happens to play for a team based in the gay capital of America.

Culliver later apologized, but his statements summed up what seems to be the unspoken consensus in sport.

Former 49ers running back Garrison Hearst said, “I don’t want any faggots on my team. I know this might not be what people want to hear, but that’s a punk. I don’t want any faggots in this locker room,” when asked on his opinion of former NFL defensive tackle Esera Tuaolo publicly outing his sexuality.

Baseball has also seen vile hate-statements from players. Pitcher Julian Tavarez called the San Francisco fans, “a bunch of assholes and faggots,” while pitcher John Rocker infamously painted the terrible picture of the New York transport system saying, “imagine having to take the 7 Train to the ballpark…next to some queer with AIDS”.

Homophobic statements are not just specific to the professional sports. The college Ole Miss is currently investigating some of its football players after allegations that they made gay slurs during a play in which one of the characters comes out as gay.

The most famous case involving sport in Europe was that of former Brighton player Justin Fashanu. Fashanu revealed in an interview with The Sun that he was a homosexual. His brother, John Fashanu did an interview later with The Gay Times and claimed that his brother “was offered even more by others who wanted him to stay in the closet. No club has offered him a full-time contract since the story first appeared.”

Most professional athletes come out when they are finished their career, or when it is coming to the end. Those are the few who  must be credited for their bravery, but as of now it would seem that the stimga attached to gays is still rampant in sport.

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