In America, we have openly gay politicians currently serving as elected officials, openly gay teachers in the classroom and, in certain denominations, openly gay pastors serving in the church. Though the fight for gay rights is far from over, it would seem that we’ve come quite a long way in the quest for equality.
So why is it that in the past four decades, there has not been a single basketball, baseball, hockey or football player who has come out as gay during his time as a professional athlete?
I doubt that this really surprises any of you. With gender stereotypes being what they are, how could it? To this day, a professional male athlete must be the embodiment of masculinity, the underlying definition of which still includes heterosexuality. Does this mean that homosexuality does not exist within the realm of professional sports? Of course not. It’s statistically impossible, which means that some of the athletic heroes we idealize have to hide who they are in order to pursue what they love.
I do not mean to trivialize the pain that countless other members of the LGBTQ community must suffer every day. It is not only professional athletes who feel the need to hide one of the most important parts of what defines them. However, homosexuality in athletics has been making news in the past few months, gaining a special amount of attention in Minnesota.
Chris Kluwe, a punter for the Minnesota Vikings, has been making headlines with his criticisms against the Minnesota marriage amendment, stating that he’d be willing to debate any politician who advocates otherwise. Early in September, Kluwe wrote an impassioned letter to Emmett C. Burns, Jr., a Maryland state delegate who condemned a Baltimore Ravens player for speaking out in favor of gay marriage. Burns had written to the Ravens’ owner asking him to “inhibit such expressions from your employee,” which Kluwe said showed “vitriolic hatred and bigotry” making him “ashamed and disgusted to think that [Burns is] in any way responsible for shaping policy at any level.”
Kluwe’s reaction, while wrought with rather strong language, seems to reflect the values of quite a few NFL players. Brendon Ayanbadejo, the Ravens player whom Emmett C. Burns, Jr. reprimanded, says that he and his teammates have “come to the conclusion that if you can play football and you’re a good person, then we don’t care what your orientation is, what your views on social issues are. If you’re a good person and a great football player, then it doesn’t matter.”
It shouldn’t matter. An athlete who comes out as gay would not suddenly become any less of an athlete. This is where our society’s ridiculous gender stereotypes come in. In the last century, most of the attention has focused on changing the way America views women. For the most part, this has been successful. Granted, women still get paid less than men, and there is still some existing inequality, but the idea that every single woman is destined for the life of a housewife has largely been dispelled. The notions that all women love pink, can’t open jars without assistance and can be assuaged with a bouquet of flowers are outdated. These characteristics do not define what it is to be feminine.
Thus, homosexuality should not be a trait that makes a man “less of a man.” A gay man is just as full of testosterone as a straight man. And while the media has typically portrayed gay men as well-dressed theater lovers, this does not mean that there aren’t gay men all across America who also love sports.
I understand that in order for homosexuality to be comfortably accepted within professional sports, we must overcome more than just traditional gender roles. It will be a long process, but consider the stakes. If professional athletes were able to comfortably express their sexual orientation, perhaps high school athletes would feel comfortable doing so as well. Perhaps children would be less inclined to bully those who are LGBTQ. Maybe this is all too idealistic.
But I think we could use a little healthy idealism.
Mira Sen ’15 firstname.lastname@example.org is from Batavia, Ill. She majors in political science and English.