Friday, November 27, 2009

Gay Athletes and The Closet

"I won an Olympic medal but even that made me feel like a fraud because inside I didn't feel like the boy next door that everybody thought I was. I was full of fears about what would happen if people found out. What would they say."
- Mark Tewksbury, on life in the closet as a gay athlete.

Tolerance in pro sport only inching ahead
Bill Lankhof writes:
In the mainstream sports world, it continues to be virtually impossible to be talented, respected and openly gay. Homosexuality has always carried the stigma of weakness. Sports is macho. True, there are a few openly gay or lesbian golfers or tennis players and figure skating seems awash in the tradition. But, even there, athletes often don't disclose their predilection until after they retire.

There are almost 700 players on NHL rosters, another 750 playing major-league baseball and 350 in the NBA. By society's standards that should equate into 100 to 150 gay athletes currently residing in those dressing rooms. But the next time one declares they are gay, it will be the first time.

In fact, they often go out of their way to distance themselves from the very idea. Baseball player Mike Piazza once called a news conference to announce he was NOT gay. Former Denver running back Garrison Hearst, in one of his more sensitive moments, declared: "I don't want any faggots on my team." And major-league baseball pitcher Todd Jones once told the Denver Post he didn't want any "gays" around. NFL quarterback Jeff Garcia found it necessary to quell rumours by announcing publicly that he was heterosexual. READ MORE

Gay Athletes: Edging Out of the Closet?
Kilian Melloy writes:
The son of former pro hockey player and current Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke has come out publicly as gay--and Burke has come out just as publicly in support of his son. Brendan Burke reportedly wants to pursue a management career in the sport in which his father excelled, first as a player and then as a manager (currently for the Toronto Maple Leafs). In today’s climate, that might just be possible; what’s more, in a few years’ time, it’s not unlikely that gay pro athletes will be more commonplace.

A Nov. 27 Toronto Sun article posted at 24 hours Vancouver cites Brendan Burke’s story, and goes on to quote Maple Leafs psychologist and consultant Paul Dennis, who offered an optimistic prognosis on the status of tolerance among the ranks of pro athletes. "If a player today wanted to be open about it, I would encourage it," Dennis told the Toronto Sun. "If a person chose to disclose [his homosexuality], a team would be supportive in today’s society," added Dennis, who also is a university professor of advanced sports psychology. "I think it would be good for the player and good for society. Twenty years ago, I probably wouldn’t have said that."

The article noted the seeming disparity between a growing acceptance of gays in mainstream culture and the stereotype of a reflexive homophobia in the sports world. But that stereotype may be falling out of sync with locker room reality. "There are very few [gay athletes] who are open," Dennis noted. "It has to do with the stereotype that athletes are obsessive with their virility, hard-nosed. People portray athletes as having this macho image. It really isn’t true. I’ve come across many who are incredibly tolerant, liberal and understanding. But for whatever [reason], they don’t want to disclose [their true sexuality]."