Saturday, May 04, 2013

Homophobia In the Locker Room

T.J. Graham (Buffalo Bills)
But for the harm they do to others, the macho types who seemingly need to prove their own manliness - usually to themselves, first and foremost - by wanton displays of homophobia.  I have yet to meet a straight man who is comfortable with his own sexuality who needs to use displays of homophobia to bolster his own sense of adequacy and normality.  Yes, Jason Collins has come out, but we continue to see display of homophobia from assholes like Atlanta Falcons corner back Asante Samuel who had to whine about Collins "flaunting" is sexuality.  As if the straight pro athletes don't flaunt theirs.  An op-ed in the Washington Post by Patrick Burke, the a founder of the You Can Play Project and a scout with the Philadelphia Flyers, looks at the continuing problem of players like Samuel.  Here are highlights:

In the same week that much of the country was congratulating Washington Wizards center Jason Collins for coming out as the first openly gay male athlete on a major league sports team, I met with a National Hockey League player about why tweeting “no homo” is unacceptable, and I addressed a Major League Soccer team whose player had taunted an opponent with an anti-gay slur.

While many sports fans were shocked by the ignorance of Miami Dolphin Mike Wallace, who questioned, right after Collins came out, why any man would be gay when there are “all these beautiful women in the world,” I just sighed. Wallace’s question wouldn’t even make the top 10 list of ignorant things I’ve been asked by professional athletes in the past year.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m thrilled for Collins. As a straight guy, I can’t imagine how free he must feel to start living on his own terms. I also have huge admiration for what he is doing. He’s both a role model and a reference point for understanding what it can mean to be gay.

What Collins is not, unfortunately, is a sign that professional sports have gotten over their confusion and concern about gay athletes.

People talk a lot about the testosterone-fueled culture of sports, but I think this problem has more to do with insularity. .   .   .   . male athletes end up being behind in their sexuality education.

[My late younger brother] Brendan was patient with me, answered my stupid questions and got me to see the locker room through his eyes. He helped me realize what anti-gay slurs, tossed around casually, sound like to a closeted athlete. He helped me appreciate how much focus and energy it takes to hide who you are.

The questions [from straight athletes], too, are remarkably similar from one place to the next. The most common one I hear: “Will he look at me in the shower?” I say no. After that, it’s often: “I’m Christian. How do I deal with this?” I suggest that treating those around you with respect is a central tenet of Christianity. The hope is that providing a space to ask questions will clear up the confusion and alleviate the concerns.

I also always speak alongside a LGBT athlete, so that the voices most affected can help drive the discussion and so that it’s not so abstract. Players may think they don’t want a gay teammate. But if they see someone who is a great athlete and fun to hang out with — and who happens to be gay — they might change their minds.

The sports world is about as politically incorrect as you can get, and it always will be. Collins’s teammates will make fun of him for being gay. And that’s a good thing. If his teammates weren’t cracking jokes at his expense, that would mean they were uncomfortable about his coming out and felt the topic was off-limits. The usual banter is much better than silence.

But the key is understanding the difference between joking that reinforces team bonding and language that offends. Until that’s clear, I’ll keep going from going from city to city, team to team, league to league, making the long walk down the locker room hallway to a roomful of athletes with questions. I’ll fight to be patient, no matter how absurd the questions may seem.

Kudos to Burke and his efforts to end homophobia.


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