Homosexuality in Sports: Then and Now by Amanda Kaebel

Much of sports today revolve around the heterosexual norms in society.  Sports such as football, boxing, basketball, and hockey are all known as “masculine” sports.  Most gay athletes that have come out waited until after retirement due to fear of not being able to not only receive certain endorsements, but also to be no longer able to play for their team.  Many people continue to have this idea that a heterosexual player is not “good” or “tough” enough to play, which the media plays an enormous role.  “The media culture plays a very powerful role in the constitution of everyday life, shaping our political values, gender ideologies, and supplying the material out of which people fashion their identities” (Kellner 1995, Nylund 172).  It is sad to see that homosexuality is still a huge topic in our culture today.


Billie Jean King was the first female tennis player to come out about her sexuality.  She was the best women’s tennis player in America of her time, but her career took a huge turn when she decided to come out that she was a lesbian.  She got much grief because people thought that she wasn’t “good” enough, but many soon realized that her sexuality had nothing to do with her talent.  In this video, she is shocked, but thrilled to see people of authority congratulating athletes coming out.  Although she believes that homosexuality in sports has come a long way, she still believes that there is more work to be done.  She believes that there are far more athletes that still want to come out, but either do not know how to, or are too afraid of what will happen if they do. I agree with Billie Jean King when she states that pro athletes need to encourage others and explain that they do not care about sexuality, so that there is a sense of comfortability in the sports world.  “One of the main aspects of traditional masculine homosociality involves men’s striving and competing for prestige and approval within their peer groups” (Wenner, 1998).


Barry Melrose states that men want to show how tough they are mentally and physically playing these sports and in a way, it shows their “tough” masculinity.  He also states that it would very tough to show their “macho” masculinity if they were to come out that they were gay.  Athletes who are willing to come out about their sexuality have to be courageous because not only will they be taunted by their fans and opponents, but their teammates as well.  As stated above, this is true because Billie Jean King dealt with this when she came out as a lesbian.  People have this horrible idea of homosexuality in their head, and some will do just about anything to stop it. “We learn when to laugh and when to cheer. A system of power and privilege thus conditions our pleasures so that we seek certain socially sanctioned pleasures and avoid others” (Kellner 1995, Nylund 176).

The biggest issue in gay athletes right now is Jason Collins.  Jason Collins is the first major sports player in the NBA to come out about his sexuality.  After playing twelve games last season for the Washington Wizards, he now remains unsigned.  Although Collins height and talent could be great for any NBA team, many are worried that there will be too much attention to him by the media. An unnamed executive stated, “He’s still good enough to play in the league, but when you throw in the ongoing media frenzy, most teams are going to decide it’s just not worth it.” (The Corner) NBA teams are more worried about the media making their team look bad, rather than have a player help them win a game.


Orlando Cruz on the other hand, is the first professional boxer to announce that he is gay.  In his statement, “I’ve been fighting for more than 24 years and as I continue my ascendant career, I want to be true to myself. I want to try to be the best role model I can be for kids who might look into boxing as a sport and a professional career. I have and will always be a proud Puerto Rican.  I have always been and always will be a proud gay man. I want to let the people see who I really am, to be free, to let people understand” (LA Times).  Cruz took a huge leap when deciding to come out with his sexuality because homosexuality is not permitted in his country Puerto Rico.  It is surprising to see how much support Cruz has received from his family and friends.  He has even been able to keep his endorsement deals.  “The gay community should have the same rights as the heterosexual community, and I want to be part of that movement to make that happen here,” Cruz said. “The fact of the matter is I’m happy. I did this for myself. I believe those two losses I had were part of this big distraction I was going through. It’s not there anymore. I’m glad I’m past that.”

Sexuality has come such a long way since the 1950s.  When Billie Jean King first came out about her sexuality, there was much hate between her fans and coaches, but not long after, people started to accept the woman that she was and that her sexuality has no effect on her tennis skills.  In one her interviews, Billie Jean King called it “unheard of” that the president and the first lady congratulated Jason Collins for coming out about his sexuality.  Although more professional athletes are starting to stand out about their sexuality, I think we still have a long way to come.  I think that sports teams and fans need to realize that a person’s sexuality does not affect their talent and that worrying about sexuality is the last thing to worry about.   I mean, isn’t winning what sports is about?




Bruschi, Tedy, Legler, Tim, and Melrose, Barry.  “Will Openly Gay Athletes Get Support?” ESPN. 13 Apr. 2013. Retrieved from YouTube. Web. 25 Oct. 2013.

“Cartoon: Who Will Be next out of the Crowded Closet?”  Washington Blade Americas Leading Gay News Source RSS.  Aug. 2013. Web. 25 Oct. 2013.

Johnson, Andrew. “NBA Teams Shying Away from Jason Collins over Potential Media Frenzy.” National Review Online- The Corner. 24 Oct. 2013. Web. 25 Oct. 2013.

Kellner, Douglas. Media Culture: Cultural Studies, identity, and politics between the modern and postmodern. 1995. Print. 22 Oct. 2013.

Nylund, David. “When in Rome: Heterosexism, Homophobia, and Sports Talk Radio.” Journal of Sport and Social Issues. 2004.Print. 22 Oct. 2013.

Pugmire, Lance. “Boxer Orlando Cruz Announces He’s Gay.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 04 Oct. 2012. Web. 25 Oct. 2013.

Wareing, Russell.  “Is the Premier League Ready for a Gay Professional Footballer to Come Out? World Soccer Talk. 13 May. 2013. Web. 25 Oct. 2013.

Wong, Curtis M. “Billie Jean King On Gay Athletes: It’s ‘Very Difficult’ To Come Out While Active In Sports.” The Huffington Post. 06 Aug. 2013. Web. 25 Oct. 2013.


  1. Amanda, I love what you have to say in this blog! I think that you and I expressed very similar views in regards to the progress and increased acceptance level that we have seen in accepting gay athletes, but it is unfortunate that there is currently no active gay player on a roster in the four major North American pro sports leagues. I talked about Jason Collins in my post as well, and I wish that he would get the chance to play for a team this season so we can see the reaction. Unfortunately, his age and skill set aren’t quite enough to overcome the possible media storm that would ensue once he is signed. I like to think that his teammates in the locker room and opposing teams would have nothing but respect for him though.
    Also, this ad, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8z7EOG8z_e0, promoted by the NBA and some of its players, shows the progress that Billie Jean King refers to. The ad talks about the inappropriate use of the word “gay” to mean dumb and stupid, and how it is offensive to gay people. Things like this can only help the progress in the culture of professional sports to accept a gay athlete if he were to come out. Hopefully we will be able to see someone else come out soon, and be judged by his on-field performance and his ability to help the team win games.

  2. I really liked your article. It’s always interesting to see how far “masculine” roles have progressed with accepting homosexual identities within. There are still many careers that are very hard to be open outside of sports; for example law enforcement. I’ve known a fair amount of gay men and women throughout various occupations that made them face the choice of pursuing the job they desired at the expensive of keeping their personal lives a secret. People don’t understand to what lengths these effects take their toll on the individuals living a lie. I was once speaking with an out lesbian DA and she told a story of an officer, who when forced with a situation that would expose his sexual identity, took his own life by shooting himself in his cruiser; I was really left wondering how people let things go this far. Also was harder to hear that the officer was the DA’s older brother. But in the world of sports part of ‘masculinity’, as I touch on in my post, is built around being ‘tough’. This idea that is verbally and sometimes physically beaten into the players. Name calling that usually is in association with sexuality or gender, and always using the opposite of being a heterosexual male as not being tough/being weak. This video shows just how some coaches do this and are supported not only by the players, kids here, but by the fans/parents. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DuaV6UKtP0s . I’m hoping there comes a day when things like this are just memories of the past we can laugh off as absurdities and idiocracies!

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