Last night, the American gossip website Mediatakeout splashed the provactive pics of NFL player Kerry Rhodes embracing his male assistant. Immediately, people began speculating if Rhodes is the first gay NFL player to come out. However, Rhodes told TMZ he is not gay as he attempted to squash the gay rumours. The fact that Rhodes felt the need to announce his heterosexuality is not surprising. The problem is the intense media attention about this elusive gay male athlete means the general public is now paying close attention ttrying to figure out who these gay athletes are. This just puts even more pressure on the closeted athletes to remain in the closet.
Although the mainstream North American media want a gay male athlete from the NFL, NHL, NBA, or MLB to come out I am not sure if it is going to happen. There are numerous arguments as to why a top male athlete has not come out. The gay community is also to blame because we place so much of our expectations on gay celebrities. We forget that gay celebrities are also people they have flaws, they aren’t perfect, yet we expect them to live up to our impossible unrealistic standards.
For instance, Robbie Rogers the young American soccer player came out as gay a few months ago on his blog. However, on Queerty, Towelroad, and other gay blogs Rogers was attacked and called a coward because he refused to be the gay Jackie Robinson. Rogers told The Guardian, and the New York Times that there is a pack mentality in the sports lockerooms. The heterosexual men use gay slurs, and make jokes about homosexuals. Rogers doesn’t want to deal with the homophobia and I can’t blame the man. Who would want to be subjected to abuse? Rogers is also worried about fans in soccer giving him a hard time when he is competing. This is probably going to happen if a gay man does come out in the NFL, NHL, NBA, and MLB. When the first gay male athlete comes out it is going to be a mixed response. Some people are going to be supportive while others are going to be homophobic.
Meanwhile, female athletes are already coming out and declaring they are lesbians yet they are treated with such disregard and disrespect. In Nigeria, there is new controversy that their soccer Federation is screening out lesbian athletes from joining the women’s soccer team. In North America, lesbian athletes and coaches in women’s basketball also experience discrimination.
Last year, Megan Rapinoe a top American female soccer player came out declaring she is a lesbian yet there was hardly any media attention. Rapinoe brave decision to come out was treated like an afterthought, as though it didn’t matter. Why are courageous lesbian athletes treated with such disdain as though they don’t matter? Rapinoe’s decision to come out is amazing, she’s not afraid of speaking out about homophobia in sports but because she’s a woman she’s treated as inferior by the sports media.
The misogyny of the mainstream sports media is often ignored about the struggles and contributions of lesbian athletes. In professional tennis the only players coming out are the lesbians not the gay men. In modern tennis history numerous lesbians have come out such as Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King, Amelie Mauresmo, Renee Stubbs, Gigi Fernandez, Conchita Martinez, and Lisa Raymond. Lesbians are treated with respect on the WTA Tour. However, on the ATP men’s tennis tour no gay man has come out since Bill Tidlen in the 1920s.
Even though, professional tennis is an individual sport the gay male tennis players on the ATP Tour are not coming out. The question remains why?
The unknown is a barrier for the gay male athletes, nobody knows what the reaction of sponsors, agents, media, fans, are going to be. Since nobody wants to take the first step to come out the closet door remains firmly shut. The internet is also a lightning rod of homophobia in the fan forums such as ESPN, Bleacher Report, CBS Sports the homophobia is intense. The
core message of the homophobes online is they want a don’t don’t tell policy to remain intact. The homophobes believe if a gay male athlete comes out he’s being selfish, taking attention away from the team and coming out in order to obtain media attention. This argument is weak because homosexuality is still viewed as being private while heterosexuality is treated as public in society. Heterosexual male athletes broadcast their girlfriends, wives, children, talk about their marriages, their love lives to the media. Meanwhile, the gay male athletes have to hide their sexual orientation in order to maintain the peace.
The homophobic comments on blogs are adamant they will not accept a gay male athlete. This homophobia online is often ignored in the press. The subliminal message is masculinty and homosexuality are like oil and water they don’t mix. A gay male athlete would challenge the homophobia that a gay man cannot be masculine and cannot excel in professional sports.
The closeted gay male athletes of course, read the sports websites, they know some sports fans are homophobic and this is probably one of the reasons they remain in the closet.
Another point to consider is, maybe these gay male athletes don’t want to be the gay Jackie Robinson? Maybe, these gay male athletes don’t want the intense media and public attention? Think about it, a gay man who is closeted can live his life discreetly he can date whomever he wants, and nobody knows.
It is interesting that the gay activism in the NFL have been the heterosexual allies such as Chris Kluwe and Brendan Ayanbadjeo. Ayanbadjeo was criticized by the gay media when he announced last week that up to four gay NFL players might come out at the same time. I believe the gay media attacking Ayanbadjeo is counterproductive because he has been very passionate and vocal about gay rights. Ayanbadjeo didn’t have to speak out about homophobia in the NFL he could have kept his mouth closed and followed the status quo.
Sometimes the gay community we are our own worse enemy. I think the gay male athletes are cognizant that if they do come out the gay community is going to put so much pressure on these men to become gay activists. Robbie Rogers has already illustrated that it isn’t fair to expect so much from a gay male athlete. All these guys want to do is compete, play sports, make their money and be the best they can be. The media, the gay community, and the general public need to dial down their expectations of gay athletes.