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Homosexuality In Sport

January 10, 2014 · Sam Hopkins

With the recent revelation of former Aston Villa and Everton midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger that he is openly gay, there has been somewhat of a media whirlwind discussing the current culture of sport and the difficulties of being a homosexual professional athlete.

He is one of an extremely small minority of footballers to come out as gay, the notable exceptions being former Leeds and United States player Robbie Rogers, and the tragic case of Justin Fashanu who retired in 1997 and took his own life three years later.

Tom Daley announced last year that he is in a relationship with a man, but the fact that he had to release a video to confess about his private life in order to avoid media scandal demonstrates that being homosexual is still viewed as being ‘different’ to our societal norms. A young man’s choice of sexuality making such national news is a sad insight into the inequalities and social pressures that gay athletes face on a regular basis when deciding to be honest.

While I commend both Hitzlspeger and Daley for their braveness and wish them the very best with their personal lives, I still worry that their openness has done little to change the perceptions of homosexuality ingrained within our society. Here at Loughborough, while there certainly would be no media frenzy over gay athletes, there is still a myriad of issues to overcome for players within some sports to be openly gay.

I am fully aware that this is not the case across the board; without wishing to stereotype it may be understood that being gay in female sports such as football or rugby is more widely accepted and normalized at Loughborough than for their male counterparts. If this is the case, then why?

Is it that for a woman to be gay she is therefore viewed in a more butch or masculine light, with desirable characteristics for football and rugby attributed towards her? Whereas for men being gay is sometimes viewed stereotypically as being feminine and camp, ostracizing an individual from the culture of masculinity that University sport can create?

We all like to think that we are tolerant individuals, that we would not change how we treat someone or our perceptions of them based on their sexuality. But what if it was your best friend, your housemate or your teammate who announced he or she was gay? Everyone is a liberalist until suddenly it affects them directly.  It shouldn’t matter in the slightest, but in some sporting cultures it seems there is still a taboo over homosexuality and an undercurrent of social homophobia that tells people being gay should be a hidden secret.

Furthermore, a gay athlete would have to consider the social issues of coming out and the way it affects their friendships and bonds within the team. Would people avoid changing next to you, or feel awkward near you in the showers?  These all seem like fairly silly and trivial matters, but I imagine that these are the fears and worries that gay people face when considering being open about their sexuality. Sex is such a huge part of University culture that it is hardly surprising that nobody wants to take that first stand and be the ‘other’ when you are part of a team.

For the gay athletes at Loughborough, I commend you and hope that a relaxed and equal sporting environment welcomed your sexuality. That is how it should be. I fear that this is not the case across the board though, and that as a culture, in Loughborough and on national and global levels, we are still a long way from the true social equality for gay people that professionals such as Hitzlsperger and Daley are fighting for.

Sam Hopkins

Sam Hopkins

Sport Editor
Sam is former Sport Editor of The Epinal.
Sam Hopkins
Sam Hopkins

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Posted by on January 10, 2014. Filed under Sport.
  • Phillipa Tube

    Wow. Really appreciate Sam’s sympathy. And that he understands how deeply traumatised our friends, housemates and team-mates are when they find out that someone they actually know and like is gay…

    “We all like to think that we are tolerant individuals, that we would not change how we treat someone or our perceptions of them based on their sexuality. But what if it was your best friend, your housemate or your teammate who announced he or she was gay? Everyone is a liberalist until suddenly it affects them directly.”

    Poor souls. How deeply tragic it must feel to find out your friend is gay. My thoughts are especially with those who have lost a female friend to the lesbian claws of the women’s football and rugby players of Loughborough.

    “A young man’s choice of sexuality making such national news is a sad insight into the inequalities and social pressures that gay athletes face on a regular basis when deciding to be honest.” Ah. Yes. I forgot sexuality was a choice. I wonder when the writer of this chose to be straight? Was it at a young age or was it a recent choice in light of all the social pressures these poor gay athletes face.

    One of THE worst pieces of “gay-rights” journalism I have ever read. Bigoted views disguised as caring for the plight of gay people.

    • Sam Hopkins

      Hi Phillipa.

      I apologise for my use of the word ‘choice’, I realise that this is not the case and that being gay or straight is just part of who you are. The point I was trying to make is that if our society was equal and completely tolerant, Tom Daley’s sexual orientation would not be a newsworthy matter, as no straight athletes feel the need to announce that they are in a heterosexual relationship.

      In regards to your first point, I think you have misunderstood slightly. I do not have much sympathy for people whose opinions change when they find out their friends/teammates are gay, but it is my opinion that this does happen and it is a problem. I am not stating that this is a universal reaction, many people are hugely supportive of friends and family members who are gay. But when deciding whether to be honest about their sexuality gay athletes are probably socially aware of the possible effects this can have on themselves and other peoples perceptions of them, and in a sporting culture this forces SOME athletes to hide their sexuality. I apologise if this was unclear.

      Lastly, I do not believe my views are bigoted in any way. A member of my family is gay and I have never looked at them any differently.

      Thank you for highlighting the error, and please continue to share your strong opinions

  • jan

    Well put Phillipa Tube. Sam obviously doesn’t have any gay friends who he has to”tolerate” or get changed next to with out the fear of getting perved on or touched up! Absolutely clueless

  • Anthony Nelson

    I didn’t think this article came across was bigoted. From what I gather, your (possibly poor) use of the word “choice” was not to imply sexuality is a choice, rather that he or she should HAVE the choice to let their sexuality be known? I think you’re highlighting a very real and culturally relevant issue. I believe the issue boils down to a general ignorance amongst some sportsmen who hold a stereotypical and misconceived views towards homosexuality in general.

    These views aren’t held only by sportspeople, but by ill-educated and narrow-minded people across society. Though Loughborough University is incredibly sport-orientated, it obviously also has a high calibre of intelligent and open-minded students. Sadly, that isn’t a reflection of all of society. Of course, there are educated and intelligent professional sportsmen out there, but, well,…anyway.

    Thomas Hitzlsperger and Tom Daley ‘coming out’ is a great step towards the right direction in highlighting that,actually , sexuality makes no difference and will hopefully highlight that no, gay guys don’t fancy every other guy and don’t intend to hit on them, yes, gay guys are perfectly capable of being lads — successful athletes — and so on. Homosexuality seems to be largely accepted and I believe it’s just a matter of time before it’s no longer a big deal in the sporting world, with thanks to those who chose to make the sexuality public (which is a bizarre notion in itself, who comes out as ‘straight’? Hopefully having to ‘come out’ will become a thing of the past, too).

    Although I wasn’t a member of any sport team myself, I made great friendships with people who were and my sexuality was never an issue. Some hadn’t really met many gay guys before, but their inquisitive curiosity about gay culture was by no means offensive.

    Jan: Sam encountered me a number of times and didn’t seen any more uncomfortable than anybody else subjected to my overbearing drunkenness! Alas Facebook – the definitive source of all friendship – indicates we are no longer friends, I doubt my sexuality was the motive for removing me. Hmph. :-p