Homophobia in Sports

Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports

Well, that escalated quickly.

On Saturday night, NBA Twitter and the LGBTQ+ community were put into a frenzy in response to a plethora of accusations aimed at Washington Wizards center Dwight Howard. While I don’t want to give too much attention to these accusations, due to a lack of evidence proving these claims true, the key points were focused on Howard’s alleged sexual preference and his alleged threats made in response to him being possibly outed.

I first caught wind of this story like many other NBA fans, through memes and gifs on NBA Twitter. As a lifelong Lakers fan (still salty about Howard’s departure in the summer of 2013) and an ignorant straight male, I initially laughed at many of the memes placed onto my Twitter feed, as I often would when seeing any NBA related memes while wasting away precious sleep time. But quickly, the surplus of jokes lost their humor and some Tweets even conveyed blatant homophobia.   

Homophobia and transphobia are nothing new in the sports world (or the world in general). We’re not too far removed from a very similar situation involving retired NBA player Ray Allen in 2017. We’re not even 30 years removed from Magic Johnson receiving applause for stating he’s “far from a homosexual” on The Arsenio Hall Show. Aside from Jason Collins in 2013 (when approaching retirement), there has not been an openly gay player in the NBA. In the NFL, seven players have come out as gay after retirement, and Michael Sam, the first openly gay male to be drafted in 2014, didn’t even make it to a regular season game. In the MLB, there has been a larger sample size of gay athletes in the sport, but many faced plenty of pushback for it.

While there has been plenty of progress made in women’s professional sports, openly gay male professional athletes are few and far between. In the hyper-masculine world of sports that pushes toughness and machismo into the minds of boys at a young age, this shouldn’t be surprising. Backlash from fans, opponents, and teammates alike is probably something many closeted pros have feared since the beginning of professional sports itself. Now in 2018, three years after gay marriage being legalized in all 50 states, those fears are still being proven true on social media. Even if you aren’t homophobic or transphobic, and your mindset is similar to what mine was when ignorantly liking insensitive memes before doing some research, you might be unintentionally adding to an issue that isn’t brought to light enough.

Here are some numbers I’ll leave for you to think about:

  • 33% of students who identified as gay, lesbian, and bisexual admitted to being bullied as opposed to 17% of students who identified as heterosexual in a 2017 study (CBC)
  • In 2017, at least 29 transgender people died from fatal violence and there have been at least 22 transgendered people murdered in 2018. (HRC)
  • More than half of transgender male teens who participated in the survey reported attempting suicide in their lifetime, while 29.9 percent of transgender female teens said they attempted suicide. Among non-binary youth, 41.8 percent of respondents stated that they had attempted suicide at some point in their lives. (HRC)

Some of you may have read those statistics and said, “but what does that have to do with me retweeting a meme?” You were just enjoying the humor that Twitter provides nightly. You might not give a shit about the sexual preferences of others, you just laughed and liked the Tweet without even thinking about it. But what if one of your closeted followers, or friend even, saw this and now feels even more uncomfortable to live his or her truth? That’s not something that went through my mind when I was liking and retweeting those memes, but now it is. I’m not telling you to change your values, or how you should run your social media accounts, but I am asking you to at least consider how these jokes and our culture may be preventing others from feeling the freedom that we take for granted.

If sports are about bringing people together, that should include all walks of life.   

Here are a few articles I read that seemed relevant to the topic but I couldn’t really weave in, but are still interesting/informative reads, nonetheless:

Author: jonathankermah

I write and podcast about music and basketball. Check out my work at Amherst Wire, Hold My Drink Sports, and Mugatunes.

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