Universal acceptance of the LGBTQIA+ community is growing, but some believe the sports world is lagging in acceptance of its athletes.
Those who identify as gay or straight agree that sports unite everyone. So what difference does it make if athletes contribute to their team’s success, and they like those of the same sex as them?
Avid sports fan and Norma Ordonez says being gay is not a weakness. It’s just the opposite.
“For example, people are gender fluid (or flexible), isn’t flexibility an important part of athleticism? Or strength,” says Ordonez. “Many people associate being gay/queer with weakness when in reality these people could be way more mentally tough because of all the things they have had to go through, and that is something I feel is super important in sports.”
According to a summary conducted in 2018 by Outsport, almost 90% consider homophobia, particularly transphobia, in sport to be a problem.
82% of athletes have witnessed homo-/ transphobic language in sport in the last 12 months.
33% of those remain closeted.
But there are two athletes of a select few who defied that stat and became an immediate inspiration to others.
Megan Rapinoe, co-captain of the 2019 Women’s World Cup championship team, came out as gay in 2012 in an interview.
According to FIFA, 1.12 billion people glued their eyes to watch their favorite soccer teams play, including 82.18 million people who tuned into the USA vs. Netherlands final match, a new record. The World Cup is one of the world’s most-watched sporting events. Her story was heard by millions.
“I think we knew that this win, if we were able to win, was gonna be bigger than soccer but that moment just solidified everything,” she said. “This World Cup win is so much more than what was on the field.”
Sports fan and Nike employee Darnel Lopez believes sports give an unintentional platform for those who identify as LGBTQIA+.
He hopes that big-time athletes can use that platform to promote being who they are and not be ashamed of it.
“I think sports have done a decent job accepting and normalizing being LGBTQIA+,” Lopez said. “They've helped create a platform to spread the message of equality worldwide, they’ve helped promote Pride Month and donated to organizations and communities that promote LGBTQIA+. I still believe that it’s a good start, but sports has such a far reach that more needs to be done. Two of the most famous female athletes in the world, Megan Rapinoe and Sue Bird, are a couple and use their platform to spread that message. They’ve partnered with Nike, Uninterrupted, Bleacher Report, ESPN, and more to promote being yourself, no matter who you are.”
For the other football, the NFL is a league that has lasted over 100 years with only 13 players coming as gay or bisexual (via Outsport).
In 2014, Michael Sam made history by becoming the first openly gay player to be drafted in the NFL when he was selected in the seventh round by the St. Louis Rams.
He played the first three games of the preseason, putting up three sacks and 11 total tackles during his time.
After being released to clear roster space, the Dallas Cowboys signed him to the practice squad. He spent about three weeks on the team but never made it to the active roster.
After a stint in Canada with the Montreal Alouettes, where he was also the first openly gay player. According to an interview for The Observer, Sam said that Canada ruined his experience from football overall.
“Everyone was against me,” He said. “They chose not to shower because I was there and they wouldn’t have eye-contact with me.”
Sam eventually retired from the game in 2015 for mental health reasons and to be an LGBTQIA+ activist.
Sports fan Madelyn Metz said in an interview that the future is promising, but it is still up to everyone to fight.
“I think, especially over these last few years, it’s been really encouraging to bring what is going on in the world into sports,” Metz said. “It’s encouraging to see the players across all different sports and backgrounds come together. Even when the leagues/franchises are not. I think they need to keep up what they’re doing and stay pushing for equal treatment.”
An Op-ed by Daniel Ines