OK, so I have to admit I had to ask my colleagues whether NBA was basketball or baseball yesterday (still slightly embarrassed about that one – it’s basketball by the way), but it didn’t take away from my admiration for the bravery it must have taken for Jason Collins to come at this week. He is the first active major American sports league star to come out and his decision to do so has resulted in praise within and outwith the gay community across the world. Although he was already out to his family and close friends he said that the Boston bombings and his realisation that life can change in an instant gave him the motivation to do so publically (see here). John Amaechi, an ex-NBA player from England who came out several years ago, summed up his views on Collins’ decision to come out in a way that echoes what many have been saying on and offline “I think he is immensely brave. I think it’s a shame in this day and age he has to be immensely brave, but he is,”. The truth is you can count on one hand the number of high profile ‘out’ sports stars in the UK, US and elsewhere. This is what made Premiership footballer, Thomas Hitzlsperger’s, decision to come out a story that has made headlines around the world . A couple of notable exceptions of out sportstars include ex-Leeds United player Robbie Rogers who came out at the start of the year, announcing he was retiring from professional football at the same time, and Gareth Thomas, the Welsh Rugby player who came out in 2009.
Jason Collins – NBA player who came out this week
According to an article at the time Gareth Thomas ‘prayed he was straight’ and clearly struggled with his decision to come out. This, perhaps, isn’t a surprise given the homophobia associated with many top flight sports. Sports spaces from stadia to local pitches, bars, clubs and shops can be understood as sites where dominant notions of masculinity (i.e. those privileged in society e.g. heterosexuality, violence, toughness, courage etc. – see here for more info).This is combined with the influence of sports programmes and commentary on TV and radio means that many sports can be seen as oppressive to gay men who (might) fail to meet the demands of dominant, privileged masculinities. Often it is difficult to be openly gay and into ‘masculine’ sports such as football, rugby and basketball and homophobia is commonplace (e.g. see here). For these reasons many gay men are discouraged from seriously practicing these sports and those that do often find it easier to stay in the closet. This is exactly why Jason Collins’ decision to come out this week was such a courageous one.
Obviously homophobia is faced in all different situations and not just by those who play sports. One area that is important is the link between discrimination of gender and sexuality and sexual behaviour. Research has shown that there appears to be a connection between homophobia (internalised and otherwise) and risky sexual behaviour (for example see here ). This is one of the themes that the GMI sexual health programmes, such as counselling and mentoring, commonly address as part of their HIV prevention work. For more information on our programmes please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 7160 0941.
The views above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the GMI Partnership.