The difficulties of being LGBT in sports

A local high school football stadium has seen brighter days.

Story and photo by CARSON HUISKAMP

Many boys grow up hoping to become an All-Star like Lebron James or Aaron Rodgers.

Throwing the ball around with friends, they imagine they have just caught the game-winning pass at the Super Bowl, or made that buzzer-beating 3-pointer just before time ran out. Sprinting down their driveway in pure joy, they look around as the crowd around them screams and shouts their name in rejoice.

In a sense, every child is just like one another.

But when it comes to LGBT student-athletes, not every child is just like one another. And some members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community must examine the risks and dangers of coming out to the public, especially in sports.

“I think it’s just fear. Not knowing what they will be faced with, and especially not knowing themselves,” said Bernadette Bell, director of student services at Judge High School, located in Salt Lake City.

“I don’t even know any LGBT kids who play sports. But our school policy is they get to play like anyone else,” Bell said.

LGBT students face many more risks with coming out than just losing family or friends. Peer pressure from fellow classmates can have a lasting effect on LGBT kids and sway their decision about coming out in school.

A teacher at Rowland Hall who asked not to be identified said, “There was one time I walked by and a couple students made the comments ‘you’re just so gay’ to another student. I stopped them and said, ‘you think I’m a bad person?’ They just stood there. Walking by that stuff concerns me. You’re using the term so freely and people tend to just laugh that stuff off.”

Imagine a student who has a passion for sports but may possibly be shunned by other players or coaches because he or she is gay or lesbian. Imagine the possible tension in locker rooms from not-so-accepting teammates, or even opponents.

“I think in women’s sports and women’s fields of play, it’s not as bad,” the teacher said. “But in the male field, everyone feels they have to keep up that aura that ‘I’m masculine and physical and tough’ so they aren’t seen as weak to others.”

The fact is, sports and being gay don’t mix well. In fact, the two don’t mix at all. It wasn’t until 2007 that the first NBA player came out to the public well into his retirement. The NFL has not had a single active player in its entire history come out to the public about their sexual orientation either. And nearly every professional sport one hears about avoids the topic altogether.

When such little attention is given to the issue by the media, it’s no wonder kids are hesitant about coming out to their respective high school teams. When no professional player is willing to risk coming out to the public in fear of the ramifications, a child will likely be hesitant in their personal lives to come out as well. Professional athletes are role models for millions of kids, and yet many refuse to even talk about the issue of equality and LGBT communities.

“I think that you are so worried that you will lose your family, and peer pressure is so difficult,” the Rowland Hall teacher said. “In junior high, middle school, and high school, the peer pressure can just be so harmful.”

It is very rare to see openly LGBT kids in high school sports, mostly because of the threat of stereotypes and bullying.

“A guy who is gay doesn’t want to come out to others because they don’t want people to say they are not as strong,” the teacher added. “The same can be seen in the armed forces, you don’t want the assumption that you’re not strong enough in sports.”

Strong, tough, brave, confident. These are the messages boys and men are bombarded with on a daily basis.

“There is so much fear out there that people are afraid to be who they are,” the teacher said. “It has a long ways to go.”