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Monday 30 November 2015

Homophobia in Modern Sport

Earlier this month, Solent was visited by Professor Eric Anderson, the leading authority in masculinity and sexuality in sport. He has published 14 books, and is currently Professor of Sport and Masculinity at the University of Winchester.

In a lecture to third-year Solent students studying the Issues in Contemporary Sport unit, he gave an account of his experiences coming out in 1993, the first openly gay high school coach in the US.

“The runners I coached supported me, but the rest of the school – particularly the American Football team – didn’t. At the time society was in a period of homo-hysteria, where masculinity was tied to homophobia.

“As long as the symbolic closet existed, men could not prove that they were straight. Everything was policed by a fear of being thought to be homosexual.

“I lived in Orange County, California. In the next town, a preacher was proposing the death penalty for gay men; this was considered normal.

“While I fully expected to be discriminated against, I did not anticipate that my team would face ‘guilt by association’. We experienced harassment in small, symbolic ways, which would only be dealt with by the football coach telling his team: ‘I told you not to harass the fags.’

“In 1995, one of my team was attacked by a football player, who beat and stoned him before trying to scratch his eyes out. When somebody tried to stop the attacker, he said: ‘It ain’t over until the faggot’s dead.’

“Luckily, my team member managed to escape. However, the police later wrote up the issue as ‘mutual combat’, which meant that nobody was at fault. The attacker was not interviewed. The following day the school principal quoted to the LA Times that boys would be boys and no homophobia was involved.”

The incident led Anderson to leave his coaching job and begin a PhD in masculinity and sexuality in sport. However, in the five years since the attack on his team member, society had begun to change.

When interviewing athletes that had come out of the closet, he expected to be told of horrific experiences, but this was not the case. “Not only did they have good experiences, but 25 out of the 30 I interviewed were the best on their teams.

“Those coming out had enough masculine appeal to not be bothered about their sexuality, because they were good at what they did. In 2010, I asked the same questions and  found that openly gay players weren’t necessarily good at their sport any more.

Times had changed enough that coming out didn’t depend on their sporting ability. Disclosure breeds intimacy, as long as the secret is not too socially taboo. When athletes disclosed that they were gay, it unified their team.

The current climate of inclusive masculinity started in the 1990s with metrosexuality, Anderson said. Heterosexual men started to dress well and do other things that were otherwise previously thought of as ‘gay’, without caring if people thought of them as such.

“Recent years have also seen the rise of the ‘bromance’, a close friendship between two males that is not sexual. Fifty per cent of men interviewed said that they love their bromance as much or more than their girlfriend, giving the reason that their friend was less work.

“Today, men don’t care so much if people think they’re gay, giving them a lot more freedom. As well as this, men are increasingly marking ‘mostly heterosexual’ in surveys instead of ‘exclusively’.

“Homophobia – instead of homosexuality – is now highly socially stigmatised, and the ‘one-time rule’ – which said that a man could sleep with a thousand women, but was gay as soon as he slept with one man – has died. There is no longer a dominant expectation of masculinity.”