Team sports and bad behavior have been linked more than a few times recently. The theme of the stories isn’t necessarily new nor are their clusterings. It’s common that news producers bring similar stories (of any vein) to the forefront resulting in the illusion of clustering. The fact remains that bad behavior in team sports probably happens all the time to varying degree. What makes the recent spate of stories worth examining is that they’ve prompted conversations regarding homosexuals in sports. Several sport professionals and commentators have made grim pronouncements and analysis about the state of ‘tolerance’ in team sports. More than a handful of serious men are giving serious thought to what homosexuality means to and how it affects team sports. Armchair commentators are baffled by the efforts to correct what they experience as innocuous behavior. Some harken back to their own survival of a coach’s wrath and wonder what the hell has happened to sports.
What seems to be missing from all of these conversations is women. Where is the serious analysis of women’s sports teams? Why are we not discussing what a locker room might look like with openly gay women in it? Where are the exposes of women coaches yelling gay slurs at her athletes? Putting aside the fact that women sports teams are not nearly as financially lucrative as their male counterparts, why the discrepancy? Why do we not seem to care all that much about the sexual orientation of women athletes? Why is it hard to even imagine a woman using a lesbian slur? Can we even picture a locker room in which any female athlete would care a whit about the orientation of a teammate? Could it be that the recent ‘homosexuals in sports’ conversation is much more about ‘machismo in sports’?
Men dominate sports, and sports are often about domination. For men (regardless of orientation) homosexuality can be seen as a threat to machismo/dominance. Much of the anti-homosexual slurs don’t refer to men loving men, but of a state of being effeminate. Of course on a purely rational level it’s hard to imagine anything more masculine than men partnered with other men. It is the very celebration of manhood that is what defines homosexuality, but we digress.
Even if we ignore women being ignored in this conversation, we are still left questioning whether we’re being ingenuous in this conversation. Is it really about how athletes and coaches view and treat homosexuals? Or is it that male sports teams are defined by homogeneity and there is little room for divergence? Could it be that male team sports is an ancient phenomenon and like a good chorus line, is dependent upon a neutrality of identity? Is the version of machismo fostered by team sports am ancient defense to the intense touching and often underdressed state of teammates? Could it be that self-concsciousness that sometimes leads to bad behavior with women? Could it be that all traditionally all-male groups suffer from the same self-consciousness? Could that be behind “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the Boy Scout ban? Could all the bigotry really just be an attempt to affirm; “No, I’m not, they are!”
May 14, 2013 at 7:20 am
Very quickly it will become apparent that sports doesn’t care very much about one’s sleeping arrangements- if your stats are up.
April 22, 2013 at 3:18 pm
Yes! And the “no, I’m not, they are” statement — i.e., homophobia — arises out of fear. Fear of being hit on by other men, fear of being “turned” gay due to proximity to gay men, fear of having homophobia directed at oneself if one supports/tolerates/befriends gay people. And yes, all of these fears stem from a particular perception of what “masculinity” is and what it means.
I agree about the inherent celebration of maleness that should exist in a union between men. Indeed, some lesbians refer to their sexuality as being “woman-identified,” so why should gay men’s not be “men-identified” — and hence, in a certain sense, more masculine? But heteronormativity still dominates the couple paradigm: masculinity and femininity are associated with attraction to the opposite sex; thus, attraction to the same sex implies a movement toward the opposite gender identity. Sometimes gender identity and sexual orientation DO coincide, but often they don’t….but that’s a different soapbox.
I think the difference you’re asking about lies in the fact that women’s identity is not tied up in their femininity as much as men’s is tied up in their masculinity. This may be because formerly “masculine” behavior — wearing pants, working hard jobs, playing sports, etc. — is now acceptable for women, so the “feminine” ideal is somewhat more fluid (except when it comes to body image….but that too is a different soapbox). Men, however, can still be criticized for engaging in so-called “feminine” behavior — crying, emotional sensitivity, caregiving, etc. If men are afraid that contact with homosexuality will make them less masculine, they are implicitly afraid that it will make them feminine — which is an undesirable thing for a man to be. So actually, what all of this really comes down to, is simple sexism: as long as the word “pussy” can be used as an insult, prejudice against women is present in our society….and that prejudice is connected to homophobia.
April 22, 2013 at 3:34 pm
Fabulous points excellently made. Thank you!