Whilst the papers and sporting media will focus on transfers,coaches on the hot seat or game results behind these headlines there is an unseen sporting revolution unfolding before our very eyes. This revolution has little to do with anything that the sporting media thrust forward as headlines, indeed funnily enough it has little to do with actual sport itself. This revolution centers around sports athletes decisions to publicize personal matters around their private life. A player’s sexuality is rarely focused on however sport remains one of the last bastions for sexism. Yet various athletes across a multitude of sports are collectively breaking down these barriers in the last few years.
The issue of athletes sexuality is topical this week with yesterday’s brave announcements of being gay by both England Women’s football captain Casey Stoney and NFL draft prospect Michael Sam. They are far from the first athletes to make these announcements yet the fact they are the first active players in their sports to make this announcement is a big step both culturally and in their respective sports. The outpouring of collective support both of them have received show that many are happy to see these breakthrough’s. However whilst many athletes and fans are supportive of these decisions it appears for some sports are still unwilling to support this breakthrough.
Indeed when asked anonymously how his announcement would affect the draft position many NFL General Manager’s agreed that it would negatively affect his draft status and therefore his initial earning potential. In simple terms, the later your drafted the less money a player gets with their rookie contract.
Whilst before this announcement Sam was seen as a solid 3rd round pick based on his defensive ability, shown by the fact he was the SEC defensive player of the year in 2013 for his Missouri college team. Yet it appears now he is perceived as a risk for some teams, who are fearful his sexuality may be divisive in the “macho” locker room environment. These fears were heightened with the drama surrounding the alleged bullying scandal between players Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin that rocked the Miami Dolphins franchise late last year. Some teams now have pushed Sam down their draft boards as the media circus that will follow potentially the first active gay NFL player and locker room culture will prove to be difficult situations to manage for a team.
It is clear however that the NFL and all of it’s teams are not homophobic despite how it may appear their reasoning for Sam’s draft position falling is simply teams are unwilling to put up with the baggage associated with such a revolutionary player. Indeed, things are not much better for another major American sport as NBA player Jason Collins has struggled to find a team since publicly revealing he was gay in May 2013. Whilst his age and production over the last few years are obvious factors surrounding why he remains a free agent, there are rumors that his sexuality and again the baggage surrounding it is a factor behind his free agent status.
For gay athletes it’s not all doom and gloom however with just as many positive stories as there are of negative one’s. Football is a prime example of a sport moving with the times in terms of the acceptance and support for homosexuals. An example of this are the contrasting reactions to football players Justin Fashanu and Robbie Rogers announcements regarding their sexuality. When Fashanu revealed he was gay in October 1990 he was publicly and professionally ridiculed by both fans and opposing players and managers. Although never proven it appears his announcement was at the very least a contributing factor behind him not receiving any contracts from teams after he publicly announced he was gay, this despite him being the first £1 million pound black English player. His subsequent ordeal led to a tragic ending with his suicide in May 1998.
For Robbie Rogers the reaction was vastly different when he announced to the world he was gay in February 2013 he was held up as a hero to many with floods of goodwill messages towards him and his courageous announcement a perfect example of the complete sea change within football with regards to homosexual players and acceptance of their sexuality within the game.
There have been notable examples of players in other sports breaking the barriers with regards to sexuality in sport with Tom Daley and Casey Stoney receiving widespread support for their sexuality when they announced it in December 2013 and February 2014 respectively. An increasing amount of sports have trailblazers such as Daley, Stoney, Sam or Rodgers amongst their ranks which is a hugely inspirational and revolutionary step towards the removal of sexism from sports. Whilst the revolution is not yet complete the acceptance of everyone as equal within sport for the first time is gathering pace.