Gay slurs are heard way too often on the diamond, field, ice, and hardwood. Last year, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant came under fire for being caught on camera blatantly calling a referee the ‘other f-word.’ NBA Commissioner David Stern did not take too kindly to Bryant’s poor choice of words and slapped him with a superstar-sized fine of $100,000.
On Saturday, Yunel Escobar, an MLB player for the Toronto Blue Jays, found himself in some controversy as he had a gay slur printed in Spanish on his eye black. Ignorance in the clubhouse was well on display whether it was a teammate or Escobar himself who wrote it.
Whatever one’s stance on gay marriage and other similar rights issues is, it can be agreed that these words and slurs are extremely disrespectful to the gay community. These players are role models to millions of children in the world and it’s ignorant for these “stars” to further the advancement of such language.
So other than the occasional negligent use of these words, has the climate changed on homophobia in sports?
I honestly believe it has evolved and nothing demonstrates that progression more than a story that comes from the sport that is played on “the gridiron” and is considered by many to be the quintessential masculine sport.
Recently, Brendon Ayanbadejo, an NFL player for the Baltimore Ravens, has stirred up a lot of media attention with his support for same-sex marriage, which is on the ballot in Maryland this year. His stance isn’t exactly groundbreaking nor is his support for the movement a new revelation, but when word got out that a Maryland state legislature delegate urged Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti to silence him, it became a national story.
An outpouring of endorsements came from teammates, backing from other NFL players, and those that support same-sex marriage showered Ayanbadejo with praise. This was quite a contrast from just three years ago when his statements were not received with such open arms. In 2009, he became one of the first major professional American athletes to openly support same-sex marriage. Due to this stance he was on the receiving end of gay slurs on the Internet and even his own teammates would pick on him in the locker room.
Today, the jokes are no longer there, but the encouragement in the Ravens’ locker room is. Ayanbadejo said he has had honest conversations with teammates about the issue which has never happened before.
That dialog in the locker room alone should be proof that the atmosphere has changed a bit on the views of homosexuality by professional athletes. The acceptance of homosexuality in professional sports may be changing at a snail’s pace but it is evident that it has already made strides from just a couple of years ago.
Though there aren’t too many openly gay athletes in the American major sports there still is support. Sean Avery, hockey badboy and New York Ranger, has been an advocate for gay rights for a long time. Known for his “tough guy” persona, Avery said he would stand beside a gay player wanting to come out if they feared persecution from colleagues and “maybe if Sean Avery is there, they would have less of a problem with it.”
The support by superstar athletes is one thing, but there was actual coverage of gay athletes in the global spectacle of the 2012 London Olympics. The games featured at least 23 openly gay athletes. Gold medalist and midfielder for the U.S. women’s soccer team Megan Rapinoe was one of those athletes as she “came out” publicly right before the games. Rapinoe and her team got plenty of exposure as the women’s soccer team was one of the biggest stories of the Olympics.
There have also been efforts by openly gay individuals involved in professional sports to spread awareness and stop such blatant use of derogatory words. NBA President and CEO of the Phoenix Suns Rick Welts announced he was gay in 2011. In an attempt to minimize the use of gay slurs on any competitive field, the Suns put out a PSA titled “wordplay” featuring NBA players urging the youth not to use certain words.
Maybe it was a complete coincidence that the video came out just weeks after the aforementioned Bryant was fined for his choice words against a referee (probably not).