Bay Area Reporter
Copyright © 2006 Bay Area Reporter, a division of Benro Enterprises, Inc.

Jock Talk:
2014 in sports: The year of the inconvenient truth declared that a collective Gay Athlete should be named Sports Illustrated's Athlete of the Year, because of the way in which LGBT athletes coming out of the closet have changed the dialogue throughout sports. declared, without offering documentation, that "more than 100 athletes came out in 2014." We were delighted by the release of the first autobiography of an active out male professional team athlete, Robbie Rogers, and even more pleased that not only has his career continued to flourish, it has actually improved. Yet despite all the apparent momentum and milestones, I don't think this is a time for elation. If anything, I think 2014 in sports was the Year of the Inconvenient Truth.

And that truth is this: homophobia may not be as outspoken as it was before in sports, but it is just as prevalent. Transphobia in sports is as loud and as ignorant as ever. And neither will truly improve and disappear until the institutionalized and culturally ingrained sexism that permeates sports is eradicated.

We hailed 2011 as the Gayest Year in Sports, marked by a slew of high profile athletes coming out and the launching of several organizational initiatives, from Equality Coaching Alliance to Athlete Ally, all aimed at opening up communications, raising awareness, and making life better for LGBT individuals in sports.

Then we praised 2012 as the Year of Critical Mass, when other initiatives such as You Can Play and the Ben Cohen Stand Up Foundation were launched and the first ever LGBT Sports Summit was held, sponsored and financially propped up by no less than Nike Inc.

The wave of progressive momentum toward a more inclusive and supportive sports world was tested in 2013 by several notable events: professional mixed martial artist Fallon Fox came out as transgender in the early stages of a promising career; free agents Jason Collins in men's basketball and Rogers in soccer came out after lengthy noteworthy college and pro careers, their sports futures very much in the balance; and with growing concern that the Winter Olympics were about to be held in a country hell bent on stifling LGBT human rights, the international track federation showed its backbone by admonishing Swedish high jumper Emma Green Tregaro after she competed with her fingernails painted in the colors of the rainbow to show support for those rights.

How'd all that turn out in 2014? Well, Collins had to wait months before being signed by a coach who knew him well, landing him in a comfortable reserve role for 22 games before retiring. So, overall a plus, although he was landing with a familiar coach. Rogers was signed right away with the Los Angeles Galaxy and they went on to win the Major League Soccer Cup. So, another plus, although those who read his autobiography had to be troubled when they realized that until he came out, he had felt so isolated and was so ignorant of the support services available to him that he was a serious suicide candidate. So, maybe not quite as joyous a cheer. And then we have Fox, who has been called a "lying, sick, sociopathic, disgusting freak" who is "still a man" by a TV fight commentator. Some opponents have refused to fight her, claiming transgender women have inherent biological advantages, despite there not being a shred of scientific evidence to support that.

In the past year, we've seen virtually every major sports organization adopt language supportive of the rights of individuals regardless of sexual orientation. We've heard pledges of support for those who come out of the closet, and in 2013 we were thinking it would be any second that a player would come out in the NFL.

Well, the circus started last January, when headlines were dominated not by the gut-checking first round playoff games, but by Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers taking time on his weekly radio show to deny rumors that he was gay. "I'm not gay," Rodgers told his listeners. "I really, really like women. That's all I can say about that."

Then Michael Sam, after being named the Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year, came out on the eve of the 2014 NFL draft. Originally projected as a high-round draft pick, he was not taken until the final round by the St. Louis Rams. TV analyst Tony Dungy said he would not have drafted Sam because an openly gay player would be a "distraction," and an ESPN reporter informed the nation that she believed Sam was "respecting" the space of his teammates by avoiding showering with them. The Rams cut him in what was termed "a football decision," and he was then picked up by the Dallas Cowboys practice squad. Again he was cut, again it was called a football decision, and the man is now without a job, historically snubbed by some of the most pathetic defenses in the league.

Hey, it's just football. Or is it?

Well, it could be just football. We remember that in late 2013, when Miami Dolphins rookie Jonathan Martin was the subject of horrific, racist bullying by teammates, many in the game were quick to defend the behavior as part of football culture. You were weak – unmanly – if you couldn't take it. Rah, rah, rah.

But I think the issue is deeper and more widespread than that, and football just happens to be the worst of the cases. We all know that football scholarships play havoc with the attempt to have gender equity in college athletics. We know there are a slew of men coaching women's sports and hardly any women coaching men's sports – not a damned one in football. We know the University of Iowa and other schools are coming under fire for applying a double standard to their women coaches and are being sued for discrimination.

The international soccer federation would never put the men's World Cup on artificial turf, but plans to do just that with the women's World Cup in 2015. The International Olympic Committee adds gays and lesbians to its Olympic charter – but leaves transgender individuals out in the cold. The hosts of the next two men's World Cups invite all to come – but warns them not to be "too gay" when they do so. The NFL found itself at the center of a shit storm when it turned out it had no adequate measures in place to handle the plethora of domestic abuse cases that haunt the league.

So, yeah, there have been some nice moments in 2014. It was great that Major League Baseball hired Billy Bean to be an ambassador of inclusion. It's great that in the NBA there is now one (1) assistant coach who's a woman, the first in history. It's great that a MLB umpire felt comfortable enough to come out of the closet.

But sports remains plagued by sexism, homophobia, and transphobia. Their shouts and braggadocio may have turned to whispers and winks, but they remain. So once you've recovered from the bubbly and the fireworks, put the party favors away and get ready to work. There's plenty to do in the next year if 2015 is to live up to the promise of the previous few years.

And that's the truth, however inconvenient.