There is little doubt that sports culture has always been a place of exclusion, dominated by a narrow-minded thought process that serves only to marginalize and put down those who do not fit within the notion of what it means to be an athlete.
One of the problems we see arise with this is homophobic bullying.
Homophobic bullying is a major problem in today’s society, and sports culture gets no exception from the discussion when talking about how homophobic bullying can harm and affect athletes of all ages, whether they are openly gay or in the closet.
Homophobic slurs are deeply ingraianed in sports culture and it is an issue that doesn’t get enough attention.
These slurs are used in a casual sense, meaning they may not be directed at a particular homosexual person.
This, however, does not mean that this type of language isn’t damaging.
I, and many others, refer to this as “casual homophobia.”
The notion of “casual homophobia” entails the use of homophobic slurs directed at teammates in the locker room, not because they are homosexual, but because it is seen as a joke between friends and teammates.
These words are not meant to cause harm, but athletes need to think about the possible damage that is being done by using these words.
In recent years, there have been many significant people in the sports world who have spoken out against homophobia, due in large part to the “You Can Play” project created by Patrick Burke, a scout for the Philadelphia Flyers.
The project was created in honour of his late brother Brendan Burke, who was an openly gay student manager of the University of Miami Red Hawks in Ohio.
Their message is simple: “If you can play, you can play.”
Athletes from all sports have come forth showing their support.
Over 40 National Hockey League players, including the Winnipeg Jets’ own Dustin Byfuglien have come forward showing their support for the “You Can Play” project, claiming that they will stand up for, and support their teammates no matter what their sexual orientation is.
Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe has perhaps been the most active and vocal athlete speaking out on the issue of gay rights.
“I’ve always believed that people are inherently the same and should have the same rights and equal protection under the law,” Kluwe told the press. “Everyone should be free to live their own life however it makes them happy.”
Identifying the problem is key to ensuring that LGBT athletes are afforded acceptance and equal opportunity.
However, we still see many instances in professional sports that show us there is still a long way to go when combating homophobia.
In recent news, Chicago Bulls player Joakim Noah yelled a homophobic slur at a fan, Yunel Escobar of the Toronto Blue Jays wrote a homophobic slur on his eye black, and former NFL running back Garrison Hearst said he did not want any “faggots” in his locker room.
As an athlete, I have heard homophobic language used firsthand in the locker room. I’ve seen the oppressive nature of this language, and I know the impact it can have.
Young athletes need to be educated on this topic.
It needs to be addressed and talked about among young athletes so they can learn that we are equal no matter our sexual orientation.
Straight athletes everywhere need to become allies, and create an environment that allows LGBT athletes to compete while having fun with their teammates - because that’s what sports is about, isn’t it?
Unfortunately, it seems that ignorant views concerning homosexuality remain prevalent.
Until everyone realizes that whom people love does not change who they are as a person, these views will continue to resurface.
We cannot let this happen - not in sports, not anywhere.
Stephen Burns is a third-year rhetoric and communications student in the Joint Communications Program at the University of Winnipeg and Red River College.
Published in Volume 67, Number 13 of The Uniter (November 28, 2012)