Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Gay football players: "Like peanut butter & jelly and cheese"

Inside Higher Ed ran a piece last week about the experiences of gay intercollegiate football players based on a preliminary research study. I have been meaning to post about it but things in Title IX land last week kept me pretty busy. (Not to mention those piles of papers in need of grading.)
But it's still worth noting, even a week later.
I am, as many know, generally skeptical of progress narratives. (For a related skeptic's take see Diane's recent experience at Starbucks.) And this study illustrates that things are not necessarily getting better, even as we hear more people come out and talk about positive experiences playing sports. I had the pleasure of hearing former Bloomsburg University football captain Brian Sims speak positively of his experience coming out to his team. But it seems, based on this study, that for every Sims-like experience there are many more troubling ones. Like a player who "mangled" his own legs so he could no longer play and thus avoid the physical and verbal abuse from his teammates.
Dr. Eric Anderson disagrees with some of the statements regarding the homophobic culture in sports. He believes, based on his research on gay male athletes, that the culture is changing--and rapidly.
The issue is that generalizations don't work in this situation. Anderson has done research in both the US and UK. His research on soccer players and fans in the UK is hopeful, but not necessarily applicable in the US context. I haven't read his current research which updates--I believe--his 2005 book In the Game: Gay Athletes and the Cult of Masculinity, based on narratives from gay male athletes.
And comparing football culture to other sports cultures is also difficult. Heck comparing swimming culture to baseball culture is equally problematic. And comparing intercollegiate sports to professional sports. Women's and men's. DI, DII, DIII. So many variables.
In the end, though, information like that gathered in the football study reveals that--no matter what other good things are happening (like Athlete Ally)--there is still plenty of work to do: cultures to change, discrimination to combat, and athletes to help.

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