Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Yes, Virginia, there's still homophobia in women's sports

Anti-gay tweets are not that unusual. Anti-gay sentiments among athletes are not especially surprising either. Regarding the latter, though, most public anti-gay statements have been confined to the world of professional men's athletics. (Though more straight male professional athletes are voicing public support for potential gay teammates these days. See Ron Gronkowski--or rather read his statements. You can see him--all of him--in the latest iteration of ESPN Magazine's The Body Issue.)
But outward/overt homophobia in women's sports--especially at the collegiate level--is not as prevalent, which is why it is sometimes difficult to convince people that it still exists. It got a little easier recently when tweets from Florida Gulf Coast University student-athletes were picked up on. Three tweets from three different athletes within one month:

“Golden rule of softball: ‘No bow, lesbo,’” an FGCU softball player tweeted in March while thanking a teammate for the advice. “Needles to say, I will never be caught without a ribbon in my hair again.”

“To all the random girls I most likely will be dancing (with) #NoHomo,” an FGCU women’s basketball player tweeted, also in March, before clarifying in a tweet a day later. “But I don’t discriminate.”

In a tweet to a friend in April, an FGCU women’s basketball signee celebrated their friendship with a slur.
“Basketball (best friends) since the beginning,” the player tweeted. “I love you faggot.”
The response from FGCU has been 1) sufficiently vague and 2) not that surprising given the culture there. Regarding number two, FGCU--not too long ago--was at the center of several lawsuits and complaints from female coaches and administrators about gender equity. And despite the findings of an external investigation that stated there was no hostile climate at FGCU (done after the obligatory house-cleaning and back pedaling), it seems something is (still) in the air at FGCU.
Regarding number one--statements from administrators reveal that they themselves are not comfortable or don't know how to talk about these issues.
From the current director of athletics (installed after the lawsuit/settlement spree)
"I can’t speak across the board that there aren’t people that don’t have prejudices in any way in our society. But if people have them, they have to keep them to themselves and not allow them to affect their role how we operate as a student-athlete population. Or (as) staff member(s). We all fall under one umbrella.”
Keep your hate in, people--just tolerate. When you leave here, an educational institution at which you play sports, something that is touted as creating strong character and future leaders, you may spew your hate as you see fit. 

And from the softball coach:
“I understand the phrase [no bow, lesbo],” said FGCU softball coach Dave Deiros, who tells his players to be accountable for everything they say publicly, a point he said he reiterated after the recent homophobic tweet. “I’m not going to censor my players.”
As with any potential conflict, Deiros said the emphasis is always on what best serves the team.
“I’m not asking you not to be gay, and I’m not asking you to be gay. What I’m asking you is while we’re in the locker room, on the field, as a team, going to class, that’s the guiding principle. As soon as you leave and go out on your own, knock yourself out. Be your own person, represent the university well.”

Wait. What's the guiding principle? I'm confused. Have no sexuality?  Or don't talk about any sexuality you might be harboring. But don't worry--there's no censorship so say whatever you want in any kind of public forum. Being oneself is, for some people, being homophobic. How does Deiros reconcile this?

And from the basketball coach:
“Occasionally you’ll have a parent be concerned and want to know the composition of the team,” said FGCU women’s basketball coach Karl Smesko. “I think the parents that have brought it up were hoping that it wouldn’t be many. (I explain that) that’s just not something that we worry about.”

You should "worry" about it. And you should worry what these public statements you are making are saying to the rest of the country, including potential recruits who are gay or aren't uncomfortable with gay teammates. 

Coincidentally, as I was reading the article about FGCU, I had open on my computer an interview with Judith Butler (for a different project) in which she talks about speech acts. The interview is from 1999 and I found this passage particularly relevant to the issue at hand. (Please don't dimiss it because it is Judith Butler or me because I use Judith Butler.)
I think in the US we go around trying to target people who say racist things, and indeed there are good reasons to do that, targeting people who say homophobic things and holding them responsible for their speech. I think there are all kinds of reasons to stop a person when they speak such things and say, for example, 'look that's a racist act'. I think that's important. But I think that a politics that begins and ends with that policing is a mistake, because for me the question is how is that person, as it were, renewing and reinvigorating racist rituals of speech, and how do we think about those particular rituals and how do we exploit their ritual function in order to undermine it in a more thorough-going way, rather than just stopping it as it's spoken. What would it mean to restage it, take it, do something else with the ritual so that its revivablity as a speech act is really seriously called into question.

I don't know what that would look like right now. But I think it's a very interesting concept to explore and apply generally to hate speech and acts and in a sport-specific context.


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