In recent years, media have begun to explore the complex intersection of sports culture, homophobia, and closeted and openly lesbian, gay and bisexual athletes. Anti-gay comments by athletes and coaches, speculation about celebrity athletes' sexual orientations, and the coming-out stories of retired NBA center John Amaechi, former WNBA star Sheryl Swoopes, former NFL lineman Esera Tuaolo, and others have catalyzed national dialogues on these issues.
Few coaches, managers or players have any experience working with openly gay teammates. Some sports professionals publicly say there are no gay people on their team while enforcing a closet mentality through locker-room jokes and innuendoes about gay men. Coaches and managers often express concern about public reaction to openly gay athletes, worrying that the long-held stereotype of gay male effeminacy would damage a team's reputation and competitive edge. As a result, gay male athletes are deeply closeted through a system of institutionalized intimidation.
In women's collegiate sports, negative recruiting – where coaches use anti-gay messages to deter potential recruits from attending a rival school – is a common problem. At the same time organizations like the WNBA have reached lesbian fans through promotions, and out tennis legends Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King have become a spokespeople on LGBT issues.
Within the gay community, LGBT teams and organizations have formed for league play, and the international Gay Games and World Outgames draw thousands of athletes worldwide. The National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Women's Sports Foundation have sports-related programs, and GLAAD provides resources for media covering LGBT inclusion in sports.
When covering the issue of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender athletes in sports, expand your focus beyond those who claim that team sports are not able to deal with openly gay athletes. Sports columnists, coaches, managers and athletes (straight and gay) sometimes claim it would be impossible for an openly gay athlete to play in team sports. When reporting on the topic, consider seeking out other voices in the sports world or in the LGBT community who would challenge the merits of this claim.
Treat homophobic and transphobic comments from professional athletes, managers and coaches as you would similar remarks by other public figures. Just as anti-gay epithets would receive extensive coverage if uttered by an elected official or a Hollywood celebrity, homophobia by sports figures should be publicly examined and discussed in a larger context.