GLAAD Media Reference Guide - In Focus: LGBTQ People In Sports

In recent years, the complex intersection of sports culture, homophobia, transphobia, and LGBTQ athletes has become a hot topic among sports fans and in sports media. Anti-LGBTQ comments by athletes and coaches, speculation about athletes' sexual orientations, and the coming out stories of Olympic medalists Tom Daley and Caitlyn Jenner, former NFL player Michael Sam, former NBA player Jason Collins, Puerto Rican boxer Orlando Cruz, soccer player Robbie Rogers, Welsh rugby player Gareth Thomas, U.S. Olympic soccer player Megan Rapinoe, and others have sparked national dialogue on these issues. Competitors in sports like tennis, diving, and skating, such as Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King, Greg Louganis, and Johnny Weir, have led the way as LGBTQ athletes have become spokespeople on issues the community faces.

Professional sports are more accepting than ever. Many coaches, managers, and players are becoming aware that they probably have people who identify as LGBTQ on their teams, and many are taking steps to educate themselves and create a more welcoming environment for LGBTQ athletes. Outspoken allies in the athletic community like Ben Cohen, Brian Burke, and Hudson Taylor have formed non-profit groups like the StandUp Foundation, the You Can Play Project, and Athlete Ally respectively to show their support for LGBTQ athletes and inclusive professional sports teams. Hundreds of professional athletes have appeared in "You Can Play" or "It Gets Better" PSAs to express public support for LGBTQ teammates and fans.

The corporate owners of many teams are following the lead of their business counterparts and showing official support for the LGBTQ community. The professional leagues are actively working to educate and inform their employees and players about LGBTQ issues, including at the rookie symposia for the NHL, NFL, and NBA. In July 2014, MLB appointed Billy Bean, a former player who is now openly gay, as a consultant in guiding the sports community toward full LGBTQ inclusion.

However, some sports professionals still publicly say there are no LGBTQ people on their team, and enforce a negative work environment through locker room jokes and innuendoes, usually directed toward gay men. In women's collegiate sports, negative recruiting – where coaches use anti-LGBTQ messages to deter potential recruits from attending a rival school – is a common problem. As a result, the majority of LGBTQ athletes remain closeted due to a system of institutionalized intimidation and discrimination.

Allow players to play. While LGBTQ athletes playing at the professional level is still relatively new and an important step forward in dismantling stereotypes about LGBTQ people – it is also important to acknowledge that any athlete's first and most
important role is simply to play and excel at their sport. In an ideal world, an LGBTQ NFL or NBA player will be allowed to play without constantly being asked to comment on LGBTQ issues.

Highlight players from every level of sport. Typically, there is a strong focus on professional and Olympic athletes, but players at every level of performance are coming out in large numbers. Please consider looking for stories of athletes at the high school and college level who want to share their experiences as LGBTQ people. Stories like bisexual college football kicker Conner Mertens and transgender high school coach Stephen Alexander have the potential to illustrate people in local communities are also accepting LGBTQ players and coaches.

When covering the issue of LGBTQ athletes in sports, expand your focus beyond those who claim that team sports are not able to deal with LGBTQ athletes. Sports journalists, coaches, managers, and athletes sometimes claim it would be impossible for an LGBTQ athlete to play openly in team sports. Journalists sometimes contribute to this fallacy by constantly framing their questions around the negative, difficult consequences of a player choosing to come out. When reporting on the topic, consider seeking out other voices in the sports world who would challenge the merits of this opinion. As more players come out, they will be able to speak about the positive responses they've received, and the benefits of being able to play without the fear of losing their job or feeling ashamed because they are LGBTQ.

Treat anti-LGBTQ comments from professional athletes, managers, and coaches as you would similar remarks by other public figures. Just as anti-LGBTQ epithets would receive extensive negative coverage if uttered by an elected official or a Hollywood celebrity, antipathy toward LGBTQ people by sports figures should also be examined and discussed in its larger context of fueling a climate of hate and discrimination.

Transgender athletes face uninformed opposition. Public and media reaction to a transgender person - particularly a transgender woman - competing in a sport is often extremely negative and uninformed by scientific fact. Commentators often espouse their "gut feelings" about whether or not a transgender person has an "unfair advantage." Gut feelings are not science. Sport governing organizations like the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and the National College Athletics Associate (NCAA), as well as the Women's Sports Foundation (WSF), have looked at the actual science associated with medical transition and made clear statements in support of the right of transgender athletes to participate in a way that is fair, equitable, and respectful to all. When writing about transgender athletes, please use up-to-date expert legal and medical knowledge about the effects of medical transition on athletic performance.

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