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Media and the Coming Out of Gay Male Athletes in American Team Sports


Andrew Billings and Leigh Moscowitz

Never before have we lived in a time in which sport and gay identity are more visible, discussed, debated—and even celebrated. However, in an era in which the sports closet is heralded as the last remaining stronghold of heterosexuality, the terrain for the gay athlete remains contradictory at best. Gay athletes in American team sports are thus living a paradox: told that sport represents the "final closet" in American culture while at the same time feeling ostracized, labeled a "distraction" for teams, dubbed locker room "problems," and experiencing careers which are halted or cut short altogether.

Media and the Coming Out of Gay Male Athletes in American Team Sports is the first of its kind, building upon the narratives of athletes and how their coming out experiences are shaped, transmitted and received through pervasive, powerful, albeit imperfect commercial media. Featuring in-depth interviews with out-athletes such as Jason Collins, Dave Kopay, Billy Bean and John Amaechi; media gatekeepers from outlets like ESPN and USA Today; and league representatives from Major League Baseball and the National Football League, this book explores one of the starkest juxtapositions in athletics: there are no active out players in the NFL, NBA, MLB, or NHL, yet the number of athletes coming out at virtually every other level of sport is unprecedented. Interviews are fused with qualitative media analysis of coming out stories and informed by decades of literature on the unique intersection of sport, media, and sexual identity.

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Chapter 1. Inside the Sports Closet: Tensions of Hiding, Passing, and Outing


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Tensions of Hiding, Passing, and Outing

The messages I got were loud and clear. Never ever admit to yourself or anyone who you are. Hide it, kill it, eradicate it, heal it, deliver it, break it, suppress it, deny it, marry it to a woman, heterosexualize it, therapy it, anything and everything, but whatever you do, don’t stand up one day and say “I am gay” because that will mean the end.

—Anthony Venn Brown, A Life of Unlearning

You’d have to lie. Otherwise, there is a good chance you’d never have an NFL career.

—Dave Kopay, in a 2013 interview with The Washington Post (Wise, 2013)

The year was 1975. Dave Kopay, retired three years from his NFL career, read an exposé in the Washington Star about the challenges of being a gay man in professional sports. Among others, the article cited an anonymous former NFL player. Kopay was angry. As Outsports’ Jim Buzinski writes, “Kopay knew at once that the player was his former Washington Redskins teammate Jerry Smith, with whom he had had a sexual encounter” (Buzinski, 2011, para. 1). The newspaper was flooded with hate mail, with readers calling the story bogus, claiming gay professional football players simply did not exist.

Kopay decided it was time to dispel the myths and come forward into the media spotlight. He contacted Washington Star...

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