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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 2. Telling Your Story: PR Firms, Strategic Media, and the Power of Mass Messaging


← 70 | 71 →

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Pr Firms, Strategic Media, and The Power of Mass Messaging

When the media defines something, you have to question: Is it the definition you want applied to your culture?

—Tim Reid

Whoever controls the media, the images, controls the culture.

—Allen Ginsburg

The first step of coming out unfolds differently for each LGBTQ person. Sometimes the first person they tell is a friend; sometimes it is a parent or sibling; sometimes it is an already-out nascent acquaintance who becomes the most appropriate person in which to tell your story for the first time. However, the final step of coming out for prominent athletes consistently involves the same audience: the media, and all of those who consume it. Factors such as the success and prominence of the athlete, the type and level of sport they play, and the level of shock the announcement will generate alters the magnitude of public response; nevertheless, coming out in the media is the final frontier. Once one opts to come out in the media, there is no larger audience in which to share one’s sexual identity. Therefore, as we explored in our last chapter, many (likely even most) gay male athletes within college and professional sport opt not to tackle the multifaceted process that is coming out ← 71 | 72 → of the closet and into sports media. The glare of the media spotlight does,...

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