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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 3. Anatomy of a Gay Sports Story: Assembling and Advancing the Coming Out of Jason Collins


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Assembling and Advancing The Coming out of Jason Collins

The place you stick out most is the place where you should stay. Because that’s where you can contribute something new.

—Riz Ahmed

Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers.

—Pope Paul VI

One of the most imperative warrants for the creation of this book happened on April 29, 2013, as that was the day journeyman NBA player Jason Collins announced he was gay in a Sports Illustrated feature story. The response was overwhelmingly positive (Hersh, 2013), indicative of an evolving culture that surmised such a decision was imminent by someone within contemporary American men’s team sports. Yet the gravity of the moment was underscored, as no active player had come out within the men’s major three team sports (football, basketball, baseball). As Bradley (2013) noted, “it matters not that Collins isn’t a star…or that, at 34, he’s nearing the end of his career. What matters is that he raised his hand” (p. 3C).

The Collins case offers a unique opportunity for scholarly investigation. Other cases could certainly be interrogated, yet, based on our interviews and interpretations of media renderings (which will unfold more directly in ← 109 | 110 → Chapter 4), the Jason Collins coming out plan has become the media prototype, a benchmark for other closeted gay athletes to potentially...

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