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

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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 4. Playing “Out” in the Media: Framing Gay Athlete Stories

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· 4 ·

PLAYING “OUT” IN THE MEDIA

Framing Gay Athlete Stories

[Sport] is a Trojan horse, entering your house disguised as football before disgorging an army of social issues—race, gender, sexual orientation—to overrun your living room. Before you know it, Michael Sam is on your couch, charming an entire family.

—Steve Rushin, Sports Illustrated

Just as Jackie Robinson played such an important role in American racial integration, and Billie Jean King in the advancement of women’s rights, so too will Collins with the march to equal rights for gay Americans, and those around the world as well.

—Christine Brennan, sports reporter and columnist, writing for USA Today

With Michael Sam’s and Jason Collins’s announcements, we seemed to be on the brink of a revolution—not just for the gay male athlete and not solely limited to the world of sport, but for American civil rights on a much grander scale. Woven into the narratives told by mainstream journalists, sports reporters, pundits and commentators was the promise of the boundary-breaking, history-making gay athlete. Media storytellers sung the praises of Jason Collins’s and Michael Sam’s public outings as milestones, just as others celebrated lower-profile college athletes (e.g., Connor Mertens, Chip Sarafin, Mason Darrow) who told their stories in local and regional media, ← 129 | 130 → clearing what many consider to be the “last” hurdle in American team sports. As Christine Brennan’s quote highlights, coming...

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