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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 5. Identity Politics: Gendered, Racial, and Religious Performativity

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← 170 | 171 →

· 5 ·

IDENTITY POLITICS

Gendered, Racial, and Religious Performativity

Real men are usually defined by what they don’t do: Real men don’t eat quiche, real men don’t ask for directions, Real Men Don’t Apologize…It can be confusing, the contradictory demands placed on the Real Man. A Real Man is a father to his children, of course, but the Real Man in popular culture—the boob of the beer commercial—watches football for nine hours on Sunday…The Real Man and the caveman have become happily synonymous—giving birth to that 21st Century necessity, the man cave—with one difference. The caveman evolved.

—Steve Rushin, Sports Illustrated

At some point you’ve got to decide who you want to be. Can’t let nobody make that decision for you.

—Juan, Moonlight

If there is an irrefutable claim thus far within this book, it resides in the belief that the process of coming out is a personal, emotional experience. Even when doing so in the media domain, the personal may be public, yet the decision to come out lives within each individual athlete within a specific time and circumstance. There are very few stories of people coming out en masse and none predominantly within sport. As such, each story is tinged with its own personal narrative, an inimitable fingerprint on a much larger narrative unfolding within gay rights in sport and society at large. ← 171 | 172...

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