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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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For the two of us, this project was synergy at its finest. We had known each other since 1991, when we competed on the Indiana University Speech Team. Our families knew each other and interacted well. We both had received doctoral degrees in communication-based fields and both sought to understand ways that media shaped narratives of identity. For Andrew, this was largely in the realm of sports; for Leigh, this was largely in the realm of the equality movement. We continually discussed potential areas of overlap and then the NBA’s Jason Collins came out in 2013—and we quickly realized that both of our scholarly fields were having a mediated moment. Five years—and several related projects—later, Media and the Coming Out of Gay Male Athletes in American Team Sports comes to fruition. We are pleased to share it and, perhaps even more fervently, we are honored to be able to play a small part in telling these stories.

Our support throughout this project has been tremendous. The list of interviewees can be found in the Appendix, but they still need to be the people we thank first. Their stories range the spectrum from athlete to public relations representative to media content producer and well beyond. Moreover, it was their willingness to tell their stories that made this a compelling narrative. That courage and devotion to the project cannot be understated. ← ix | x →

However, there are many more people to thank throughout this...

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