According to a new study entitled “Out on the Fields,” the United States is currently the most unwelcoming nation in regards to homosexuals in major sports. The study, which surveyed athletes from six different countries (United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland) asked about their feelings towards homosexual athletes if they are straight, or about their experiences if they are a homosexual athlete. The research was conducted on 9,500 individuals.
According the study, 80% of the participants reported experiencing homophobia in their sports, and nearly the same number (78%) of participants said they do not believe openly gay spectators are very safe at events.
Homophobia in sports has become a hot-button issue in recent years, with Jason Collins of the NBA coming out as the first openly gay athlete in North America's four major sports (NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL.) Collins sparked debate in the media as he was not signed by any team at the time of his coming out, and was only signed to two 10-day contracts with the Brooklyn Nets in the following season. Since Collins' coming out, University of Missouri linebacker Michael Sam came out before the 2014 NFL draft. Many experts saw Sam, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, as an NFL prospect to picked somewhere between the second and fifth round of the draft.
The media picked up Sam's story and the non-stop media attention ensued. Critics of Michael Sam began to “come out” stating he had hurt his draft stock by “coming out,” with many teams not willing to take the chance on a player who would bring such media scrutiny. Sam waited on draft day with ESPN cameras at his house following his every move as he awaited his name to be called. After two days of waiting, Sam began to lose faith. Many in the media questioned if Sam's homosexuality was the sole reason for him to fall so far in the draft. Sam waited until the seventh and final round to hear his name called by the Saint Louis Rams as the 249th pick in the NFL draft, becoming the first openly homosexual player in NFL history.
Sam went on to play for the Rams in the preseason but was cut before the regular season started. Now playing for the Montreal Alouettes, Sam's career has certainly been seen as one of triumph for the LGBT community; it has also shown that many in major North American sports are still hesitant to sign homosexual players.
According to “Out on the Fields,” the United States posted the worst scores in homophobia and discrimination. The issue of homosexuality in sports in America is finally being talked about in households throughout the nation, but with little results, according to Pat Griffin, a professor of social justice at the university of Massachusetts. “It's sad the United States fared so poorly,” said Griffin.
These statistics come with a grain of salt, as the sample size cannot possibly be indicative of all of sports, but it is a basis to go off of.
Examples of homophobia in sports can be found as recently as this month, with Rajon Rondo of the NBA's Sacramento Kings verbally abusing NBA referee Bill Kennedy, who has since come out as gay in interviews following the incident. Rondo, who used homophobic language to abuse Kennedy, was suspended for 1 game by the league with the possibility of further punishment. Rondo has since apologized, but this has been the fourth instance of an NBA star being punished for use of homophobic slurs dating back to 2012. The NBA, NFL, and MLB have all issued either fines or suspensions in recent years regarding abusive homophobic language. With the topic becoming much more prevalent in today's society, the major North American leagues are beginning to start to take the issue more seriously and create a more welcoming atmosphere for not only the players, but the fans, coaches, and referees as well.
“Out on the Fields” asked many of the gay athletes if they had any advice for younger individuals dealing with the homophobia in sports, to which many gave the simple advice of not giving up and to look forward to a day when sexual orientation would no longer matter. With the United States currently ranked the worst in terms of homophobia in sports out of the six nations represented in the study, a lot of work must still be done to make sure homosexual athletes feel welcomed, but if leagues such as the NBA continue to show disdain for the offense, then perhaps the tides may turn sooner than most foresee.