The Lack of LGBTQ Representation in Professional Sports May Not Be Why You Think

Tuesday November 24, 2020

Collin Martin
Collin Martin   (Source:Instagram)

Out soccer star Collin Martin recently said that there isn't a better time for a professional athlete to come out. So why aren't there more?

While many more athletes are coming out, from those in the Olympics to high school team players, none are found in professional sports. Outsports reports that "the four major U.S. pro sports leagues don't have a single openly gay male player. There is no openly gay man playing in the (British) Premier League, either."

Homophobia is usually cited as the reason, but on a recent Outsports podcast The Sports Kiki, host Alex Reimer spoke with academic researcher Rory Magrath as to why. He coordinated a study with colleagues Adam J. White and Luis Emilio Morales that looked at 60 coming-out stories, all of which were published on Outsports in 2016 to find the cause. It was published in the International Review for the Sociology of Sport.

"The study shows, nearly without fail, a familiar pattern in the stories: Male athletes are afraid to come out to their teammates, but when they do, they are nearly universally met with acceptance. The handful of accounts of negative reactions came almost exclusively from places outside of sports, including family members and other classmates," Outsports wrote in an earlier report.

What they discovered is that homophobia may not be the sole reason or even a major factor. "The study found male athletes are universally accepting of gay teammates," Outsports reports. "Out of the 60 samples, only four athletes included some form of negative reaction to their coming out from some corner of their lives — and even they claimed an overall positive coming-out experience."

Magrath and his colleagues learned that travel, at least with international sports like soccer, is a reason.
"Elite soccer players don't only play in liberal E.U. states. The 2018 FIFA World Cup was held in Russia, and the next World Cup is slated for Qatar."

Neither are gay-friendly nations. "These guys have to travel to parts of the world where attitudes towards homosexuality in broader society are far more conservative than the west," Magrath says. "They also compete with and against athletes in those parts of the world as well. So this international hypothesis that undoubtedly complicates matters — it kind of muddies the waters, if you like, in terms of coming out."

Magrath also feels that it is a numbers game. "Only an estimated 4.5 percent of U.S. adults identify as LGBTQ, according to a 2018 Gallup poll (3.9 percent of men and 5.1 percent of women). The fact is, there just isn't that many of us," Outsports continues.

And it may be that while LGBTQ people number higher in some fields, they are underrepresented in others, such as elite, professional sports.

"Gay men are a finite resource, so they can't exist in great numbers in every quarter," Magrath says. "Gay men are overrepresented in some areas, and as a consequence are going to be underrepresented in sports."

Comments on Facebook