By Brian Bell
(pictured… Out Las Vegas Raiders football player Carl Nassib)
That disparity is borne out of various circumstances, most notably fear of rejection from those that athletes interact with the most – their teammates – simply for living out and proud as their true selves. Thankfully, a new study shows that attitudes toward the participation of LGBTQ+ athletes in sports and the response to teammates coming out while playing at the high school and college level are shifting.
LGBTQ+ sports news outlet Outsports, in cooperation with the Sports Equality Foundation and Dr. Eric Anderson of the University of Winchester, surveyed 1,000 different team coming out experiences of athletes who came out while participating in high school and college-level sports. The responses show that coming out to their teammates overwhelmingly resulted in positive experiences for LGBTQ+ athletes. Read the full study here!
Participation in sports provides vital experiences for young people. Athletes build life skills and develop their self-identities while building support systems that can persist beyond the court’s confines. The value of those experiences can be exponentially greater for LGBTQ+ youth, and yet they still participate in sports at a lower level than their cishet counterparts.
The athletes polled said their teammates’ response to them coming out was “neutral” to “perfect” at more than 20 times the rate of negative reactions. Most (36.5%) said their teammates’ reaction was “very good.” As the visibility of out athletes continues to grow, so too does acceptance among teammates. This is also shown in how many LGBTQ athletes reported their teammates eclipsed their expectations of acceptance.
Ninety-seven percent of LGBTQ athletes reported that the reception from their teammates after coming out met or exceeded their expectations, with most (37.4%) saying it was “much better.” More than half of respondents said that they never heard teammates use anti-LGBTQ language or slurs post-coming out and 78% stated they never heard said language directed toward them. The use of said language went down across the board after an LGBTQ teammate came out.
The data also shows that LGBTQ athletes felt more accepted by their teammates than their classmates, with three times more respondents saying their locker room companions embraced them more than their fellow students. This may seem surprising, but the increasing number of school districts limiting or outright banning the display of LGBTQ symbols, such as Pride flags, on school grounds further emboldens anti-LGBTQ ideation among student bodies.
It also reflects the communal environment competing in athletics usually engenders. Sports builds relationships, plain and simple, and seeing out LGBTQ athletes find a safe place within athletic circles shows unequivocally that ostracization is no longer the norm. Past narratives that characterized out athletes as “distractions” are just that – things of the past, and the increased presence and acceptance of LGBTQ identities culturally is influencing locker rooms nationwide.
Most of all, the results show that LGBTQ athletes are increasingly being seen as who they are: human. Like their cishet companions, LGBTQ athletes simply want to participate and feel welcomed as their true selves, and more and more that goal is being met at the ground level even as political bodies attempt to legislate the othering and exclusion of LGBTQ athletes. Much like winning a championship, building inclusive environments takes a team, and LGBTQ athletes are increasingly finding allies willing to stand by them.
– Brian Bell (They/He) is a journalist covering LGBTQ topics in pro wrestling, combat sports, video games, politics and media. They host the LGBTQ pro wrestling podcast LGBT In The Ring. Read more of their work at Outsports, Towleroad and Paste Magazine and follow them on Twitter @WonderboyOTM.
– Visit the Sports playlist on It Gets Better Project’s YouTube page for stories from out and ally athletes.