By David Chen, Staff Writer
Elena Delle Donne first gained national recognition for her basketball skills in high school, scoring more than 2,000 points and three Delaware State Championships in the four years she spent there. As the most sought out women’s basketball recruit at the time since Candace Parker, she received a basketball scholarship to the University of Connecticut. Later on in her career, she played as a member of the USA team in the 2016 Olympics that earned gold. She continued on to play in the Women’s National Basketball Association finals as a member of the Washington Mystics.
She’s also lesbian.
Does the last sentence change anything about her skills as an athlete? It shouldn’t. So why should sports today be non-inclusive of athletes based on the arbitrary metric of sexuality?
An Out of Fields study reported that 80% of Australians have witnessed homophobia in sporting events and that 75% believe openly gay spectators would feel unsafe being present at a sporting event. The same report also stated that 87% of young men and 75% of young women remain closeted while participating in sports.
For too long, athletes have feared coming out as homosexual due to heteronormative ideals that exist within sports culture. They remain closeted for fear of being treated differently by their team, their coach, and their fans. Camaraderie and trust in team-based sports such as football is a fundamental aspect of playing and working together on the field, and a lack of trust between team members is destructive in terms of personal and team growth. Furthermore, homophobic reactions can delegitimize an athlete, which can severely harm his/her career. For example, Billie Jean King, formerly ranked number one in the world in tennis, lost millions of dollars in sponsorship money after coming out. Male athletes specifically are often afraid to come out because of the stereotype of gay men not being masculine. This stereotype has no factual basis but resonates regardless within society, unfairly portraying gay athletes as less valuable.
While not coming out allows athletes to avoid these negative repercussions, they also become further trapped in an identity that was assumed for them.
The Out Of Fields study shows how deeply entrenched heteronormativity is in sports around the world. In Glengarry, Australia, huge rainbow flags that promoted the nearby Pride Cup in Victoria were burnt down and destroyed in mere hours. As a result, the Pride Cup responded by pushing for the inclusion of the LGBTQ community in numerous Victorian sporting organisations including football, gymnastics, cricket, and rugby, as a “pledge of pride,” allowing any members into their clubs regardless of their sexuality or gender identity.
While inclusivity of LGBTQ athletes has slowly been improving, there exists an overwhelming group of athletes afraid to come out. The growing amount of LGBTQ athletic role models helps empower other athletes, letting them know they are not alone, but there is still much work to be done. It’s time for the international sports community to take proper steps to address that not being straight does not define who you are as an athlete.