‘Coming out’ on an UNEQUAL PLAYING FIELD

April 18, 2013


Sports Reporter  


Photo illustration by Deepanjan Mukhopadhyay

Wade Davis, a former National Football League cornerback, spent $1,500 and plenty of time in a strip club during his rookie training camp in an effort to hide his sexual orientation from his teammates.


Elizabeth Franklin is a former softball player for Louisiana Tech University who had an easier time coming out as a lesbian to her teammates in her sophomore season.


Lately there has been a huge push from players and activists in professional sports, especially the NFL and National Hockey League, for gay athletes to come out of the closet and provide a positive example and role model for younger athletes.



There has never been an openly gay athlete in the four major male professional sports to come out while they were still actively playing hockey, football, baseball or basketball.


Franklin, who is now an instructor of kinesiology at Tech, said there is a huge difference in women and men coming out in sports due to the way dominance is portrayed.


“I am accepted in the athletic world as a more dominant woman,” she said. “[A gay man] would seem weaker to most men.”


Franklin said such an act will not be easy and could spark quite a controversy amongst athletes and fans, especially if the player is a serious contributor to their team.


“It would take a lot of sacrifice for a [top-level] player to come out,” Franklin said. “A lot of people would have negative things to say and I think it would be more detrimental than people think.”


Davis is a Shreveport native who came out as gay in late 2012. He has since enveloped himself in activism for same-sex marriage equality and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender acceptance in professional sports.


It took Davis several years after he retired from the NFL to openly admit he was gay. He said he struggled with accepting and loving himself for who he was.


However, in a telephone interview with The Tech Talk, Davis said football provided a distraction for him to escape the battles he faced with his sexuality and just play the game.


“The worst part was being alone,” said Davis, from his home in New York City. “I realized that there was another side of me that couldn’t come out.”



Davis and Franklin agree that the idea of masculinity is a huge part of why players have struggled to come out of the closet. This is an idea also supported by Dr. Shawn Trivette, an assistant professor of sociology at Tech, who also happens to be gay.


“The way society currently understands masculinity is that to be a ‘real man,’ you have to be tough, aggressive and physically strong,” Trivette said. “To be portrayed as a ‘real man,’ you also have to be heterosexual.”


Davis said in communities such as his hometown of Shreveport and others like Monroe or Ruston it is much more difficult for players to come out as LGBT athletes because there is no real sense of acceptance amongst the community. In addition, most people do not have someone in their lives who are open about their homosexuality.


Franklin agreed with Davis and said there is a large population of LGBT people in Ruston, which has gone unnoticed.


“Ruston is a lot ‘gayer’ than people think,” Franklin said. “Ruston has such a large gay community that most people don’t know about, simply because they don’t want to know about it.”


Franklin said her team was like a second family to her while she was playing. For her, the sense of community on the softball team is what helped her to come out.


“It was a very comfortable place for me,” she said. “My teammates were very accepting and that made me more confident in who I am.”


People like Davis and Chris Kluwe, punter for the Minnesota Vikings, are leading this push on coming out in professional sports.


Kluwe is a heterosexual player who was thrown into the role of activist after he wrote a letter in 2012 to the Maryland state assembly defending same-sex marriage equality.


Since then he has spoken at high profile gay activism events in support of marriage equality and has done interviews for news organizations like CNN.


He even filed an amicus brief supporting marriage equality to the Supreme Court along with former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo in the case of Hollingsworth v. Perry, which is a case challenging the constitutionality of Proposition 8 in California.


In a telephone interview with The Tech Talk, Kluwe said the homophobia in professional sports comes from players who have never had experiences with openly gay people. He said the homophobic nature of sports would only change if players come out.



“A gay player coming out would change that immeasurably,” said Kluwe, from his home base of Los Angeles. “As younger men keep cycling into the league, we’ll see that idea [of homophobia] go away.”


Davis and Kluwe both insisted that any athlete or student questioning their sexuality should create a safe space of people they trust around them who love them for who they are.


Kluwe said his work in LGBT equality activism would not be finished until no one will ever have these sorts of conversations again.


“The ultimate goal is not just gay rights or same-sex marriage,” Kluwe said. “It’s the idea that everyone should be able to live their own lives free of oppression.”


Email comments to ktc013@latech.edu.



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