LGBTQ football players battle discrimination on and off the field

Gabriella Pinos/ Staff Writer 

Warm Sunday afternoons, hot dogs sizzling on the grill, family and friends gathering around the television – these are all synonymous with one of America’s favorite pastimes.

Whether you watch it or play it, American football has been at the center of our culture for more than a century.

And as the years have passed, the sport has become more inclusive, with players of all races and ethnicities participating in it.

But despite these advances, one group continues to battle discrimination on and off the field: the LGBTQ community.

It’s sad to see that in an age where being gay is normal, there still exists a stigma around gay football players. It’s a trend that continues to stir controversy among the National Football League, as well as collegiate and other professional football groups.

Even with the coming out of Michael Sam, the first openly-gay football player drafted in the NFL, statistics aren’t in the sport’s favor.

In the NFL’s history, there have only been 11 athletes known to be gay, according to Outsports. None have ever come while being active players.

The collegiate scene also experiences its fair share of discrimination.

Landon Foster, a starting punter at the University of Kentucky, said he struggled to come out to his team at the time, according to an interview with Advocate. Foster describes the environment surrounding football as a “macho world.”

“Macho” is an accurate term for the football fan base, including the stereotypes which plague it.

When thinking about an average football fan at a game, a middle-aged dad or college frat boy comes to mind. In fact, about 74 percent of American men are more likely to follow football than women, and most of which are between the ages of 25 and 34, according to an audience report by Global Web Index.

This, along with the history of alleged sexism within the sport, places heterosexuality on a pedestal. The implied discrimination against LGBTQ football players forces them to stay in the closet in fear.

However, that’s not to say that some strides have been made to stop this stigma from spreading.

Prominent LGBTQ sports figures such as Sam have led the fight toward equality. Documentaries such as “Alone in the Field,” feature LGBTQ athletes who speak out about their experiences struggling with their sexuality.

In a TEDx Talk published in May 2018, Foster describes that Sam, along with the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage, gave him hope for a normal life. Both athletes’ coming out stories are models for other gay football players to follow in years to come.

Even the NFL has become more open to the LGBTQ community in recent years.

In 2017, NFL Pride was created, an LGBTQ affinity group run by two gay NFL employees. And in June 2018, the corporation joined Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League and others in the New York City Pride Parade for the first time in history. Their float featured two gay former players, Ryan O’Callaghan and Wade Davis.

As the tides turn in the favor of closeted athletes, American football may see a surge of gay sports figures on the field.

But the fear of discrimination from teammates, coaches and devoted fans can only be let go if the attitude toward the sport shifts to one of inclusivity.

And in the “macho world” of football, that future seems distant, a shy voice drowned out by the cheers emanating from the stands.


The opinions presented within this page do not represent the views of PantherNOW Editorial Board. These views are separate from editorials and reflect individual perspectives of contributing writers and/or members of the University community.

Photo by Peter Hershey on Unsplash.

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