One of the most dominant basketball players in recent memory came out as gay Wednesday, casually mentioning the fact in an interview as if it were an afterthought. The news media and the sports world seemed to treat it as such, too, with little mention of the star’s sexuality showing up on social media or on message boards, and virtually no analysis of what the revelation meant for tolerance in society as a whole.
At first glance, it seemed implausible. After all, players, fans, coaches and league executives had been waiting with bated breath for weeks, if not months and years, to see if an active team-sport athlete would come out. So how could this sort of revelation be treated with such nonchalance?
“Because it was a woman,” said Jim Buzinski, a founder of Outsports.com, a Web site about homosexuality and sports. “Can you imagine if it was a man who did the exact same thing? Everyone’s head would have exploded.”
The aftermath of the former Baylor star Brittney Griner’s revelation in several interviews this week was muted, to say the least. Griner, who was chosen with the No. 1 pick in the W.N.B.A. draft Monday, did not treat the issue with any outward hesitation — in fact, she appeared to refer to her coming out in the past tense, as though it had happened before — giving a casual feeling to the entire episode.
It was an odd juxtaposition: as there is increased speculation about whether a male athlete — any male athlete — will come out while still playing a major professional team sport, one of the best female athletes in the history of team sports comes out, and the reaction is roughly equivalent to what one might see when a baseball manager reveals his starting rotation for a three-game series in July. ...
There is, obviously, a more substantial history to female athletes’ coming out and continuing to play. Individual-sport stars like the tennis legend Martina Navratilova and team-sport players like basketball’s Sheryl Swoopes and soccer’s Megan Rapinoe are among the women to continue playing after publicly discussing their sexuality.
But those players generally received a similarly subdued response, with nothing close to the expected surge in attention that figures to follow a male athlete’s coming out. The reaction to Griner’s disclosure, then, was simply the latest example of a disturbing trend, according to some leaders of L.G.B.T. causes.
“We talk a lot in the L.G.B.T. community about how sexism is a big part of what contributes to homophobia,” said Anna Aagenes, the executive director of GO! Athletes, a national network of L.G.B.T. athletes. “It’s disheartening when there are so many great role model female athletes out that we’re so focused on waiting for a male pro athlete to come out in one of the four major sports.”
Context may not be the only factor in the ho-hum public response to Griner’s disclosure. Stereotypes that top female athletes are gay continue to persist, and that probably played a role in how the sports world responded to Griner, said Sherri Murrell, the women’s basketball coach at Portland State and the only openly gay basketball coach in Division I. ...
She continued: “I think we’re always going to be living in that bias. I think it’s getting better, but there is still that tag.”
That persistent stereotype about female athletes does damage on multiple levels, said Patrick Burke, a founder of You Can Play, a prominent advocacy group for L.G.B.T. athletes. While a number of heterosexual male athletes, including the N.F.L. players Chris Kluwe and Brendon Ayanbadejo, have publicly supported the efforts of L.G.B.T. athlete groups, it has been much harder to find straight female athletes to speak out in support, Burke said.
“In sports right now, there are two different stereotypes — that there are no gay male athletes, and every female athlete is a lesbian,” Burke said. “We’ve had tremendous success in getting straight male players to speak to the issue; we’re having a tougher time finding straight female athletes speaking on this issue because they’ve spent their entire careers fighting the perception that they’re a lesbian.”
Maybe the straight female athletes know that the stereotype that female jocks are disproportionately lesbian is true?
And, maybe, male jocks are disproportionately not gay? Could that possibly be?
Everybody treats this like it's a new question because nobody remembers anything. But, Sports Illustrated gave a lot of attention to homosexual athletes around 1975. For example, Former NFL player Dave Kopay came out that year, too. About the same time, 1968 Olympic decathlete Tom Waddell came out. In early 1975 SI's (arguably) top writer Frank Deford ran a two part extract from his biography of 1920s tennis great Bill Tilden. Deford said he wrote a book about Tilden precisely because he was gay ... and that so few top male athletes are gay. (Here are Deford's first article and second article.)
Here's my 1994 National Review article "Why Lesbians Aren't Gay," which points out the radical difference in sexual orientation of male and female athletes.