Menus Subscribe Search
collins-get

(PHOTO: JONATHAN DANIEL/GETTY IMAGES)

Sports No Longer Last Bastion of Homophobia

• April 30, 2013 • 6:00 AM

(PHOTO: JONATHAN DANIEL/GETTY IMAGES)

The NBA’s Jason Collins’ revelation of his homosexuality may seem revolutionary, but in fact it’s the culmination of a trend.

So, are sports fans ready to cheer on openly gay players?

A body of recent research suggests they are. A number of studies published over the last three years have found a steep decline in homophobic attitudes among both athletes and fans.

There’s no question that NBA player Jason Collins took a risk in telling the world, via this week’s Sports Illustrated, that he is gay. But that risk is far less than it would have been even a decade ago.

“Research on masculinities and homophobia today shows that, even in the traditionally conservative institution of sport, matters have shifted dramatically,” Eric Anderson of the University of Winchester wrote in the introduction to a 2011 edition of the Journal of Homosexuality, focusing on sports. “Today’s youth exist within a much-improved social and sporting landscape.”

“Either sport in America has ‘learned’ from pioneering openly gay athletes, or (much more likely) cultural homophobia has decreased.”

Anderson, who became America’s first openly gay high-school coach in 2000, knows this as well as anyone; he has been researching homosexuality in sports for well over a decade. During that time, he has seen a dramatic shift in attitudes, which he charts in another 2011 paper (this one in the journal Gender and Society).

In it, he describes 52 interviews he conducted with gay male athletes on school-affiliated teams in the United States. Twenty-six of them went public with their sexual orientation between 2000 and 2002; the other 26 did so between 2008 and 2010. Those in the latter group “have had better experiences after coming out than those in the earlier cohort,” he reports, “experiencing less heterosexism and maintaining better support among their teammates.”

Anderson’s tentative conclusion: “Either sport in America has ‘learned’ from pioneering openly gay athletes, or (much more likely) cultural homophobia has decreased among the local cultures that the 26 men of the 2010 sample inhabit.”

Another 2011 study found a similarly accepting attitude at one “mid-sized Eastern university in the U.S.” A team of psychologists led by Jamonn Campbell asked 276 students to name their favorite sports team. They then read a short news article about a fictional athlete, and were asked to imagine he was on the team they regularly root for.

In all versions of the article, the player was described as a hard-working, well-liked five-year veteran of the team. But some of the study participants also read that he had recently come out as gay. Afterwards, they rated him on positive and negative characteristics, and described whether he was right for the team or should be traded.

Surprisingly, “participants rated the gay male player significantly more favorably than the heterosexual team member,” the researchers reported in the Journal of Homosexuality. “These findings were primarily driven by the ratings of our female participants. Whereas males’ impressions of the player were unaffected by his sexual orientation, females formed a more positive impression of the gay athlete than the heterosexual athlete.”

OK, but that’s a group of college students. How about the hard-core sports fans—those who post comments on message boards? Surely we’ll find homophobia there.

Yes, but not as much as you’d think. At least, that’s the central finding of a 2012 study from the U.K., published in the International Review for the Sociology of Sport. Jamie Cleland of Loughborough University looked at over 3,000 anonymous posts on 48 soccer message boards, all of which dealt with fans’ reactions to openly gay players.

Despite “some orthodox views toward homosexuality,” he writes, “a majority of (a team’s) supporters demonstrate more inclusivity through the rejection of posts that they feel have pernicious homophobic intent.” He found that fans “frequently challenge” posts deriding players due to their sexual orientation, “and suggest that on-the-field performance is what is valued the most.”

Presuming Collins returns to the NBA next season, it seems likely that most fans of his new team will have a similar reaction: We’re happy to have you, so long as you help our team win.

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

More From Tom Jacobs

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

September 2 • 2:00 AM

Introducing the New Issue of ‘Pacific Standard’

The science of self-control, the rise of biblical counseling, why middle school doesn’t have to suck, and more in our September/October 2014 print issue.


September 1 • 1:00 PM

Television and Overeating: What We Watch Matters

New research finds fast-moving programming leads to mindless overeating.



September 1 • 6:00 AM

Why Someone Named Monty Iceman Sold Doogie Howser’s Estate

How unusual names, under certain circumstances, can lead to success.



August 29 • 4:00 PM

The Hidden Costs of Tobacco Debt

Even when taxpayers aren’t explicitly on the hook, tobacco bonds can cost states and local governments money. Here’s how.


August 29 • 2:00 PM

Why Don’t Men and Women Wear the Same Gender-Neutral Bathing Suits?

They used to in the 1920s.


August 29 • 11:48 AM

Your Brain Decides Whether to Trust Someone in Milliseconds

We can determine trustworthiness even when we’re only subliminally aware of the other person.


August 29 • 10:00 AM

True Darwinism Is All About Chance

Though the rich sometimes forget, Darwin knew that nature frequently rolls the dice.


August 29 • 8:00 AM

Why Our Molecular Make-Up Can’t Explain Who We Are

Our genes only tell a portion of the story.


August 29 • 6:00 AM

Strange Situations: Attachment Theory and Sexual Assault on College Campuses

When college women leave home, does attachment behavior make them more vulnerable to campus rape?


August 29 • 4:00 AM

Forgive Your Philandering Partner—and Pay the Price

New research finds people who forgive an unfaithful romantic partner are considered weaker and less competent than those who ended the relationship.


August 28 • 4:00 PM

Some Natural-Looking Zoo Exhibits May Be Even Worse Than the Old Concrete Ones

They’re often designed for you, the paying visitor, and not the animals who have to inhabit them.


August 28 • 2:00 PM

What I Learned From Debating Science With Trolls

“Don’t feed the trolls” is sound advice, but occasionally ignoring it can lead to rewards.


August 28 • 12:00 PM

The Ice Bucket Challenge’s Meme Money

The ALS Association has raised nearly $100 million over the past month, 50 times what it raised in the same period last year. How will that money be spent, and how can non-profit executives make a windfall last?


August 28 • 11:56 AM

Outlawing Water Conflict: California Legislators Confront Risky Groundwater Loophole

California, where ambitious agriculture sucks up 80 percent of the state’s developed water, is no stranger to water wrangles. Now one of the worst droughts in state history is pushing legislators to reckon with its unwieldy water laws, especially one major oversight: California has been the only Western state without groundwater regulation—but now that looks set to change.


August 28 • 11:38 AM

Young, Undocumented, and Invisible

While young migrant workers struggle under poor working conditions, U.S. policy has done little to help.


August 28 • 10:00 AM

The Five Words You Never Want to Hear From Your Doctor

“Sometimes people just get pains.”


August 28 • 8:00 AM

Why I’m Not Sharing My Coke

Andy Warhol, algorithms, and a bunch of popular names printed on soda cans.


August 28 • 6:00 AM

Can Outdoor Art Revitalize Outdoor Advertising?

That art you’ve been seeing at bus stations and billboards—it’s serving a purpose beyond just promoting local museums.


August 28 • 4:00 AM

Linguistic Analysis Reveals Research Fraud

An examination of papers by the discredited Diederik Stapel finds linguistic differences between his legitimate and fraudulent studies.


August 28 • 2:00 AM

Poverty and Geography: The Myth of Racial Segregation

Migration, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or sexuality (not to mention class), can be a poverty-buster.


August 27 • 4:00 PM

The ‘Non-Lethal’ Flash-Bang Grenades Used in Ferguson Can Actually Be Quite Lethal

A journalist says he was singed by a flash-bang fired by St. Louis County police trying to disperse a crowd, raising questions about how to use these military-style devices safely and appropriately.


August 27 • 2:00 PM

Do Better Looking People Have Better Personalities Too?

An experiment on users of the dating site OKCupid found that members judge both looks and personality by looks alone.


August 27 • 12:00 PM

Love Can Make You Stronger

A new study links oxytocin, the hormone most commonly associated with social bonding, and the one that your body produces during an orgasm, with muscle regeneration.


Follow us


Subscribe Now

Your Brain Decides Whether to Trust Someone in Milliseconds

We can determine trustworthiness even when we’re only subliminally aware of the other person.

Young, Undocumented, and Invisible

While young migrant workers struggle under poor working conditions, U.S. policy has done little to help.

Education, Interrupted

When it comes to educational access, young Syrian refugees are becoming a “lost generation.”

No, Smartphone-Loss Anxiety Disorder Isn’t Real

But people are anxious about losing their phones, even if they don’t do much to protect them.

Being a Couch Potato: Not So Bad After All?

For those who feel guilty about watching TV, a new study provides redemption.

The Big One

One third of the United States federal budget for fighting wildfires goes toward one percent of such fires. September/October 2014 big-one-fires-final

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.