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Tackling Homophobia at the Superbowl

Dignity Society
February 01, 2013

Homophobia in professional sports is a high profile form of passive violence that has exerted a strong influence on professional athletes and fans for decades. Indeed, a hyper-masculinized locker room culture of homophobia continues to pervade the world of professional sports.

However, in a country and time of changing social norms, explicit expressions of homophobia are scrutinized by the media more closely than ever before. In its better moments, the media chooses to subvert the vitriol of public homophobic ouburts in athletics by placing them within an historical context. These incidents can then function as learning points, opportunities to illustrate our dynamic American capacity for enduring pro-social change. It is this unique American journey from rigid parochialism to cosmopolitan flexibility told through the lives of our sports heroes that has helped inspire the public to transcend normative discrimination based on color and sex in the past. It can do the same for sexual orientation today.

As a case in point, in response to recent media interest in homophobic comments made by 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver, The Record journalist Tara Sullivan urged the public to focus their attention on Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo’s continuing and committed efforts to overcome homophobia in sports.

Sullivan writes, “Rather than giving an enduring voice to Culliver’s crudely worded stance on intolerance if he found out he had a gay teammate, let Ayanbadejo’s message of inclusion resonate instead. That would be a victory beyond football, with a much deeper impact than a win for Culliver’s San Francisco 49ers or Ayanbadejo’s Baltimore Ravens in Sunday’s NFL championship game.That would be a truly groundbreaking event, perhaps paving a much-needed path to tolerance in sports, where we have yet to see an openly gay active player have the comfort or courage to out himself on our premier professional teams in the NFL, NBA or Major League Baseball.”

The presence of these two athletes with very different public stances on LGBT discrimination competing in the Superbowl this weekend provides one particularly dramatic litmus test for measuring our progress. In this grand public mirror, we are reminded of how far we have traveled on this journey and, in the silent shadows, we glimpse roads of social progress still yet to be blazed. As the ranks of NFL athletes allying themselves with the movement for LGBT equality continues to grow, the time will soon come when the leagues first active openly gay player will compete on this most visible stage of American athletics. When we reach that "Jackie Robinson moment," the meaning of the game will transcend the playing field and the pioneering advocacy of the Ayanbadejo's of the league will be fully appreciated.

Read Tara Sullivan's full article here.
Image Source: Keith Allison (Attribution via Wikimedia Commons)


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