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Silence in sports furthers homophobia

Published: Thursday, September 20, 2012

Updated: Thursday, September 20, 2012 00:09

 

Last weekend, Yunel Escobar, a player for the Toronto Blue Jays, painted a homophobic slur in Spanish on his eye-black during a game against Boston.

While he apologized and said he didn’t mean for anyone to be offended, it resulted in a three-game suspension and a great deal of negative publicity. 

Unfortunately, homophobia, discrimination and hyper-masculinity are nothing new in professional sports. 

And maybe it’s time the problem was talked about. 

Escobar’s eye-black isn’t an issue that exists in isolation. Sure, he was the one who decided to wear the slur, but he was also surrounded by teammates who, by all accounts, didn’t appear to have said anything to him. Could it be that they just didn’t know what it translated to? 

Maybe. But the fact stands that sports remains a hostile environment for people who are openly non-heterosexual. 

During the past few years, thanks to efforts such as the “It Gets Better” project, there have been some athletes who have shared stories about their sexual orientations. 

Others such as Billy Bean and Wade Davis only came out after they retired from professional sports. 

This causes two big problems. First, LGBT youth don’t see many role models in sports, and it can make them feel like they’re not welcome — at least, not if they’re open about who they are. 

The second is that while they’re living in fear of being outed, they remain silent in the face of locker-room taunts or generally homophobic behavior.

Another big issue in professional sports is sexual assault. 

The issue was largely brought to the public’s attention by Jackson Katz, a former football player who became an anti-sexism educator and continues to tour the country, talking about masculinity to male-dominated groups, including universities, professional sports teams and the military. 

This same culture that has allowed high levels of sexual assault by members is what is allowing homophobia to run rampant. 

It’s time that we encourage people — especially men and those in positions of power — to speak up when they see something happening. 

It shouldn’t have taken reporters and negative publicity to intervene with Escobar. 

It’s time his teammates and colleagues stop allowing homophobia to be treated as an acceptable attitude. 

This can be carried out in little ways by each of us. All it takes is a “hey, that’s not cool” to make someone reconsider saying
something discriminatory. 

While it’s nice to hear a public statement condemning homophobic or sexist behaviors in an organization like MLB, the strongest message one can send is letting those around him know what’s not OK. 

Shireen Noble is a graduate student in public health.

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