Why are there so few openly gay sports stars?

We’re going to try and touch on three subject today: this one, and the interrogation and Pirate Bay stories.

Australian diver Matthew Mitcham won gold in Beijing and this week he’s said that his sexuality has cost him sponsorship.

John Amaechi played for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Orlando Magic, LA Lakers and Utah Jazz (not a bad list is it?), but it was only after he stopped playing that he revealed that he is gay. He’ll tell us why he waited. Here’s an interview he gave when he came out after his retirement.

Is this about the attitude of fans or the attitude of some players? Or do you think if more gay players were willing to come out then this would stop being an issue?

51 Responses to “Why are there so few openly gay sports stars?”

  1. 1 steve
    April 17, 2009 at 14:16

    I’m guessing that being openly gay wouldn’t go down to well in the lockerrooms.

  2. 2 Rob (UK)
    April 17, 2009 at 14:22

    Perhaps there is just a lower proportion of gay people in sports than in the wider population. I can imagine that gay people might be concerned about their sexuality being ‘discovered’ by peers in this typically masculine arena, and that many simply choose not to take the risk of getting involved. Likewise, are there representative numbers of gay people in policing or the army?

  3. 3 mandie in cape coral
    April 17, 2009 at 14:55

    openly gay gives way to harsh treatment. a sports starts fame lies in the fact that everyone loves them, and homophobic people won’t openly route for a gay person. personally, who cares if someone is gay? talent is pure and undiscriminating!

  4. 4 Ugochi
    April 17, 2009 at 14:57

    I think it may have more to do with how people with being a man and being gay don’t go together. Sports is one of the manliest things you can do and so to be gay and a male athlete, it is strongly rejected because it goes against what people think should occur.

  5. April 17, 2009 at 15:09

    As long as the majority of fans are heterosexual, they ‘re unlikely to consider a gay player as their role model. It’s one thing to accept gays within society, but it is another to take them as models. Gay player had better hide their sexual orientation.
    As a compromise, as there are gay clubs, there should be gay teams watched by gay spectators. At least there will be no embarrassment on either side.

    In the world of art, people like Elton John didn’t reveal they were gay at the start of their careers. It took them time to do so as it took time for their fans to accept them. Maybe for gay sport stars, they have to wait for their fans to accept them for what they are and to make a distinction between a player on the field and in private life.

    And let’s not forget the commercial side. There are sponsors, advertisers as well clubs who refuse gay sportsmen because they may just deter fans from whom hey can generate revenues.

    The attitude towards gay sportsmen still has to do with ethics, popularity and business.

  6. 6 VictorK
    April 17, 2009 at 15:37

    The question throws an interesting light on a broader matter: left-liberal prejudices and assumptions about ‘equality’.

    First, as noted by Rob, why assume that gays are – or should be – as proportionately represented in sport as they are in the general population? You might just as well get anxious about why there aren’t more straight male fashion designers or interior decorators. Second: it’s as true for gays as it is for any other culturally well-defined social group: collective aptitudes and average performance on various indices for the group will be distinctive, and will never be exactly the same as the aptitudes and average performance of other groups. The point applies to race, class, and gender.

    The fact that hardly any notable sports stars have died of AIDS (in fact, none in the UK that I can recall) compared to, say, the unsuprisingly high death- toll in a sphere like the arts, is pretty conclusive evidence that gays are an insignificant presence in the sporting world (except for Lesbians in a couple of disciplines). Mandie’s commonsense point, as illustrated by Ugochi, is as good an explanation for that absence as any other.

  7. 7 Diana
    April 17, 2009 at 16:29

    I think it’s more difficult for male sports stars to come out – sport is considered masculine and fans are often straight men (not always, of course). I do think there are less gay men good at major sports like basketball, baseball, football (in the US). That is a major stereotype, I know, but I think it rings true.

    For women, I think there are a lot more stars that are out – many in tennis including Martina Navratilova, Amelie Mauresmo, Renee Stubbs. Also, many in basketball. It’s maybe a bit more acceptable because people see these women as more masculine anyway. Also, they usually have a big following of women fans. Now, if Maria Sharapova were to say she’s gay, that might cause a problem. Sponsors would drop, some fans would go away, etc. She’s ‘all-American, girl-next-door,’ – couldn’t possibly be gay.

  8. 8 Ria (Germany)
    April 17, 2009 at 16:35

    I guess there are so few openly gay sport stars because there are too many homophobic men in this world. Too many men who still hold up their sick ideas about how a “real man” should be like. So as a sport star you probably need a lot of courage to just be who you are.

    I could never understand why heterosexual men always display this need to make it clear to everyone they are not gay – by making stupid jokes about gays or ponting out their heterosexual orientation by remarks that are even more stupid.

    Forgive me for saying that, Steve, but your comment that being a gay sport star “wouldn’t go down to well in the lockerrooms” says it all: heterosexual men are afraid of gays because they challenge the heterosexual “role model” which in fact is a very destructive one as we can see each day in the news.

    It would be great, though, if gay sport stars would have the courage to come out!

  9. 9 Luci Smith
    April 17, 2009 at 16:42

    Having been a competitive swimmer ages ago, I realize now that a lot of the trainers back in the 60’s sexually harassed or came on to their best athletes. I was never a star, but some of my friends had problems.

    I think that it is up to everybody to accept gay people and then it would be easier for famous people to come out. If you are young, it is difficult to be pegged for your homosexualty, perhaps. Isn’t one’s private persona something that one grows into?

  10. 10 Roberto
    April 17, 2009 at 16:54

    RE “” Why are there so few openly gay sports stars? “”

    ———– Probably down to the media vastly over-reporting gay stories in either a whinging, whining light or a titillating adolescent manner.

    The number of gay sports athletes is minuscule and the few of their stars have their image to protect. Same deal with movie stars, CEOs, politicians, soldiers, neighbors.

    The only gays who want to be featured in full spread media splashes are the gay activists who have an agenda to push.

  11. 11 Anthony
    April 17, 2009 at 17:28

    Are you guess serious? Is there even a reason to discuss this? Imagine being with a bunch of men in a “Manly professional sport” and being gay. How comfortable would other players be in the locker room, rubbing against eachother during practice, and just general homophobic things that would happen. Not to mention the $$$, what manly man wants to root for a team when they have a gay man on it, let alone pay for tickets or a hat. I can’t believe this is even a topic.

    -Anthony, LA, CA

  12. April 17, 2009 at 17:35

    The ‘pious’ public will ostracize them!

  13. 13 steve
    April 17, 2009 at 18:03

    Well, given only 5% of the population is gay, how many gays are we expecting there to be in sports? Sure most are probably in the closet, but if we’re expecting 100% to be out of the closet, or even worse, expecting 50% of teams to be gay, that’s not very realistic. Could it just be that there possibly aren’t that many gay athletes? Every gay guy I know doesn’t like sports at all. They don’t play sports, nor do they watch it.

  14. 14 steve
    April 17, 2009 at 18:12

    If you think about it, it’s the “workplace” in training and on the basketball court. At any other job, sexuality and related issues are not considered appropriate for work, so you don’t have straights talking about sex either at work, so is your sexuality really something that is work appropriate? You could get in trouble for saying “i like having sex with women” at work, so why wouldn’t it be the same for saying “I like having sex with men” which basically what it means when you say you are homosexual?

  15. 15 Scott - FL, USA
    April 17, 2009 at 18:34

    I think your question is posed in a manipulative way. You are trying to suggest that homosexuality occurs equally among all types of people. A more truthful question would be “Why are so few homosexuals great athletes?”

    • 16 James
      April 29, 2009 at 20:40

      On a much less annoyed note, I agree with Scott. Why are so few homosexuals great athletes?

      A) There are probably a lot more athletes, actors, and people of all professions who are gay or bisexual that just don’t admit it because out of fear of rejection or hatred.
      B) Considering the intense level of homophobia throughout developmental years, I’d say there are probably a lot of factors that cause gay people to avoid professional sports. Hell, most of the gay or bisexual people I know are pretty messed up due to all of the bullshit in the world surrounding the subject.

  16. 18 Vijay
    April 17, 2009 at 18:35

    On the college sports team I was on there were a couple of guys who were suspected of engaging in homosexual activity,there were a few fights and arguments both of them denied be gay,it was a trust issue they weren’t open about things and that caused distrust.

    I don’t know if it is a black male american thing, but their definition of gay is different,did John Amaechie notice this.

    On the womens basketball team it was the opposite situation ,14 out of 15 were gay and they were harrassing the straight player.

  17. 19 donald
    April 17, 2009 at 18:35

    why should they be openly gay. it is not a fashion competition so we should be counting how many sports people are gay. This is not right, in future the question may be why are sports people not openly straight? It is still a stigma and if you want to have world wide support being gay is not the right thing to be.

  18. 20 steve
    April 17, 2009 at 18:37

    Unless those fans were calling for violence, why were the fans in trouble for chanting? Freedom of speech includes speech you don’t agree with, otherwise you live in police state. Do you want newspeak and big brother?

  19. 21 Patti in Cape Coral, FL
    April 17, 2009 at 18:43

    If I was a gay athlete, I think I would want to prove myself as an athlete first, before I admitted to being gay, that way, there would be no doubt as to my prowess as an athlete before I started getting judged because of my sexual orientation

  20. 22 Fred in Portland OR
    April 17, 2009 at 18:43

    Being Gay in whatever endevor shouldn’t be an issue.

    But I’m biased, I’m gay and think that John is both talented and handsome.

  21. April 17, 2009 at 18:45

    I’m in Baltimore, MD. Actually when I think of a lot of gay people I don’t think that they are weak. In Baltimore MD there are alot of gay blacks. Actually most of the black gay persons in Baltimore most people would never think that they are gay because they are big strong men.

  22. 24 Donald
    April 17, 2009 at 18:50

    I compete at a high level of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (submission wrestling) and one thing I have seen done is other competitors painting their toenails, fingernails, or wearing apparel that is very feminine. This is done in an attempt to freak out our opponent and try and gain an advantage because of the homophobic fear it causes.

  23. 25 Rob
    April 17, 2009 at 18:50

    I certainly have no problem with athletes or anybody else being gay. The disconnect appears to be that athletes, gay or not, do not realize that they are really just entertainers. Entertainment is the source of their income and not sport. The only place where you find pure sport is the Olympics. So as an entertainer they have to understand that the team owners and promoters are just selling a product. (Not to mention the hooligans in may sports that are heralded as role models when they should be anything but that, but that is for another day) Society has not come to accept gay’s in may areas and this is just another one of them.

    Marketers across all kinds of products test what the public will likely react well to and go with that option. There are very few gays that are out in sport is just a reaction to the presumption that they will not be as valuable to the people selling their talent. It is a sad commentary on our society but it all comes down to economics.

  24. 26 steve
    April 17, 2009 at 18:51

    Mr. Amaechi apparently has a problem with the stereotypes of gay people, but a lot of homosexual do meet the stereotype. What does he think of these people that “play the role”? I’ve walked by some gay bars in recent weeks, and, well, they were playing the role…

  25. 27 Rob
    April 17, 2009 at 18:54

    Ian Roberts was known as one of the hard men in one of the hardest contact sports in the world — rugby league at club, state and international level.

    Roberts came out while still playing and it was treated as a bit of a yawn by most fans (except a few troglodytes) as his sexuality was a largely open secret.

  26. 28 chidozie obioha
    April 17, 2009 at 18:57

    I just googled your Don’s name and found out he was born in Enugu in Nigeria. To me this is one of the down sides of people coming and embrassing the negative side of the western culture.

  27. April 17, 2009 at 18:57

    Team dynamics is one thing but market forces do have the final say. Advertisers need to make money and anyone or anything that gets in the way will be pushed over.

  28. 30 Patti in Cape Coral, FL
    April 17, 2009 at 19:03

    @ Steve

    Aren’t there laws against hate speech? I think I read that somewhere…

  29. 31 Lucie
    April 17, 2009 at 19:04

    I support gay people but I am not a sport fan. I think the problem says something about man. They love sport as part of their identity although they are unable to run to catch a bus. They love sport as something exclusively male, without women, something to watch with friends and beer. It is something what unites them and they feel threatened realizing they enjoy a myth.

    They should awake and rethink their silly notion of masculinity! All; men, gay and women would benefit!

    Lucie, Czech Republic

  30. 32 David
    April 17, 2009 at 19:06

    It’s time for all “special class” people to GET OVER THEMSELVES!
    Oh, I can’t play sports & be openly gay, oh my. Big deal.

    I find sports about as interesting as watching paint dry & yet I have to pretend like this is not the case in nearly any gathering of men. If I’m openly dis-interested in sports, I’m thought to be “odd.”

    That’s life – get over it!

    I’m in no way endorsing violence or hatred towards gays (or any other group). I’m simply saying, people have their prejudices and those of us that are “different” need to grow thicker skins.

  31. 33 saad , Jaffrabad Pakistan
    April 17, 2009 at 19:06

    I have one question:What would happen if the whole world become gay?

  32. 34 Tom D Ford
    April 17, 2009 at 19:23

    I suspect that the problem is with the fans.

    People who actually play the sports respect each others talents and abilities in their sport no matter what their other differences. Gayness is not any threat to the players, the gay players talent is.

    But the fans place or project their own self worth onto the players. The fan is afraid for their own “manliness”, wanting to see themselves like the player in strength and talent but knowing that they don’t really measure up in that way. So the fan feels himself vulnerable if his sports star turns out to be gay. I mean, if even gay players are more “manly” in the sport than the fan is, the fan feels himself as somehow “less manly than” even a gay person.

    Just a speculative thought.

    Now I’ve been a downhill ski racer. I know what it takes to workout and practice to develop into a fairly decent downhill ski racer and now I have also come to recognize discipline and talent in other sports and physical activities, soccer (football), swimming, F1 racing, hockey, figure skating, gymnastics, etc. I have watched Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in some movies on TCM and I am amazed at the work, practice, and discipline that they developed into their dances and I am not worried that watching them will threaten my own sense of “manliness”.

    So maybe the fan would be better off if he has actually participated in some sport, actually learned what it takes to do sports.


  33. 35 steve
    April 17, 2009 at 19:26

    @ Patti, and don’t those laws violate free speech?

  34. 36 Okorie eke
    April 17, 2009 at 19:37

    I think its madness for someone to come out and proclaim his/her sexuality.Its a personal stuff and shouldn’t be made public.

  35. 37 Robert in Indianapolis (USA)
    April 17, 2009 at 19:40

    The problem is that by the mention of sexuality, any kind, there is an assumed invitation. I say assumed because the speaker is usually not inviting others to join them in bed. It can feel that way. There’s always a heavy heartbeat when any preference is said. Even straight guys saying we’re straight get it. A part of you hopes nobody comes out on you.

  36. 38 Okorie eke
    April 17, 2009 at 19:43

    How can someone come out and tell you,”hey,am a thief”?You will surely be afraid of that person.

  37. 39 Patti in Cape Coral, FL
    April 17, 2009 at 19:44

    Possibly those laws violate free speech, but you were asking why the fans were in trouble, and if it is against the law, that would be why. However, I think it is strictly defined and has to meet certain criteria before it’s called hate speech.

  38. 40 Okorie eke
    April 17, 2009 at 19:51

    Its NO,NO,NO.No parent or fan will be proud to say our star player is a gay.Gay in sports is acceptable.Thats why they dont come out to say,”I AM GAY”

  39. 41 Jenni
    April 17, 2009 at 19:57

    All these negative comments from African men about gay people probably give a good answer to the question why there aren’t more openly gay athletes.

    I don’t understand why gay people should be expected to have to come out. What consenting adults do in their bedrooms is nobody’s business but theirs. Gay people should not be defined only by their sexuality. Heterosexuals are not expected to defend their sexual orientation.

    I applaud John Amaechi for his courageous stand. He is articulate and intelligent and refuses to be stereotyped and cowed by homophobia. I teach high school and am appalled at the frequency with which ‘gay’ is used as an insult by adolescent boys.

  40. 42 Patti in Cape Coral, FL
    April 17, 2009 at 20:13

    How is being a thief in any way comparable to being gay?

  41. 43 Robert in Indianapolis (USA)
    April 17, 2009 at 21:26

    (shaking my head about eke)
    It isn’t helping that people try to compare being gay to criminality. It’s like saying all straight men are rapists. Are you a rapist? Ever hear the term Consenting Adults? And before you say for them to not tell anyone, look around at all those wedding rings and tell me is it fair? It’s a human instinct to want to crow about having a sex partner. …Although, on the most part when I hear that somebody is gay my first thought is more women for me.

  42. 44 Jennifer
    April 18, 2009 at 00:52


    Why are there so few openly gay sports stars?

    Well, speaking of men, it is less likely they will be marketable for projects if they come out of the closet. For women, probably the same reasons.

    I don’t really see it as an issue. If I dyed my hair pink and got piercings all over; I’d have to face the consequences, right? So it is with all things. That’s why most just keep it to themselves.

  43. 45 Jim Newman
    April 19, 2009 at 13:01

    Hello again
    At the risk of sounding frivolous I would say that unless sexual exploits become an official sport or an olympic discipline I can’t see what sexual orientation has to do with sport.
    Openly gay people whatever their professions are sending out a message that they are human the same as everybody else.

    • 46 James
      April 29, 2009 at 20:53

      I think people should be able to pronounce whatever they want about themselves without it being made into an issue by anyone else. If gay people remain in the closet throughout their sports or other career, they are limiting their own romantic life and causing damage to their self-esteem, which affects them on the field or at work regardless. And if people just keep their mouths shut, then it’s easier for the world to create this illusion of a world where gay people only dress like women and only go to gay bars and don’t partake in normal human activities. Not to mention if all the gay people in sports and other jobs keep their mouths shut, it’s just another way spectators can reinforce that false “masculinity” complex. The simple solution is for everyone, everywhere in the world who is homosexual or bisexual to admit it. There would be such an overwhelming number of people that heterosexuals would no longer be able to get away with homophobia.

  44. 47 globalcomedy
    April 20, 2009 at 05:01

    They won’t come out up at the beginning because of pressure and potential sponsorships. It’s just like rock stars who are trying to make it. If Bono and U2 had been overtly political at the beginning of their careers, would they have been signed? Maybe not. The norm is to get signed, be set for life. And THEN you can be an activist.

    Also, it’s still legal in 35 states to sack someone just because they’re gay. Look at the Proposition 8 firestorm in California. In addition, what about lible and slander? If you’re a celebrity and someone says you’re gay, what do you do? Ignore them. Or sue. If you sue, truth is the ultimate defense. So if you ARE gay, what do you do then? If a case goes to depositions or a trial, we all know that explicit details about your sex life will come out. And who needs that?

  45. April 20, 2009 at 14:21

    Hi WHYSers!

    I think part of the ‘problem’ comes out of the fact that there are all kinds of unpleasant repurcussions that people are likely to face in such a scenario. Further, it detracts from the sport. Is the objective of the sports star to campaign for a political cause, or play for his team?

  46. 49 Max
    April 22, 2009 at 04:55

    So why should homosexuals be considered “special” . So what they play sport, or don’t as the case may be. Surely there is much more to admire in someone who takes on the responsible tasks of family life, with all its trials , than people who live only for sexual gratification, as with male homosexuals.

  47. 50 Jim Newman
    April 22, 2009 at 17:22

    Hello again
    To saad of Pakistan. I think that the whole world becoming homosexual would certainely solve the human overpopulation problem. Maybe we should do a lot more to encourage homosexuality.

  48. 51 Dennis Junior
    April 27, 2009 at 03:37


    Because, if they come out of the closet they are afraid of getting accosted in the locker room by there fellow team-mates and others….

    I am glad that Australian diver Matthew Mitcham & John Amaechi have come out of the closet regarding their sexual orientation…..

    ~Dennis Junior~

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