Sports, Male

Hekma, Gert, "As Long as They Don't Make an Issue of It ...": Gay Men and Lesbians in Organized Sports in the Netherlands, in: Journal of Homosexuality 35:1 (1998), 1-23.

Messner, Michael, Power at Play. Sports and the Problem of Masculinity, Boston: Beacon, 1992.

Pronger, Brian, The Arena of Masculinity. Sports, Homosexuality and the Meaning of Sex, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1990.

Sabo, Donald F. and Ross Runfola (eds), Sports & Male Identity, Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1980.

Sprawson, Charles, Haunts of the Black Masseur. The Swimmer as Hero, London: Jonathan Cape, 1992, reprinted by Penguin, NY, 1993.

In the late nineteenth century, both male homosexuality and competitive sports have been invented and defined as each other's opposites. A sportsman was masculine and heterosexual, a homosexual feminine and unsportive. Sporting was a way to prevent rising sexual desires, and a cure against homosexual inclinations. Many case histories and autobiographies of gay men till this day attest their lack of interest in their youth in the rough and tumble of sport games. The main background of this opposition was the place of gays in the gender dichotomy. Both for straight doctors and defenders of gay rights, homosexual men were because of their desire for men feminine.

Because of the gender dichotomy, men and women sported separately. Mixing men and women on sport fields and in locker rooms could incite unwelcome erotic desires. The homosocial organization of sports was intended to prevent the development of heterosexual pleasures. The presence of gay men was therefor unwanted, because they were considered to bring sexual lust back to the locker room. Being gay made a man unfit for male endeavours like sports, the army and hard work in general. Being a good sportsman was the surest sign not to be gay among straights. This ideology forced gay men to leave the sportsworld, or to do their best to pass as "normal". Gay men whose homosexuality was too visible, remained excluded from sport, while straight acting gay men had a chance to survive in sports.

In 1980, the anthology on men and sport edited by Sabo and Runfola was the first sports' study to pay attention to gay topics. Paul Hoch described sports as a school for sexism and male chauvinism. Homophobia was an integral part of the macho culture of sports. The book included an excerpt from "The Dave Kopay Story" by the gay football player himself and Perry D. Young (1977) on his career in and out of the closet. Dan Wakefield reminisced his unpleasant experiences as a sissy in athletics. Canadian sociologist Edgar Friedenberg discussed homoerotic fantasies in spectator sports. Openly gay men may have been excluded from the sportfield, they could always throw a desiring gaze on the thinly clad and sweating sportsmen.

The eroticism of swimming is the hidden topic of Sprawson's book. It offers a non-academic overview of the literature celebrating mostly male swimmers. Half of the examples come from England and its boarding schools, and the other half from Germany, the United States and Japan. The author is disturbingly present in this elegant, illustrated book. This fascinating topic of the eroticism of sports deserves more interest from gay academics.

The major study in the field is written by Pronger. He offers an overview of jock culture and gay men, based on literature and interviews with gay athletes. According to him, the orthodoxy of sport is straight and excludes gay men. The problem in sports is a gender problem. Men have to prove their masculinity by humiliating the presumed sissies or by chasing them out of the locker room. The traditional gay response was rejection or antidoxy. Pronger proposes a middle way of paradoxy: both accepting the desire for masculinity and undermining masculine power. The main paradoxical strategies to do so are irony and the struggle for social change. The "new gay man" does not any longer undermine manliness by effeminate gestures, but by masculine signs like muscles, following the optimistic conclusion of the book. In other chapters, Pronger elaborates on the growth of gay sport, paying special attention to the Gay Games held since 1982, and on the homoeroticism of the locker room.

Messner locates the theme of homophobia centrally in his book on "sports and the problem of masculinity". It offers a broader perspective to the question of gay men in sports. The study includes an extensive interview with a gay jock who wanted to be a dancer but became an athlete to demonstrate, with success, his masculinity. His coming out, resisted by his friends, proved to be a wonderful liberation.

My own research in the Netherlands on gays and lesbians in organized sports confirms the persistence of gender stereotypes in sports. The main problem in Holland was however the wall of silence surrounding homosexuality. Both sportclubs and gays and lesbians themselves keep the closet erect (closed) because everybody sustains the ideology that sexuality is a private affair that does not matter in sports. There was little discrimination of gays and lesbians in organized sports as long as they kept silent. In women's soccer, where lesbian did not keep quiet, most cases of blatant discrimination were found. This indicates that openly gay men and lesbian women will face severe problems in sports, even in so-called liberal Netherlands. Integration of gay and straight has more chance by starting and supporting gay teams and clubs that participate in general competitions than by gay individuals in straight teams.

Nowadays, male homosexuality and sports are not any longer each other's opposites. Sports have been added as a viable option to the gay world. The main question for the future will be to what extent gay men will be able to function in sports as erotic beings whose sexuality will be an integral part of playing games.