Chapter 8: “Is Your Underwear Flame Retardant?”: Sexuality and Sports (Critical Response)

In chapter 8 of Zirin’s book, Game Over, he highlights and discusses the ongoing topic of sexuality and sport, and the ways in which they have been intertwined throughout various fields of sport. He expresses a multitude of examples in order to further demonstrate how men and women in sport have continually fought for sexually liberation. Although Zirin has a few different sub sections, accompanied by several examples to illustrate his points, I found his sub-section on the “LGBT Landscape” most striking. For those who do not know what LGBT stands for while reading this specific area of the chapter, it stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender. With that in mind, Zirin looks to educate the reader about the homophobic status quo in sports.

This portion of the chapter looked at pro and amateur athletes, where sports still remains a place for vilification, not celebration. Sexism frames women in a narrowly androcentric sports world, and homophobia is still a disparaging issue; that the idea of an athlete willingly coming out of the closet in the absent of a movement challenging homophobia is a mere fantasy.

Sheryl Swoopes, a WNBA player, was known as one of the greatest female basketball players of her time, being female basketball’s Michael Jordan. For all of her success and accolades, the minute she chose to come out to the public about being a lesbian, all of that success and praise turned to ridicule and victimization and because of that her career suffered and her ability to play the game began to decline.

Furthermore, you have Jen Harris at the amateur level of basketball that was a sought after recruit, but landed at Penn State under the tutelage of Rene Portland. In her stint at Penn State she was a lead scorer and WNBA prospect, but then she was suddenly cut because of speculation regarding her sexually orientation. Harris then sued for discrimination, and in support of her actions, students rallied behind her cause and formed coalitions, got the community involved, and instilled a sense of activism on campus. Due to Harris’ bravery, other past Penn State athletes came forward, revealing a 27 year history of discrimination conducted by Portland. The aftermath eventually led to Portland’s resignation and the creation of a non-discrimination policy at Penn State that added sexually orientation or gender identity.

The chapter continues to address the homophobic issue regarding males athletes and how there has been no active players in the big three men sports, NBA, NFL, and NHL, to come out about being a gay athlete. Several athletes have openly used homophobic slurs or gesture, have expressed how much they dislike gays, and have gone as far as to hold press conferences to assure the media that they were not gay. For fear of financial stability, players have waited until retirement to reveal that they were homosexual such as Ron Simmons of the NFL and John Amaechi of the NBA. Until Jason Collins recently came out, becoming the first active player to come out about being homosexual, Glenn Burke was the only open homosexual player which was known to teammates and management but not the public. To many he was known as an amazing athlete and could have been one of MLB’s greats if not for the relentless pressures of homophobia.

Therefore, in response to all this information that Zirin had complied throughout the chapter, and to learn about all these athletes who had amazing skills and could have been remarkable athletes if not for the discriminatory nature of the media and leagues about their sexually orientation or gender identity, I set out to investigate what the leagues are doing to minimize this form of discrimination. I stumbled upon the link below, and found out that only the MLB and NFL so far have added sexually orientation or gender identity to their non-discrimination policy.

Zirin, D. (2013). Game over how politics has turned the sports world upside down. (pp. 135-162). New York: The New Press.

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