Despite the fact it seems that issues surrounding homophobia in sports have improved, problems still persist.
We’ve seen recent cases where professional athletes have said homophobic statements to or about gay people in their sport.
Last year, Leeds fullback Zak Hardaker made homophobic comments to an official during a match in the Rugby Football League. Even though this was his second incident, he wasn’t suspended.
In May of 2014, the Canadian Football League fined receiver Maurice Price for making comments on Twitter about openly gay National Football League draftee Michael Sam.
“My faith won’t allow me to ACCEPT what took place over the weekend! Sorry, NOT sorry! #AdamAndEve #NotAdamAndAdam,” Price tweeted.
There has even been abuse from fans. Both soccer and rugby leagues in Europe have launched investigations into spectators shouting homophobic slurs at openly gay officials.
While the culture of homophobia in sports may be improving, there is still much work to do in changing the attitudes of athletes, and a culture that has persisted for so long.
What do local straight athletes in Manitoba think about the situation in their locker rooms?
Vinny Carriere is a left-winger for the North Winnipeg Satellites of the Keystone Junior B Hockey League.
He says homophobic slurs in their locker room are pretty run-of-the-mill.
“You hear them all the time,” Carriere says. “We don’t mean it in a harmful way, it will just be a little joke like, ‘you’re a freakin’ fag’ or something like that.
“Or if we’re on the ice if someone’s pissed off at another player and they’re chirping at each other they might say it, not knowing that it could be hurtful to someone.”
Carriere thinks homophobia is ingrained in the culture of their locker room because of how it’s a part of the vocabulary.
“It’s been around so often and it’s become almost normal to people,” he said. “I think everyone just uses it without even thinking about it.”
Though they say these things often, Carriere says if a teammate were to come out to the team it wouldn’t be an issue.
“We’re such a tight knit group and everyone’s such good friends that I don’t think it would be a problem,” he says. “It might be a bit shocking at first but I think people would warm up to the idea really quickly.”
As for the homophobic language, it might be an adjustment for some players, but he thinks they would stop.
“If the guy was offended I think people would slow down and say, ‘all right we’ll stop, that’s not cool of us,’” he says. “Even if they don’t mention it you can see it in someone’s body language if something upsets them.
“It doesn’t affect the ability of you playing hockey. It’s not like ‘well you’re gay so I guess you’re a terrible hockey player,’” he continues. “If he’s comfortable coming out to me saying he’s gay that’s fine by me. Nothing changes, he does what he wants and he would still be my friend.”
Josh Stolar has played basketball and baseball competitively since high school. He played three years of basketball with the Red River College Rebels, two years of basketball and two years of baseball with the University of Winnipeg and now he plays for the Stonewall Blue Jays of the Winnipeg Senior Men’s Baseball League.
Unlike Carriere, he says homophobic slurs don’t come up often in their locker room.
“It’s probably once a week they come up, if not less than that,” says Stolar. “When it does come up it’s never meant in a hurtful way but it’s more a joke, but I think as you grow older you realize that it’s just something you shouldn’t say anymore.”
Stolar grew up in Stony Mountain, just north of Winnipeg and south of Stonewall, where he plays for the Blue Jays. He says knowing his teammates for many years has helped create an environment where they feel comfortable sharing with each other and talking about issues.
“I’ve played baseball for my entire life with these guys, basically,” says Stolar. “When you know your team and know the guys, you feel more comfortable standing up and addressing concerns.”
If one of his teammates came out to him, he says he would be shocked they hadn’t told him sooner.
“We’ve created a comfortable place where that isn’t an issue, it doesn’t matter,” he says. “If it was a newer teammate and he felt comfortable sharing that with me I would let him know he has my support and however he wants to handle it is the best way to do it.”
Stolar thinks that the solution to this issue starts with coaches who set good examples. But he also says the players have a responsibility to buy into the new culture.
“It’s still in sports, but it’s better than it was previously,” he says. “You need to create an environment where everyone feels accepted and the players have to support each other.”
This is the 8th article in a series by Stephen Burns on sexual orientation in sports. You can read the other articles in which Burns profiles several gay athletes and examines their journey through the world of sports, by clicking on this link here: Out of the closet and off the bench