10.26.2005

sports/race/gender/sexuality

two items of note

1) reigning WNBA MVP, sheryl swoopes comes out of the closet. good for her of course, but i'm wary of calling this a watershed moment in sports that at least one commentator is calling it. don't get me wrong, i'm always glad when someone feels that the bad sanctions of being gay don't outweigh the benefits of coming out. however, in terms of sports and its relationship to sexuality, it does not change much. aside from my biases about the WNBA not being a major sport, i feel that we shouldn't be as surprised as when a female athlete comes out as when a male athlete does. sure being gay runs counter to the general ethos of masculinity in sports, but women in athletics has always been tied to lesbianism. the logic goes, a female is participating in a male dominated domain, therefore she must be innately more like a man, which includes being attracted to women. of course, this is all socially constructed bullshit, but the fact is, there is almost a societal expectation that women athletes are closer to lesbians than other women. look at any of the other major women's sports and there are always rumors or some stars who are openly gay. the williams' sisters, women's golfers, you name it, there is always some kind of talk. there's also the sheer physical spectacle of sports and how in a real sense it is about objectifying human bodies, male or female, black or white. sports is intimately bound up with sexuality and in a weird perverted way, it makes sense that lesbianism as a vehicle for male erotic enjoyment would be bound up with sports.

now i'm not saying that it is easy for a woman athlete to be openly gay. what i am saying is that if you have to rank it, this is not a big a deal in our collective minds than say, if lebron james were to come out of the closet. i hope that this would be a stepping stone for more athletes to defy what michael messner calls the hegemonic masculinity of sports, but the true watershed moment will come when a major male football, baseball, or basketball star comes out of the closet.

2) the air force's head football coaches thinks that in order to get a faster team, the air force academy ought to recruit more african-americans. according to the espn.com story:
Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry, expressing frustration Tuesday with the Falcons' slumping performance, attributed the latest loss in part to No. 20 TCU's having more black players who "can run very, very well."
deberry further exacerbates the situation with this quote
It just seems to be that way, that Afro-American kids can run very, very well. That doesn't mean that Caucasian kids and other descents can't run, but it's very obvious to me they run extremely well...
aside from the obviously racist undertones of the idea that black equals faster, he is also implying that this bias actually hurts white athletes more than it does black athletes! apparently, this is not a new way of thinking about this issue.

something else that i thought was also interesting was that when i saw this story on sportscenter this morning, they mentioned that fewer than 10% of air force academy cadets are black. i don't know what the numbers are off hand for the other academies, but i would venture to say that the air force academy has the smallest percentage, which in terms of racial heirarchy makes some sense. not to sound to conspiratorial, but with all of the casualties that we are hearing about in iraq being disporportionately people of color, i would also imagine that they are disprortionately not people in the air force. my logic is that the air force carries the least risk of death, especially in light of the type of war against the insurgents that the US is fighting in the middle east. so despite his ineloquence and probably misguided thinking, coach deberry is actually right. there probably are too few african americans that are recruited into the air force academy. appropriately enough, an recruitment ad for the air force ran right after the story featuring, yep, you guessed it, an african american. what's really goofy is that the commercial starts out with a bunch of dudes snowboarding in the forest and the african-american uses his GPS skills to lead the way home, which is then shown to be related to his skills learned from being a bomber pilot. not that it matters the marketing stuff that the air force is employing here, but when's the last time you went skiing and saw a bunch of african americans on the lift. i've never been skiing, so i wouldn't know, but it seems to be a bit out of sync to use diversity in this way on this commercial.

1 comment:

Nicki said...

Bob, well done on this post. You capture nicely the complexities of the relationship between sports and sexuality.

If you or any of your readers are interested in a fictional account of what it's like for an NFL quarterback to deal with closeted homosexuality, check out Queer as Folk, season 4. Can't remember when in the season it begins, but Emmit, a main character who is openly gay engages in a relationship with an NFL player who is engaged to a woman.