Part of Outsports’ series on our 100 most important moments in gay sports history.
Cross-country, 1996. We hear about the fear of "guilt by association" driving homophobia in locker rooms, but we don't have many specific examples of it happening. One of the rare cases involves a distance runner on the Huntington Beach (Calif.) High School cross-country team being beaten by a school football player. The runner alleged the attack came because his coach at the time, Eric Anderson, was gay. Anderson was the rarest of rare in the early 1990s: An openly gay high school coach. He later chronicled his coming out in Orange County in the book, Trailblazing: The True Story of America's First Openly Gay Track Coach.
The attack on his runner shook Anderson, aka "Coach Gumby." What's more, the attacker was never charged as police dismissed the case as "boys being boys." But Anderson knew better: He'd heard the taunts his team endured from the football team, and this player in particular, and saw firsthand the underbelly of homophobia. In the coming months he directed his focus toward deeply understanding the nexus of gays and sports and undermining the power of homophobia in athletics.
Today, Anderson is one of the world's leading academics in the area of homosexuality and sports. He's a professor at the Unversity of Winchester in England after a long stint at the University of Bath. He's written several books on the subject, including In the Game: Gay Athletes and the Cult of Masculinity and Inclusive Masculinity. His academic research has led him to conversations with dozens upon dozens of gay athletes. One of his most recent studies shows how straight young men are now kissing on the lips far more frequently than anyone could imagine, shattering notions about male-male physical contact.
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