Queer college soccer player Henry Bethell was tired of being taunted on the field. His fatigue resulted in an outburst last season, in which he punched a player who called him a “faggot.” The right-hand resulted in a three-game suspension.
While Bethell waits to step onto the field again. he has a message he would like to share to other male athletes: it’s OK to be feminine.
Earlier this year, Outsports spoke with Bethell at length about his suspension. The Sarah Lawrence College sophomore, while supported by his teammates and coaches, was agitated about the conference’s lack of action towards combating homophobia among its athletes. In the article, Sarah Lawrence’s athletic director, Kristin Maile, raises the possibility of the Gryphons walking off the field the next time an opponent insults Bethell or another player.
That’s what happened with the San Diego Loyal last week in the USL Championship. Openly gay player Collin Martin says an opposing player on the Phoenix Rising called him a Jamaican homophobic slur, and after halftime, the Loyal walked off the field in protest.
It was a sign of solitary that resonated deeply with Bethell, who’s lived that experience.
On the inaugural edition of our newest podcast, “The Gameday Tea,” Bethell chats with host Darius Gilchrist about his reaction to the Martin incident, and how professional soccer in the U.S. can combat homophobic attitudes.
“We really need to make sure our fan culture and player culture — the whole communities around soccer clubs culture in general — doesn’t fall into some of the more problematic patterns we’ve seen displayed, especially across Europe, where soccer can be a symbol of nationalism, a symbol of fascism, a symbol of anti-semitism, homophobia, racism,” Bethell says. “You don’t have to look that far in the past to look at clubs with very toxic cultures and homophobic chants. It’s permeated into all aspects of the game.”
Bethell believes LGBTQ athletes still face taunts, because of preconceived notions of masculinity and athleticism. Even in 2020, the idea of the hyper-masculine “All-American’ male athlete still reigns supreme in many sports circles.
It’s time to abolish that.
“It’s that ideal that creates this disdain for femininity in the sports world,” Bethell said. “There needs to be a whole reckoning of culture in the sports community. Feminity is OK in soccer.”
With the Skyline Conference suspending fall season due to the coronavirus pandemic, Bethell doesn’t know when he’ll get back on the field. He also still has one game left of his suspension.
But when Bethell does get back out there, he’s determined to do more than score goals and win games. He wants to break perceptions.
The creation of the masculine athlete who is perfect, white and Christian, and just this ideal American boy, as quickly as it was constructed by the sports world, the sports world has a platform to deconstruct it through competition,” he said. “Every game I play, I feel like that’s just shucking a piece of those perceptions.”
Click here to check out this week’s edition of “The GAMEDAY TEA” podcast. You can also subscribe to the show on Apple’s Podcast page as well as on Google Podcasts, and wherever you’ll find Outsports podcasts.