Pondering the Mars and Venus gay dynamic in elite-level futbol and other team sports

The FIFA women's World Cup down there in Australia and New Zealand is not merely an example of fabulous sporting theatre, it's also a stark reminder of the contrasting cultures in elite-level football.

For one thing, the women play a much more honest brand of futbol than the men. That is to say, they spend more time frolicking on their feet rather than on their backsides, gyrating as if they're giving birth to 10 pounds of barbed wire.

Oh, sure, flopping is part of female footy, too, but when we see a player supine on the pitch there's a high likelihood that she's actually wounded, not Meryl Streeping in the hope of hoodwinking a referee into a red card or maybe even an Oscar nomination. (See 2011 Wake Forest study re female and male soccer players diving.)

But fake-injury time isn't the main point of separation between the women's and men's games. Sexuality is.

According to the folks who track such things here at Outsports, 96 of the 736 players (13 per cent) getting their kicks Down Under are LGBT(etc.), and that's likely a low number because the tally doesn't include those in the closet. Twenty-two of the 32 sides feature at least one out player, with the co-hosting Matildas leading the way at 10 and Ireland and Brazil right behind at nine apiece.

Now consider the men's World Cup.

Number of out gay men at Qatar in 2022: Nil. Number of out gay men at any of the 22 World Cup tournaments: Nil.

I suppose we could say this is all much ado about nil, because a player's sexual orientation isn't noted on a game sheet and no one wins the Golden Boot based on clicks on a dating app. Except that misses the point, which speaks to where we are in team sports 23-plus years into the 21st century.

It's no secret that female athletes are comfortable in their own skin. The WNBA is the clubhouse leader on the inclusion file, with estimates of gay players ranging from 20 to 50 per cent. Connecticut Sun stars Alyssa Thomas and DeWanna Bonner announced their engagement on Friday. Meantime, soccer and hockey aren't lagging far behind. Canada's gold-medal winning shinny side at the 2022 Olympics, for example, included nine lesbians—Brianne Jenner, Erin Ambrose, Emily Clark, Melodie Daoust, Jill Saulnier, Jamie Lee Rattray, Micah Zandee-Hart, and two who became engaged in May, Laura Stacey and captain Marie-Philip Poulin. Meantime, the Yankee Doodle Damsels who won the 2019 Women's World Cup in France featured half a dozen out gays—Tierna Davidson, Adrianna Franch, Ashlyn Harris, Ali Krieger, Kelley O’Hara and captain Megan Rapinoe, who's engaged to WNBA legend Sue Bird.

"Go gays. You can’t win a championship without gays on your team. It’s never been done before, ever," is how American captain Rapinoe put it during her fabulous French journey to a fourth WC title.

It's to the point whereby a gay female athlete need not out herself. It's dog-bites-man stuff. Nothing to see. Let's move on.

The men, on the other hand...well, homosexuality remains a major bugaboo. You know, that scary thing that goes bump in the night.

Gay men continue to make their mark in most segments of society, but not major team sports. Go ahead and scan the landscape. The out gay man in the NFL, NHL, NBA, MLB and MLS is as scarce as belly laughs in a graveyard. Carl Nassib is a football player without a team, and Luke Prokop is a Nashville Predators prospect who might one day defy the longest of odds and actually become the first openly gay player—ever!—to wear an NHL jersey. That's it. Two gay guys, one who's been to the show and the other a wide-eyed wannabe.

So why the Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus dynamic in elite team sports?

Well, people with egg-shaped heads have spent considerable time studying that very issue, and there doesn't appear to be a one-size-fits-all conclusion.

One theory holds that young straight men remain tethered to the antiquated notion that gay equals lesser-than, and that the mere existence of a gay guy on the roster would up-end the apple cart (Tony Dungy called it a "distraction"), thus making on-field success an extremely remote, also illogical, likelihood.

But would Argentina have been less likely to win the 2022 men's World Cup had there been an openly out gay sharing the pitch and changing room with Lionel Messi and the straight guys? We can only speculate, but we do know that the LA Galaxy became lords of Major League Soccer with Robbie Rogers on the pitch and in the changing room in 2014. So what's to fear?

The abundance of successful LGBT(etc.) players on the distaff side of the playground is the strongest indicator that a mix of gays and straights is doable. They work in concert and lift championship trophies together, not to mention pad their bank accounts with playoff coin.

Yet, despite overwhelming evidence, that remains a foreign concept among the men, even as studies tell us a majority of gays who come out experience a favorable reception from teammates. So why is it that gay male athletes are still considered poisonous fruit best kept out of sight? If they truly believed it was safe to come out, wouldn't we be seeing them?

Perhaps it really is as simple as the Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus thing.

Whatever the case, I don't expect to see a men's World Cup featuring 94 out LGBT(etc.) players in my lifetime, but it would be nice if the guys would learn the lessons of Venus and, even better, live in the same century.