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Out In Sports study proves what we’ve known for years: Athletes support LGBTQ teammates

For years out LGBTQ athletes have talked about receiving support from teammates. Now we have the proof.

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Out LGBTQ track and field athletes reported some of the best overall responses from teammates, with 88% of respondents saying they had a “good” or better experience.

The recent Out In Sports study revealed widespread acceptance of LGBTQ athletes who come out to teammates in high school and college. Professor Eric Anderson was a lead architect of the study. You can find more here.

I told you so.

I’m not surprised in the slightest.

Did I really have to conduct another study to prove the obvious?

That’s how I responded as the results came in on our Out In Sports study, the world’s largest study of openly gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender high school and collegiate athletes who have come out to teammates while competing. The results show overwhelming acceptance – proof that LGBT athletes are playing and enjoying even competitive team sports – just like I knew they would.

After coming out of the closet as America’s first openly gay high school coach in 1993, suffering immense homophobia, I returned to college to complete a PhD on the topic.

In the intervening years between my coming out, and my first study in 2001, youth culture changed its view on homosexuality. In my first study, the first-ever study of openly gay athletes on high school and collegiate teams, I found these gay athletes experienced near-acceptance from teammates. In later studies, I showed how those results grew from near-acceptance to celebration.

I have for two decades argued that it was unfair to describe team-sport athletes as homophobic. I evidenced my claims with dozens of studies on the experiences of gay men and the attitudes of straight men toward gay men. I used surveys, interviews, ethnography and internet analysis to prove my point.

However, the message of my research has often been drowned out by a few high-profile athletes making homophobic comments, alongside the rightful cultural recognition that out gay men were highly under-represented in a few sports. In addition, various studies and reports of athletes in high school and college using language perceived to be anti-LGBT further masked the acceptance.

The wrongful portrayal of male team-sport athletes being hyper-homophobic was also fueled by studies of LGBT athletes that focused on said language in and around sports. These studies and reports often featured the experiences of those who speculated about acceptance levels but never came out while on a team, and they failed to properly contextualize a lot of the language in and around sports as banter between teammates.

Some of these studies were widely capitulated in the media, despite having very low numbers of actual out athletes sampled. These studies lead to the perception that athletes were hostile to gay men, and more broadly, hostile to other sexual and gender minorities. It was an indictment of more than sport, it was an indictment of youth.

Yet since 1993, the clear trend has been for youth to reject homophobia. Whereas it was homosexuality that was unacceptable in the 1980s, today it is homophobia that is not acceptable. Why should we therefore think that the same kid with gay friends in their history class would suddenly treat their gay teammate poorly on the football field? To the contrary, the Out In Sports study shows LGBT athletes are more likely to get support from their teammates than their other schoolmates.

Among the 1,000 experiences of coming out in the study of openly LGBT athletes from across the United States and Canada, the data speaks very loudly – when these athletes come out to teammates they far more often find acceptance and support than rejection.

Given the results of this study, continued utterances of sport (and therefore athletes and coaches) being homophobic is to commit an act of prejudice. They are not.

Just like I’ve been saying for two decades now.