My obsession with the soccer team aside, the issue of gender and sports begs a more serious question: How do homophobia and transphobia play out in the gender-segregated spaces of athletics? Obviously, I intend to relate this question back to the U.S. women's soccer team (see above paragraph re: OBSESSION). Although Megan Rapinoe, a midfielder for the U.S. women, is the only U.S. women's national team member that I am aware of being publicly out, I'm fairly certain she's not the only queer player on the team, a fact to which she herself has alluded. The women's team head coach is also out and a number of the team's players pretty easily set off the gaydar. Rapinoe commented in a video interview (see below) that she feels queer players are generally accepted by teammates with no issue in women's soccer, but that homophobia is much more prevalent on the men's side. She describes sports as "the last institution of homophobia:"
When she officially came out earlier this summer, Rapinoe again made mention that in general, queer female athletes may find more acceptance from teammates and within their sport generally, than queer male athletes. See more here.
While I'm not sure that sports is "the last institution of homophobia" (I'm certain we can all think of plenty of others...), I do think it's clear that, at least in soccer, queer players on women's teams are pretty visible, even if they're not publicly out, while queer players on the men's side seem nonexistent. I'm sure we can all think of reasons why this is true - mainly that athletics have long been associated with the kind of "conventional" masculinity that doesn't make much room for variance from the status quo and in fact, I would say that sports for men is an environment in which gender is heavily policed. Anecdotally speaking, it seems that men's sports is heavily dominated by the kind of verbal (and sometimes physical) gay-bashing that would make being out in that environment extremely trying if not altogether impossible.
For female athletes, I would certainly not say that there aren't pressures on them to conform to certain gender norms (see my previous post on gender policing in women's sports), but I do think that there's a subversive element to women's sports that lends itself to being a more queer-friendly space. In almost every case, women have had to fight their way into athletics. While youth sports for both boys and girls is now commonplace, this was very recently not the norm. Just one generation ago, when my mom was growing up, there were no organized sports for girls - even at the high school level, opportunities were very limited. Now that's changed, but the face of elite and professional sports is still overwhelmingly male. Women's teams at the national or professional level still have to fight tooth and nail for recognition, audience, and revenue. Despite the fact that our women's national soccer team has been unbelievably successful over a number of years in the form of two World Cup titles, three Olympic gold medals, and the all-time leading international goal-scorer (male or female) as alum Mia Hamm, we've had difficulty sustaining a women's professional soccer league in the U.S. Our men's national team has never won a World Cup (their best finish was third place way back in 1930) or an Olympic medal (they didn't even qualify for London this year), men's professional soccer is alive and well in a number of American cities. The point is, female athletes have to fight the status quo to exist, while male athletes, generally, do not. Maybe this reality lends itself to greater acceptance of deviations from the mainstream within women's sports than in men's, or maybe not, but I still look forward to seeing more athletes come out of the closet and break down this "institution of homophobia." Megan Rapinoe has gotten the ball rolling (pun intended). I hope others will follow.