Sports' New Black: Homosexuality

By Brian P. Dunleavy
July 1, 2012

You see all kinds riding mass transit in New York.

That this remains true even as the city—particularly Manhattan—becomes more and more gentrified with each passing year is reassuring, and it is particularly so when one sees people from radically diverse backgrounds coexisting as I did on Sunday, riding the PATH train from Greenwich Village to Harrison, NJ to watch Major League Soccer’s Red Bull New York take on bitter rival DC United.

For this ride, scheduling circumstances meant that you had white, mostly male (presumably straight) soccer fans standing shoulder to shoulder with members of New York’s substantial LGBT community, the latter group returning to their suburban homes following “Gay Pride” festivities in the Village. In some cities, this would be a combustible—potentially fatal—mix. Here, the two groups seemed to barely notice one another. They coexisted so well I’m almost embarrassed to mention it, ashamed to even think it a potential issue.

Of course, once the aforementioned soccer fans arrived at the stadium for the sold-out match, all bets were off. As we waited in line to pass through the gates, Red Bull fan groups began singing songs aimed at their DC counterparts, and many of their chants included homophobic slurs.

So much for tolerance and respect.

Soccer fans are hardly alone here. At virtually every sporting venue in the US, long after the exploits of Jackie Robinson and others effectively eradicated the N-word from the fan lexicon, the f-word (the one with the two “Gs” in the middle) remains firmly entrenched. Opposing players are “f---ing f----ts.” Hometown players performing poorly are “h---s” (rhymes with slow-mo). As at the soccer match on Sunday, songs that portray rivals as “taking it up the a--“ still earn giggles from like-minded supporters.

In Harrison, the thought that even one of those LGBT folks on the train with them might have also stopped to see the game didn’t even cross the minds of those rabid Red Bull rooters.

And why would it? The issue of sexual orientation in the sports world renders nary a mention in the sports pages or elsewhere in the press. Seventy years after every columnist on both the right and wrong side weighed in on the race issue in sports, no one wants to touch the matter of anti-gay bigotry in the stands with a 10-foot pole, and so it goes unchecked.

It’s no wonder that a star professional athlete in one of the major professional sports in the U.S. has yet to come out of the closet. They are already subjected to a vile level of abuse just for wearing the wrong uniform color.

Back in Harrison, those same soccer fans got back on the train after the match. The riders were still a diverse bunch—this is New York, after all—but most of the LGBT revelers were either home or still celebrating in the West Village.

It is to the shame and detriment of the sports world that any soccer fans among them wouldn’t have felt welcome at the game—on their day, of all days.


About the author: Brian P. Dunleavy is a writer who lives in New York.



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