Letter from the Editor: February 2016

Like it or not—and for better or worse—sports play a powerful role in our culture. They are an often problematic but undeniable force in the social construction of concepts ranging from masculinity and femininity to strength and worth from an early age.

The locker room was the place I first learned to fear my sexuality, and I am sure that, while my experience is not universal amongst LGBT men and women, I was not alone in this. The locker room brought me face-to-face with my difference—not only my desire for other boys, but also my lack of athleticism—and exposed me to the dangers of both differences. The locker room was the first place I suffered physical bullying and first succumbed to psychological abuse.

More abstractly, in the rural southern culture I grew up in, the sports star was held out as the hero, the role model, and it was one with whom I could never relate. And insofar as it represented the pinnacle of achievement, it also guaranteed my failure to live up to expectations. I would of course find my own models and seek my own paths, but there always lingers that vague sense of failure to—as my father might put it—be a “real man.”

I have met a lot of LGBT men, and a smaller number of women, who shared similar feelings of having been disenfranchised by the sports culture that surrounded us—a culture which is just beginning to shift. But I have also met those who have had their lives greatly improved by sports, particularly as the culture of sports has begun to reflect a shift toward greater acceptance of LGBT people. For these young men and women, sports offered a confirmation of strength and a source of self-confidence stirring within. They found something uplifting in their locker rooms.

Just as lives are placed at risk by the harshness of rejection, when young LGBT people receive support from teammates and coaches, lives can be saved. The close community simulates family in the sense of belonging and family that is created when a group bonds in mutual support, and many LGBT youth need nothing more than a family that will not fail them. A supportive coach can restore value to a child who feels worthless.

The cultural and social power of sports, then, is a double edged sword—it can cut one way or the other. It is important that institutions wielding such social power use it wisely and for the good, and that when they do they are recognized and so the effect of their work is magnified.

This month we have featured the work of professional hockey and the Nashville Predators on behalf of LGBT rights and inclusion. Far beyond partnering with the Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce, leaders and players for the Predators have spoken out vocally on behalf of LGBT people worldwide and have joined with advocacy groups like You Can Play to spread a message that sports, and the locker room, should be places of fellowship, not bullying and division.

As work like this continues, and organizations like the Nashville Predators provide good models for sports, hopefully coaches, athletes, and fans at all levels will help continue transforming our sports culture into an ever more humane and uplifting force for all.






Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

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