Sport Fans’ Impressions of Gay Male Athletes
In 2002, former National Football League (NFL) player Esera Tuaolo revealed that he was gay; a former teammate indicated that if Tuaolo would have revealed his homosexuality while he was still playing, he would have been a hated and “targeted” player, not only by opposing teams, but by his own teammates and team’s fans (Jacquet, 2002). Similarly, when former National Basketball Association (NBA) player John Amaechi publicly revealed in a 2007 autobiography that he was gay, former NBA player Tim Hardaway stated that he hates gay people and would not want a gay player on his team (FoxSports, 2007; Kian & Anderson, 2009). Although Hardaway later issued an apology for his remarks, his statements are thought to reflect a common sentiment endorsed by many players and fans of professional athletes
(Buzinski, 2002; Vacchiano, 2002). Tuaolo and Amaechi are two of only a handful of retired male professional athletes to ever admit to being gay, and currently there are no male professional athletes in North American sports who are openly gay (Kian & Anderson, 2009). Researchers suggest that many current and former gay athletes remain silent due to concerns about being cut from their teams, verbal harassment, physical retribution, and to protect their livelihood and financial status (Martens & Mobley, 2005; Plymire & Forman, 2000). Thus, the sports world has been frequently referred to as the “last closet” for gay individuals (Beylin, 2006).