Outsports / Straight or gay, more mongering of clichés about gay interest in sport
Outside of professional purveyors of hatred, it’s rare to find a collection of homophobic opinions as dense as those of former Irish rugby international player Neil Francis.
Speaking on the radio, Francis stated that there are fewer gays in professional sport than in the general population, the exact opposite of hairdressing, a state he ascribes to gays’ lack of interest in sport. He described Michael Sam as “flamboyant”, and declares that his coming out is a “great career move”.
He bases both opinions on personal experience: he saw Sam play “flamboyantly”, and he has often sat down with gay folks and observed their disturbing lack of interest in sport.
Francis rejected any notion that he might be a homophobe, declaring that stating the obvious differences of tastes among different groups could not be homophobic: after all, he cares little for ballet, unlike all the fancy boys.
He also explained that he was so turned off by talk of Russian anti-gay laws that he can’t bear to watch the Sochi Olympics.
Francis is nearly 50 years old. Does that get him off the hook under the “old fart” exemption from intelligence and decency? Probably not: he does claim to have expert knowledge based on his 50-100 good friends who happen to be gay.
But you don’t have to be straight to trade in the cliché that sports and gays are like oil and water. In a recent piece in Slate, gay writer David Weinstein deplores that “fact” that gays hate sports.
He does find a couple of quotes showing gays mocking sport. He cites the Canadian anti-homophobia PSA showing lugers preparing for a run by some suggestive sliding back and forth, an ad that American lugers also took offense at.
Clearly Weinstein is not entirely wrong. I have in the past read an essay by a gay writer who held that showing an interest in sport was a form of treason for gays: the jocks bullied the sissies, so the sissies must forever hate sports.
This of course ignores the fact that plenty of jocks are gay. Even some of the bullying jocks were gay, acting to conform with expectations of what it means to be male and be an athlete.
It also ignores that many gays practice sport, or just love sport. It ignores the gay sports bars that have sprung up throughout North America, many of which are hosting Pride House viewing parties where sport-loving gays (and lesbians: neither Francis nor Weinstein acknowledge their existence) can come together to enjoy the Olympics while denouncing Russian homophobia and IOC complicity.
Both Francis and Weinstein seem unaware of the dozens of LGBT tournaments that take place most weekends or of the Gay Games that bring together 10,000 athletes every four years. For all these people, sport is not the mortal enemy of the gay: it is part of their lives.
While it is easy to mock Francis and castigate his obvious homophobia, how different is he from Weinstein? Both are wrong: there is no inherent barrier between homosexuality and athletics, just one built by men, overcome by many, despite the efforts of the cliché-mongers to maintain and strengthen these worn-out images of what it means to be gay.
Update: Francis, at least, has “apologized.” Make of this what you will, but this seems to be damage control rather than any general understanding of just how stupid he was (is).