Sexuality: The Impact on Team Dynamics
Last week, University of Missouri football player and NFL draft hopeful Michael Sam publicly announced that he is gay. In April, Jason Collins, a former NBA player, shared the same announcement. The reaction to their news has been mostly positive thus far; President Obama has applauded and encouraged both of them. However, if Michael Sam is drafted, how will his sexuality affect the dynamics in the locker room? We asked our experts to share their thoughts.
George James, LMFT:
Sports teams and locker rooms have historically been homophobic. Charles Barkley recently said, “The locker room is racist, homophobic and sexist and I miss it.”
His comments express many sides of team sports. One side is the divisive, vulgar and closed system where only a few are welcome to participate. The other side speaks to the camaraderie, closeness and willingness to change.
Sports teams and locker rooms are one of few places where individuals become one unit and some even become family. It’s a place where the unlikeliest of individuals, personalities, races, genders and sexual orientations can work and achieve together. A players’ ability, connection with other teammates and the experience of winning and losing can create a bond that overcomes almost any obstacle. We’ve seen sports tackle difficult polarizing topics before and win. Be it acceptance of various races or the inclusion of women, sports teams and locker rooms were tentative but eventually modeled tolerance for the world.
Michael Sam’s announcement that he is gay will afford the sports community another opportunity to win the battle of tolerance and inclusion. It might not happen overnight, but it might not take as long as in the past. Michael Sam being gay is not contagious (despite the belief of some) and there are other gay players in the NFL. Players will have to choose which side of the locker room they want to embrace, the divisive and closed side or side of camaraderie and tolerance.
George James, LMFT is a Staff Therapist in CFR’s University City and Spring House offices.
He can be reached at 215-382-6680 ext. 4128.