September 10, 2014

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Hey Diddle Diddle

By Brenda Riemer

During the off-season and now at the end of week 1 of the NFL season, Ray Rice has dominated the headlines in the worse possible way for the National Football League. After being arrested, Rice was allowed to enter a diversion program by the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office instead of being prosecuted for domestic violence. In addition, the National Football League suspended him for the first 2 games of the 2014-2015 season. But then TMZ released the video which showed the violent act by Rice towards his then fiancé (and now wife). Once the video was released, his team, the Baltimore Ravens, released him and the NFL lengthened his suspension from 2 games to indefinite.

Two thoughts have come to mind from listening to Rice’s coach, John Harbaugh, give a press conference about the release and from other NFL players about the ban. First, there is the spoken hope that Ray and his wife can mend their relationship. “Harbaugh said that he has kept a strong relationship with his star running back since the incident and offered to help Rice and his wife mend their relationship” (Kron 4). I have to ask, why is the focus on the relationship and not on helping his wife leave her abuser? The research on domestic violence is crystal clear: This is not about a relationship that is rocky. This is about violence. Yet the NFL seems to want us to view the situation as a slight marital problem which can be mended. In this light, they are bringing heterosexual norms to a situation that at its core, has nothing to do with the current situation. But the NFL sells the package of heterosexuality to its fan base. By focusing on the relationship and not on the violence, they bring us back to the vision of a man and woman together.
The next thought that came to mind from the “second wave of punishment” is what Christine Brennan has been quite vocal about – what about the other players in the NFL who have been arrested and charged with domestic violence? Ray McDonald of the San Francisco 49ers was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence and the 49ers and the NFL have not responded. Jed York, the CEO of the 49ers stated that he does not have enough information to determine if McDonald is guilty and that McDonald is not Ray Rice. Today (September 9, 2014), Greg Hardy was found guilty of assaulting his former girlfriend and threatening to kill her. He played in week 1, and while his attorney plans to appeal the court ruling, the NFL has remained silent on his future.
What can we logically say about the cases of McDonald and Hardy and the response by the NFL? Does the NFL approve of all masculinity, even when it leads to violence? Does the outrage of the public only happen when there is video evidence? Team officials who stated that Michael Sam would be too much of a media distraction might put all of these questions into perspective. When the attention is based on stereotypes of masculinity, the attention might not be all bad. But any attention on someone who might not fit the assumptions and stereotypes about masculinity and heterosexuality needs to be diminished.
Another example is the case of Latasha Byears, formerly of the WNBA. Byears and three men attacked a former team-mate and they were charged with rape. Byears was waived five days after she was arrested in 2003. Byears, who is a lesbian, sued the Lakers (owners of the Sparks), because Kobe Bryant was not punished in the same way. In this example we have two basketball players, one who fits the stereotype of a masculine athlete and one who does not fit the cultural stereotype of female. More punishment was given to the female. (Note: Both responses by the organization happened before the criminal cases were either tried or dismissed.)
In conclusion, my goal today was to share some thoughts about the NFL, and to peak behind the curtain of assumed heterosexuality and behaviors. It is a bit rambling, but blogs allow for rambling. But let’s think for a moment about cultural norms reach into all areas of how we act and respond to situations that we either find ourselves in, or that we hear about in the news.

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March 3, 2014

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Looking Outward Looking Inward

The Sochi Olympics are nearing the end. The debate about boycotting the games has grown silent, and other issues are now making the headlines: Protesters (including #PussyRiot members) were arrested and detained for four to five hours outside of Sochi, unrest in Kiev, and simply, the athletes at the Olympics. But with everything surrounding the Olympics making the news, the feel good story to these Olympics has not been about an athlete’s struggle, but about an athlete with puppies.

Puppies are always a feel good story. In Sochi, when people were moved out of their homes, they could not bring their dogs with them. This was an Olympic site that had abandoned dogs and puppies running free. One person in Russia built a shelter for them and is trying to find homes for the dogs, while many dogs and puppies were being killed in order to reduce their numbers. A U.S. skier, Gus Kenworthy, made the news by saying that he hoped to bring a whole litter of puppies back to the United States with him. Lindsay Jacobellis posted on twitter than she is bringing back a stray with her (@LindsJacobellis #luckydog #justintime). The outrage people felt over the killing of the stray dogs and how to save them dominated the headlines days before the Olympics began.

Levin (2014) wrote an excellent blog post about how we are focused on puppies and not people. ( For example, we are not as aware of the 2,000 families who were forcibly resettled for Olympic construction. It’s easier to focus on puppies. A puppy can be adopted; changing cultural norms can be difficult.

It is also easier to focus on events in other countries, rather than to look inward at ourselves. We are horrified over the dogs being killed in Russia, but stay silent at the 96% kill rate at PETA shelters in the United States ( The records can be found here: ). The problem is similar, but we put our focus on outside ourselves.

Since the Olympics have started and our focus has been on puppies, little has been said about the Russia’s anti-gay bill which banned the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors” ( This was the latest step by Russia to limit the rights of LGBT individuals. Numerous Pride events have been banned since 2006, and although Russia has been found guilty of violating gay rights by the European Court of Human Rights, the Russian Government continues to create an oppressive environment for LGBT individuals. Yet, when the media spotlight was on Russia and this oppression, did the focus ever return to the United States for an examination of state laws?

At this time, nine states have similar laws to Russia’s “propaganda law”: Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah. For the most part, silence surrounds the laws and how LGBT individuals live in those states. How often is the media focused on those states? Our gaze is rarely inward; it is easier to focus outward. These laws may not be as oppressive as those in Russia, but let’s think about this. In January, the Kansas House of Representatives passed a bill that would have allowed individuals to discriminate against and segregate LGBT individuals. This bill, “House Bill 2453” did not receive national attention until it went before the Kansas Senate. And many believe it did not pass because of the ramifications to the National Republican Party. But what is not making the headlines now is that two other states have discussed a similar bill. One of these states is Arizona, where SB 1062 has been proposed.

What do these bills in the United States mean for our LGBT athletes? Michael Sam, the University of Missouri football player, stated he was gay. If he is drafted, he will be the first out player in the NFL. What happens to Sam and other athletes if they work in a state that allows individuals to discriminate against LGBT individuals? Will they be able to receive the medical care they need? Will they be able to talk about partners/spouses without breaking a law? We could assume that a team doctor and the athletic trainers would treat the individuals, but what happens if they are taken to a hospital? Will they be treated by the first physician they encounter? Individuals who are active in the LGBT community are aware of how individuals, especially transgendered individuals, have been refused treatment over the years. This is why, even when we look outside of ourselves and protest discrimination in other countries, we must continue to look inside at the United States and continue to work to create environments where all individuals have equal rights.

P.S.  this post was written before the veto vote in Arizona.

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February 11, 2014

Comments Off on Michael Sam and Research Related to LGBT Athletes

Michael Sam and Research Related to LGBT Athletes

As one of the leading defensive players in the country and the SEC defensive player of the year, Michael Sam is expected to be picked highly in the upcoming NFL draft. What makes this player all the more intriguing is that he announced over the weekend that he is gay (see the story here). Thus, Sam has the opportunity to be the first openly gay player in the NFL or any of the four major men’s sports in the US.

There is a lot of commentary related to this announcement, and rightly so. Various sites have covered this story:

  • Outsports discussed the coming out process;
  • NPR has an article why notions that football is a ‘man’s-man game’ is insulting to men…an opinion I hold as well;
  • Huffington Post has a story of how former coaches feel Sam will bring “baggage” to the locker room; and
  • Monday Morning Quarterback has a number of articles on the issue.

Consistent with the purpose of this blog, I will focus my commentary on how this issue relates back to the research in the area. Sam indicated that he disclosed his sexual orientation to his teammates, coaches, and administrators, all of whom were supportive. This is consistent with Eric Anderson’s work on inclusive masculinity. He has shown that men who participate in team sport activities are increasingly part of more inclusive and accepting teams. As a result, not only are gay and bisexual men able to effectively participate, but all men are able to engage in the team, free from more oppressive expressions of masculinity.

Anderson’s work focuses primarily on athletes. Other researchers have focused on how coaches and administrators respond to sexual minorities in sport. Here, the picture is less pleasant. Certainly attitudes have become more positive. But, the news accounts about Sam dropping in the draft and the former coach suggesting he brings “baggage” to the locker room is not necessarily surprising. Vikki Krane, for instance, has worked with her colleagues to interview lesbian coaches from around the NCAA. They observed that women felt the need to hide their sexual orientation from others in the workplace. My work with Nicole Melton shows that coaches of women’s teams have threatened to disclose a lesbian’s sexual orientation to her parents unless the lesbian acquiesced to his training requests.

Finally, there is recent work looking at how people actually express support. Several of the news accounts related to Sam’s teammates and coaches suggested he had support. These parallel national polls (such as from PEW) showing that attitudes toward sexual minorities have improved over time. Nicole Melton and I recently explored the idea of support further (you can see an overview of the study here). We found that some people who said they supported LGBT individuals did so unconditionally, or what we would expect “support” to look like. On the other hand, another group of people said they supported sexual minorities, but did so on a conditional basis. For example, they would support a gay man coaching their son’s team so long as the coach did __________ (fill in the blank, with examples such as “promote his sexual orientation” or “do inappropriate things”). Interestingly, these sort of conditional statements are never mentioned with heterosexual coaches and actually serve to promote harmful stereotypes. Our research shows, then, that what constitutes “support” might actually vary.

In all, Michael Sam’s announcement of, “I’m a football player and I’m gay,” is huge. It breaks barriers and brings a much needed conversation to the forefront. From a scholarship perspective, it also allows us to examine how the research in this area complements the prevailing narratives taking place. And, just as importantly, it shows where we need more research in this area.

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January 16, 2014

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Caitlin Cahow is in the US delegation

I just thought I would put that out there. Many of the articles I have read and radio reports I have heard about this “protest delegation” state that President Obama is choosing to send openly out athletes including Billie Jean King and Brian Boitano. Cahow’s name is frequently left off the list despite the fact that she has been a voice for gay rights and inclusionary practices and attitudes in sport. Boitano came out publicly a few weeks ago. Cahow, a hockey player, has been out and part of this conversation for years.

I imagine the rationale some might offer to the erasure of Cahow in the media is because she is not nearly as well-known among the American public as King and Boitano. And this would be true. But this “truth” speaks to the ongoing issues with the visibility of women’s sports, especially sports that are viewed as more masculine, like ice hockey. But Cahow’s resume is impressive. She has bronze and silver Olympic medals, three gold medals and one silver from the world championships. She was a leading defense player in the ECAC during her time at Harvard. She continued to earn awards for her defense when she played professional hockey after graduation.

When media reports of the delegation mention King and Boitano and leave Cahow out, the invisibility of women’s contact sports is perpetuated. Cahow is not a household name in the same way as the other members of the delegation, but not mentioning her takes away the opportunity for people to learn more about her and about women’s ice hockey. Unlike other winter sports, women’s ice hockey is fairly accessible in the inter-Olympic years. Spectators can access Olympians very easily (and cheaply given the low cost of admission to women’s intercollegiate games) playing at the college level every winter.

The erasure of Cahow from the international stage provides an interesting moment for us to consider how perceptions of gender and sexuality affect the popularity of women’s sports and how media are implicated in this beyond just minutes of news coverage or lines of print.

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January 13, 2014

Comments Off on Contemplating athlete activism

Contemplating athlete activism

I ended my course on sport and race this month with a discussion of activism. We read several articles about athlete activism in the past and perceptions of athlete activists in the present. I showed a piece of Not Just a Game the Media Education Foundation’s 2010 documentary about the (often invisible and/or unacknowledged) politics in sport. It was narrated (and co-written) by Dave Zirin, sports editor for The Nation. My students didn’t quite warm up to Zirin’s narrative style, but the history that many did not know about athletes including Jackie Robinson, Tommy Smith and John Carlos, and Muhammed Ali allowed us to have a good discussion of what constitutes activism in the world of athletics.

Though they know of many charity endeavors by professional athletes (we watched the Outside the Lines piece about “The Charity Conundrum”) they noted that charity is not activism. We tried to come up with lines of distinction: personal interest or connection, passion about an issue, commitment of money versus time. But the concept of sacrifice kept resurfacing. The reason we consider athletes like Billie Jean King and Ali as activists, they said, was because they had something to lose by speaking up. And indeed there were consequences for their activism.

Unfortunately many of my students felt that the days of the athlete activist are over because so few athletes are willing to sacrifice their sporting careers. How do we understand this statement in light of the ever-more-visible advocacy for gay athletes? For example, several of my students wrote their papers about the coming-out of Jason Collins, but the focus was on whether he would get picked up by a team post announcement. Will we look back at Collins, who has engaged in various advocacy events and campaigns since coming out, and put him in the same category as some of the above activist athletes?

Ever the (reluctant) optimist, I suggested that my students pay close attention to what happens at the Sochi Olympics this winter. And the past few weeks have revealed some very interesting and overt moments of sports and politics intersecting despite the ongoing contentions that sports—specifically athletes—should stay out of politics. Martina Navratilova and Collins spoke at the UN earlier this month in an effort to encourage the IOC to do more to support gay athletes in Sochi. I suppose “more” is anything more than sitting back and saying “ok, we believe you” when Russian officials say nothing bad-ish will happen to gay athletes, coaches, delegation members and visitors to the Olympics. Navratilova accused the IOC of burying their heads in the sand about what is happening in Russia.

Additionally, many current heads of state, including those in the United States and France, are not attending the games. The US delegation, however, was announced this week and it includes Billie Jean King, former Olympic hockey player and out gay woman Caitlyn Cahow, and Brian Boitano, who just officially came out as gay this week! There is a lot of pressing going on regarding Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law.

While many of us are looking to see what exactly does or does not happen in Sochi in February, I think there is a longer vision as well. What will emerge from this focused attention on gay athletes? Who will emerge as a leading voice? And will there be costs to individuals or causes afterwards?

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December 11, 2013


“Then Let us Try to Help”: A Lesson from Magda Trocme

I recently finished Malcolm Gladwell’s book, David and Goliath. If you have not read it, I do recommend it. While not as good as Blink, Gladwell’s recent offering is very compelling and allows you to, if not rethink, at least ponder some of the taken-for-granted assumptions you have about power, underdogs, and fighting the fight.

The last chapter in the book is particularly compelling. In it, Gladwell discusses Andre and Magda Trocme, a couple who lived in France during World War II and helped hundreds of their Jewish sisters and brothers during that time. I won’t give away the whole story, but one quotation from Magda Trocme is particularly compelling. In commenting on why she and her husband helped so many when doing so was remarkably dangerous, she noted:

Sometimes people ask me, ‘How did you make a decision?’ There was no decision to make. The issue was, Do you think we are all brothers or not? Do you think it is unjust to turn in Jews or not? Then let us try to help.

Even writing those words now, I actually have chill bumps on my arms and a tear in my eye.

Certainly, the Trocmes offer a number of lessons for people in various aspects of their lives, but what resonates with me is the application among for Straight Allies. As people with power and privilege in virtually all aspects of Western society, it is easy for Allies to remain silent. And, or research suggests this oftentimes takes place. Certainly, when asked, many people will express positive sentiments toward LGBT individuals. But when the rubber meets the road, they will frequently remain silent. This is true for people working in academics (as Melanie Sartore-Baldwin and I observed; 2010, JSM) and for those working in athletics (as Nicole Melton and I have observed; in press, JSM).

The tragedy of this is that speaking up makes a difference. It impacts the experiences of sexual minorities, as we observed in both of the aforementioned studies. It also impacts how likely your coworkers are to advocate for diversity initiatives, something Melanie Sartore-Baldwin and I observed in a different study (2010; JASP). In this way, being a Straight Ally allows for social learning and modeling among people within a workplace.

While there are certainly tangible benefits, I suggest there is a moral imperative to provide such support. To illustrate, let us again consider Magda Trocme’s words, only this time, with an application to LGBT individuals:

There is no decision to make. The issue is, Do you think LGBT individuals and heterosexuals are sisters and brothers or not? Do you think it is unjust to express prejudice toward and discriminate against sexual minorities or not? Then let us try to help.

Then let us try to help. Then let us actively advocate for the rights of our LGBT sisters and brothers. Then let us speak up when people use insensitive language. Then let us fight to ensure workplace policies and procedures are fairly applied to all, not just the majority.  Then let us work to ensure sport teams are places for all persons, not just cissexuals or heterosexuals. Then let us try to help…


For more information, see:

Cunningham, G. B., & Sartore, M. L. (2010). Championing diversity: The influence of personal and organizational antecedents. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 40, 788-810.

Gladwell M (2013). David and Goliath: Underdogs, misfits, and the art of battling giants. New York: Little, Brown.

Melton, E. N., & Cunningham, G. B. (in press). Examining the workplace experiences of sport employees who are LGBT: A social categorization theory perspective. Journal of Sport Management.

Sartore, M. L., & Cunningham, G. B. (2010). The lesbian label as a component of women’s stigmatization in sport organizations:  A comparison of two health and kinesiology departments. Journal of Sport Management, 24, 481-501.


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December 2, 2013

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Language and Actions

There have been events in the world of sports which have made headlines this past month. The bullying case of the Miami Dolphins and the firing of football Coach Ron English were just two of the headlines. Both of these events happened inside a locker room and have language as a common theme. The language used in each locker room included slurs against women, certain races/ethnicities (in one instance) and GLBT individuals. What has been clear in the framing of the stories by the media and parties involved is that certain terms related to race should never be used, and certain terms referring to sexuality should not be used. However, language that is offensive to women seems to be fair game for individuals to use.

Mary Daly wrote about language. Gyn/Ecology (1978) was her seminal work which looked at patriarchy in different cultures. Her perception about patriarchy, including the topics of Chinese footbinding, the Indian suttee, and American gynecology was influential not only in her analysis, but in her use of language. Though-out her life, Daly re-created and re-claimed language. Daly realized that most of the time, verbal violence towards women (cunt, pussy), was “used in all male environments” (p. 323). This still applies in 2013 in the 100% male locker room environment. Women do not hear the words directly, but we can still be spooked by knowing it is being said. Daly elaborated when she wrote:
“spooking from the locker room, the unacknowledged noise of omnipresent male obscenities, constitutes the background music which continually confuses and fragments consciousness. Exorcising this invasive presence requires acknowledging its existence and refusing to shuffle….Exorcism requires naming this environment of spirit/mind rape, refusing to be receptacles for semantic semen. As we become experienced in detecting the patterns of this apparently passive aggression, we become aware of its more sophisticated forms” (p. 324).
Daly also noted that “women have had the power of naming stolen from us” (

The power of naming. A common derogatory word for women is “pussy”. The Oxford English Dictionary lists this word as a noun and an adjective. As a noun it is chiefly colloquial, meaning a girl or woman exhibiting characteristics associated with a cat, esp. sweetness or amiability…a term of endearment. Examples of this definition can be located in 1557. But the term also has historical references to male homosexuals ((1904), a cat (1699), a hare (1715), and for the purposes of the locker room, the female genitals (1699). Women were not the ones who had the power of naming their genitals. This use of derogatory language is perceived as acceptable in the male locker room.

The locker room. A locker. A compartment in a pigeon-house (1600). “A recess near an altar, fitted with a door and lock, for the reservation of the Sacrament “(1527). A locker-room. “Mere males are lucky to find sanctuary in locker room…(1906) ( . And from Microsoft Encarta College Dictionary (2001), “typical of or suitable only for a men’s locker-room (p. 845). The locker room. A male domain, away from women, with permission to own language about women. Jocks discussing women.

Jock. Origin unknown. Considered to be coarse slang about the genitals of a man (or of a women, both in 1790). After the 1800s, used more as slang about male genitals. But also used as an abbreviation of jockey. Jockey. Someone who races horses. Someone who gains advantage by outwitting others. Using language to deceive and outwit others who are not there to defend themselves. Jock. The power of naming and changing coarse slang from genitals to a male athlete or a male with a macho attitude (Microsoft Encarta College Dictionary, 2001). Macho attitude to name women in the locker room.

When Ron English, the Eastern Michigan head football coach who was fired for a profanity-laced tirade against his players, what was reported was a gay slur. As he stated:
“As a man who has coached 21 years, obviously, on this occasion and particular meeting, I lost my poise, got upset and used language that was inappropriate, particularly as it pertains to homosexual slurs. I regret that,” English told the AP in a telephone interview hours after the school released a statement explaining why he was fired.
Language. Right now in 2013, homosexual slurs can contribute to a coach getting fired. And that should be applauded. But what about the language against women? Are we, in our writings about LGBT issues forgetting other oppressions? Is the assumption that the word bitch used in the locker room is okay, but adding “queer-ass” to it makes it a job breaker?
Bitch. The female of the dog (c1000), the female of the wolf (1555), a lewd or sensual woman (1575) and applied to men (1749). It is a term whose continuous usage in modern times is considered a highly offensive term to women, although appropriate for dogs. Another term not named by women.
Daly (1978) discussed the word spinster and how it is a term to intimidate and deceive women. The modern usage of the term intimidates women into wanting to avoid being called a spinster. The spinster, a women who spun, a woman who was then defined as past marrying age, an old main. Yet the spinster is a free woman who takes the word back and re-invents it for herself.
Re-inventing. In 2014, it will be interesting to look back on the events of 2013. What will happen with the Miami Dolphins? Will Ron English coach next year? And at what point will individuals (of all genders and sexualities) speak up against language that is harmful to women? For although we seem to have taken a step forward with an increased awareness about language harmful to LGBT individuals, we have taken many steps backwards with regards to language about women. This is language that is heard in the locker rooms every day, and not thought twice about. Language that demeans women of all sexualities, and strives to hurt men of all sexualities behind closed doors.
Daly, M. (1978). Gyn/Ecology. Beacon Press: Boston.
Microsoft Encarta College Dictionary (2001). St. Martin’s Press: New York.

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November 11, 2013

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We Cannot Quiet the Straight Ally: A Response to Patrick Burke

As a gay man rooted in personal and professional efforts to improve sport climate and culture for the LGBT community, I want to offer some comments countering the perspective of Patrick Burke and his recent remarks summoning the straight ally voice to step out of the spotlight of the LGBT sports conversation.  I feel his […]

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November 9, 2013

Comments Off on Sport, Sexuality, and the Political Body

Sport, Sexuality, and the Political Body

It has been a vibrant fall for those of us interested in sport, equality, discrimination, and social justice. For example: Will the Washington NFL team face enough social and legal pressure to finally change its name? How many more scandals will the NCAA find? How much will be revealed about football and concussions? And what […]

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October 24, 2013

Comments Off on The Difficulty in Providing Resources to LGBT Athletes

The Difficulty in Providing Resources to LGBT Athletes

It is a knee-jerk reaction for anyone who has gone through a potentially difficult experience, like coming out, to have a great desire to aid others going through a similar experience. For athletes who may begin having thoughts they do not fit within the “straight” societal category, having resources available from others who had gone […]

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