Michael Sam and the NFL Locker Room: How Masculinities Theory Explains How We View Gay Athletes

footballLast year, Michael Sam became the first openly gay player in the National Football League. Sam was drafted by the St. Louis Rams in the seventh and final round of the draft. He survived the initial round of pre-season cuts with the team, but was let go when the team had to make a 53-player roster. He was picked up by the Dallas Cowboys and played on the team’s practice squad. After seven weeks with the Cowboys, Sam was released and remained unsigned the rest of the season.

Sam’s coming out and his subsequent drafting and playing in the NFL caused quite a stir. According to one Sports Illustrated article, one NFL player personnel assistant said, “I don’t think football is ready for [an openly gay player] just yet.”

But why?

This summer, I wrote an article using masculinities theory to examine the hullabaloo about Sam and his prospects for playing in the NFL. In the article, I first explain masculinities theory, focusing on how masculinity is constructed and maintained. I then explore how masculinities theory applies in sport generally and in football in particular. The article visits the football locker room—a distinct enclave of masculinity—and shows how masculinities theory explains the locker room “bonding.” Once we lay bare the implications of cultural assumptions about masculinity and about physically aggressive sports like football, we can more easily explain why an openly gay football player is a rarity. Knowing that even one openly gay player exists threatens to decimate the cultural icons we use our athletes to create. You can access the entire article here.

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