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Undercurrent of homophobia still shapes women’s sports

This piece is troublesome, on many levels:

Heartening as Iamstrong’s story may be to gay-rights and social-equality advocates, it is not necessarily representative of women’s athletics, a world in which, contrary to public perception and mainstream media attention, homophobia routinely provide a pervasive undercurrent in many day-to-day elements……

Homosexuality in men’s sports remains a headline-making topic, especially as a highly visible barrier still not crossed by an active athlete in a major U.S. sport. But despite limited visibility, homophobia in women’s sports may affect a far greater number of lives……

“If you’re an athlete and you’re a man, nobody thinks you’re gay,” said Griffin, professor emeritus of the Social Justice Education Program at the University of Massachusetts and the director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network’s Changing the Game project, which targets homophobia in K-12 athletics.

“If you’re a women athlete, the stereotype is you are a lesbian, or you must be playing on a team with a bunch of lesbians. As long as that is the stigma, women’s coaches are much more defensive and fearful about that kind of label. And as long as it has that kind of power, it makes it more likely that coaches and parents will use that (against women).”……

Male coaches or married female coaches in women’s athletics can’t say it directly, so they often sell their programs as “wholesome,” “family-based” or steeped in “family values.”

Many say such pitches routinely cross the line from promoting a sense of family on a team to not-subtly assailing other programs as pro-gay, itself used as an epithet.

The tactic is so rampant that it shapes recruiting practices, keeps women’s coaches closeted and contributes to a sizable gender imbalance for coaches of women’s teams, experts say.

According to Brooklyn College professors emerita R. Vivian Acosta and Linda Jean Carpenter, women hold only 42.9 percent of coaching jobs in women’s sports, down from more than 90 percent following the passage of landmark Title IX legislation in 1972. The law, which celebrated its 40th anniversary last month, prohibits gender discrimination in all publicly funded education programs, including athletics.

Men, meanwhile, hold about 97 percent of coaching jobs on the men’s side and more than 99.5 percent of jobs in men’s team sports, the study found. Since 2000, NCAA programs have added 1,774 women’s head coaching jobs, and men have filled 1,220 of the openings.

While old-fashioned sexism is cited as a leading cause of the imbalance, fear of being labeled as gay or losing recruits under the same guise is widely blamed for keeping women’s coaches closeted, driving them from the sideline or keeping them from coaching in the first place……

Considerable mental energy goes into shrouding sexual orientation for many female athletes, observers say, while even straight athletes find themselves trying to prove they are not gay.

Hair ribbons, the growing use of makeup during competition and even long hair, once far less common in women’s sports, are decried by some as homophobic constraints, even if such traditional symbols of femininity don’t indicate sexual orientation.

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