“... homophobia is on the rapid decline among male team sport
athletes in North America at all levels of play.”
photo courtesy University
BATH, England. October 29, 2007
– A study of former high-school American football players has found that
more than a third said they had had sexual relations with other men.
In his study of homosexuality among
sportsmen in the United States, openly gay sociologist Dr Eric Anderson found that 19
in a sample of 47 had taken part in acts intended to sexually arouse other
men, ranging from kissing to mutual masturbation and oral sex.
The 47 men, aged 18-23, were all
American football players who previously played at the high school
(secondary school) level but had failed to be picked for their university’s
team and were now cheerleaders instead. They were at various universities
from the American south, Mid-West, west and north west.
Dr Anderson, a former high school
sports teacher in California and now a lecturer at the University
of Bath in England, said the study showed that society’s increasing open-mindedness
about homosexuality and decreasing stigma concerning sexual activity with
other men had allowed sportsmen to speak more openly about these sexual
activities. He found that this sex came in the form of two men and one
woman, as well as just two men alone.
He said that the sexual acts
described differed from acts of ‘hazing’ or team-bonding that often include
“The evidence supports my assertion
that homophobia is on the rapid decline among male teamsport athletes in
North America at all levels of play,” he writes in his study, ‘Being
masculine is not about whom you sleep with…Heterosexual athletes contesting
masculinity and the one-time rule of homosexuality’. It will be
published in the journal Sex Roles in January.
“These finding differ from previous
research on North American men who have sex with men, in several ways.
First, previous research describes heterosexual men in heterogeneous group
sex as men symbolically engaging in sexual practices with other men.
“However, I find informants
actually engage in sexual activity with other men. But this does not mean
that they are gay.
“Second, my informants do not feel
that their same-sex sex jeopardizes their socially perceived heterosexual
identities, at least within the cheerleading culture.
“In other words, having gay sex
does not automatically make them gay in masculine peer culture.”
Dr Anderson, of the University’s
Department of Education, said the same situation was also true for the UK.
He believes the positive portrayal
of homosexuality on television, the ease with which homosexuals could
gradually ‘come out’ by using the internet, the ability for straight men to
talk with gay men on the internet, and the decline of religious
fundamentalism has made homosexuality and homosexual acts considerably less
controversial for university-aged men.
This had made revealing the fact
they had engaged in homosexual acts easier.
He said the study was not biased by
talking to sportsmen who were now cheerleaders, which is often seen as a
feminine activity. Those he interviewed were selected to represent men that
considered themselves traditionally masculine, typical American football
Dr Anderson was the first openly
gay male high school sports coach in the US. He left coaching after one of
his students was assaulted because it was assumed that he was gay. Dr
Anderson is now working in the field of sport sociology at the University of
Bath, and is the author of In the Game, Gay Athletes and the Cult of
“Men have traditionally been
reluctant to do anything associated with homosexuality because they feared
being perceived gay,” he said.
“There has been pressure on them to
conform to the notion that being male is about having traditionally
masculine traits, in terms of dress, behaviours and sexual activities.
“But as more men are open about
their varieties of sexuality, it becomes less stigmatized to be gay or to
have sex with men. It is increasingly not a problem to act in otherwise
“I see this in other areas of my
research too, including how men behave in straight nightclubs, where I find
that university-aged men dance as much with each other than with women, and
how heterosexual men are increasingly free to wear clothing styles or
colours that once were taboo for them.
“This isn’t something that would
have happened ten or twenty years ago. Times are changing and they are
changing rapidly for men of this age.”
■ Dr Eric Anderson appeared in the
television reality series The Real Gilligan's Island as Coach Gumby.