Here are four facts about me, of varying degrees of importance: I am a woman. I am a feminist. I am queer. And I love, love, love sport.
Not playing sport, mind you. I was a wing for my hockey team in high school and possessed very little skill beyond enthusiastic ankle hacking - I was what the pundits call “scrappy” and what the opposing team’s parents called “a lawsuit waiting to happen”. I was a butterfly champion in my youth, but retired on top age 13, hanging up my swimming cap forever in favour of drinking in parks and treating my constantly infected nose piercing.
But watching sport? It’s been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. When I got chickenpox in primary school and couldn’t sleep for the itching, my dad sat up with me all night watching the Raiders play American football while checking in on the NBA in ad breaks.
Now that I’m an adult, living in London in a flat of my own (well, a flat that I and two other adults are renting, but close enough), my partner and I get up at dawn to watch the Swans play during the AFL season. We chose this flat partly because it’s close to the Arsenal home ground. Serena Williams was my laptop background for months last year and... look, you get it. Sport. Pretty into it.
This isn’t the first time an athlete has been homophobic. It won’t be the last. But this one hit me particularly hard.
But there’s an asterix next to my fandom; a little niggling thought that says “This isn’t for you”. A fear, lurking behind every vine of a monster dunk that I retweet, that my favourite players are about the let me down.
On December 3 last year, Rajon Rondo, the point guard for the NBA team the Sacramento Kings, was ejected from a game for yelling at official Bill Kennedy. It later emerged that he had been shouting homophobic slurs at Kennedy and, during the media storm that followed, Kennedy came out publicly as a gay man. He was revealing a secret that had long been know within NBA circles. The NBA suspended Rondo for one game and released statements categorically condemning him and supporting Kennedy.
This isn’t the first time an athlete has been homophobic. It won’t be the last. But this one hit me particularly hard. Rondo doesn’t play for the team I support (Oklahoma City Thunder, thanks for asking) and he’s never been one of my favourite figures in the NBA, but I admired his game and enjoyed watching him play. And it reminded me, again, how unknowable are the bigotries of the sportspeople we adore.
The sporting landscape is still overwhelmingly male. Despite the best of intentions even I, a female sports fan, definitely spend more time watching men play than wome. It's a habit which I am aiming to correct. And there are certainly elite female athletes who are openly queer- such as American soccer star Abby Wambach or retired tennis champ Martina Navratilova. So women have been keeping pace with society in terms of LGBT acceptance for quite some time.
But there are still very few out male athletes and with outbursts like Rondo’s being not uncommon, can you blame openly gay men for steering clear? Sure, he was suspended for one game, but he had engaged in hate speech against a colleague - in most jobs, that would be grounds for a sacking. While certain codes are attempting to make changes - most notable being the AFL’s “Pride Cup” and other LGBT friendly initiatives - there is still a heartbreakingly long way to go.
We should feel free to cheer on our teams without fearing that the people we are cheering disapprove of us or our loved ones.
So where does that leave sports fans who are queer or queer allies? I don’t know. I really don’t. I do know that, some time in 2014, I decided to actively ignore NFL for the first time in my life because I simply couldn’t square the sexism of the sport with my own politics and my own existence as a woman. It’s hard to watch a game when you are convinced that the people playing it wouldn’t much care if you were beaten up by their teammate.
Queer fans or queer-allied fans shouldn’t have to make this choice. Sport can be and should be something that brings communities together, rather than excludes people for who we are. We should feel free to cheer on our teams without fearing that the people we are cheering disapprove of us or our loved ones. Players should be able to be themselves without worrying about the reactions of their teammates and fans. It’s important that sporting codes make LGBT acceptance as much a part of the culture as shoe deals and overpriced stadium food. They’re lagging behind history on this one but, hey- we know they’re fast. They can catch up.