Machismo (definition from Merriam-Websters)

ma·chis·mo noun
\mä-ˈchēz-(ˌ)mō, mə-, -ˈkēz-, -ˈkiz-, -ˈchiz-\

(1st) Definition of MACHISMO

1: a strong sense of masculine pride : an exaggerated masculinity

Very rarely can one issue be almost completely described by one word in the English language. However when it comes to male dominated sports, especially team sports, “Machismo” summarizes the reason why male professional athletes almost never come out about their sexual orientation if they are gay even after their careers end. Anyone who’s spent significant time in a locker room has heard all the gay jokes and disparaging statements toward gay men. In fact gay slurs were even used to psych players up against their opponents, at least in my day. Being part of a team exhibits an ultimate gang mentality where diversity, especially diversity of a player’s manliness is simply not tolerated.

I remember when I was a season ticket holder for the Jacksonville, Jaguars a player who just retired from the team, Esera Tuaolo “came out” and wrote a book about his experiences in the locker room. The life he lived in the NFL was very difficult. He reported he had constanly heard anti-gay remarks and could only blow it off while dying inside. He was so afraid of his teammates finding out that he was gay he dated woman. Fortunately he was eventually accepted by his former teammates but that’s a big difference from being accepted as an openly gay athlete in the locker room.

Even being suspected of being gay can hurt your NFL career and especially a players ability to make endorsements. Just the accusation that NFL star Micheal Strahan lived an “alternative lifestyle” because he dated a man according to his ex-wife was used as leverage in his divorce case.  Strahan has been plagued throughout his career by rumors that he is gay while being one of the toughest players in the league.  I do not know if Strahan is gay or not.  Personally I don’t care but obviously just the accusations are enough to negatively affect his career, even his current career as a commentator.

NHL player Steve Avery is frequently called gay slurs because his macho opponents suspect he is gay.  Just recently Wayne Simmons of the Philadelphia Fliers allegedly called Avery a “fucking f@ggot” in an exposition game and the NFL did not suspend Simmons because ‘accounts of the incident were disputed’ even though allegedly you can see Simmons mouth the words in the video. I would post the video but obviously the NHL has scrubbed it from YouTube and other video servers.

There is a huge economic element where corporations who want there products endorsed buy into the picture of the macho athlete.  Probable one of the biggest reasons a gay athlete in the big four sports has not come out during their career is because they will be hurt financially.  Not only with their sports contracts but especially with their endorsement opportunities where players supplement their incomes not just through commercials but through autographs, merchandise and memorabilia.

Fortunately there has been some big progress fighting anti-defamation about gays where the new NFL contract has codified that gay players cannot be discriminated against.

The contract reads now “Section 1. No Discrimination: There will be no discrimination in any form against any player by the Management Council, any Club or by the NFLPA [NFL Players Association] because of race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, or activity or lack of activity on behalf of the NFLPA.”

Back in 2006, the secion only read “race, religion, national origin or activity or lack of activity on behalf of the NFLPA.”

Also NBA executive Rick Welts reveals he is gay.

If you are interested in the progress and setbacks made in sports for LGBT athletes is a great site for information.  Click to see a list of gay slurs rated by and you may be surprised by what some superstars have said.

We all know there are gay athletes playing in the major 4 pro-sports including the NFL, MLB,  the NBA and the NHL RIGHT NOW. While the outlook for especially male gay athletes in team sports on paper is getting better we still don’t have the first active player to official “come out” like we saw beautifully and emotionally in this example when a gay soldier came out to his father.

Despite the supposed problems that would be in the locker room, frankly I think that theory is a cop out considering that soldiers are in even more intimate quarters with one another.  I take Charles Barkley’s comments as a very positive sign that athletes in male team sports would have few problems dealing with a gay teammate.

“First of all, every player has played with gay guys,” Barkley told 106.7 The Fan, adding that any player who says he hasn’t is “a stone-freakin’ idiot.”

“It bothers me when I hear these reporters and jocks get on TV and say: ‘Oh, no guy can come out in a team sport. These guys would go crazy.’ First of all, quit telling me what I think. I’d rather have a gay guy who can play than a straight guy who can’t play.

Charles Barkley, former NBA basketball player ...
Image via Wikipedia

Like Barkley said I think it’s the reporters and jocks, even fans and corporations who are holding back the first openly gay athlete in one of the big four sports.  I think it’s important that a player “come out” because it’s one of the last fields and a very visible field where gay people are seemingly in-tolerated.   Ending the dreaded DADT in the military was a huge advancement in LGBT rights, of course ending DOMA is the next step but that does not diminish what ending DADT means.

On paper the Philadelphia Eagles are the “Dream Team” according to the press but on the field they are off to a slow 1-2 start.  It still seems that reporters, jocks and even society are more tolerant of Mike Vick who served Federal jail time for killing man’s best friend than being man’s best friend on an intimate level.  Who will be the first player to have the guts to break with the culture of machismo and be the first player to admit they are taking the field or court as a gay man?  Until that happens in reality and not on paper pro sports has a DADT policy in place.

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Machismo is simply egotism and arrogance in males. The term implies strength and bravery, but I believe machismo is bullshit. Bravery and strength are not limited to gender. Inner strength is far more impressive than physical strength, IMO.
In the Marines, the most macho of all the four branches of military, I have seen small guys (including myself) do just as well and sometimes better than the big macho guys. This takes a great deal of inner strength. My platoon, in basic, started out with 75 guys. By the time we graduated, we were down to 43. Thirty two guys couldn’t hack it and many of them were big strong guys that could typically be referred to as “macho.” Macho is simply a front. Usually attributed to low self esteem. Just like the loudest of homophobes are sexually insecure.


Love Sir Charles. He always knows exactly what to say.

I was actually thinking about this the other day while discussing DADT. I too feel an unspoken rule like that exists in sports.

And the media would make it far tougher for a gay athlete than his teammates ever would. His teammates would eventually drop it. Especially if he was pretty damn good. The media would never let that shit go. They’d bring it up everyday, discuss it day after day, hour after hour, and instead of it becoming common and accepted, it would still be sensationalized and “weird”.

And when everyone wonders why gay athletes weren’t accepted, the media, as usual, will whine that they had nothing to do with it. That their 24 hour a day, 7 day a week obsession with it played no part.

It would have to be a star. A HUGE star. Someone who already owns the media and most of our hearts. It’s not fair but that’s probably the only way it will work. Cause, in sports, very few people care who or what you are if you can play. Winning solves everything.


KQ, thanks for getting this subject on the table. As a woman — but one who is not very knowledgeable about sports in general — I wonder what the attitude toward lesbians is in women’s sports. Intuitively, I would guess that there’s probably more tolerance. I may be wrong, though.

It seems as though female athletes would have a sort of built in incentive to accept diversity in this area even on a sub-conscious level because — let’s face it — most female athletes would (I assume) only hope to be able to play on the level of the best male athletes in any given sport. So — to phrase it awkwardly — being more “guy-like” is presumably an asset in the realm of women’s sports.

Now the Miss America pageant would, I suspect, be a whole different ballgame. I think it may be many years before we see an openly lesbian Miss America.

And probably the sign that we had truly evolved toward being a tolerant, civilized society in general would be acceptance of gay and lesbian athletes in any sport. And no Miss (or Mr.) America pageants whatsoever. 😉