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Why Coaches Need to Address Homophobia in Athletics

Homophobia is the plague of female sports teams. Author and expert, Pat Griffin, lays out why coaches need to take the lead in addressing the issue to provide a healthy space for ALL athletes.

The sporting arena is a place for everyone: young, old, black, white, gay or straight. Too often, we hear tragic stories of discrimination where a person’s athletic dreams were shattered as a result of a fear and negativity of a label slapped upon their back. Coaches have a responsibility to create a fair and equal playing field for ALL players to thrive. The following is an explanation of why it is crucial to address issues of homophobia on every team:

  • All schools include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) students, staff, and parents even if they have not made themselves known to the school community.
  • Coaches have a responsibility to make their teams safe for all athletes, including LGBT athletes.
  • All athletes interact with LGBT peers, teachers, coaches, friends, or family members.
  • Athletes will be living in a society and world in which LGBT people are present and increasingly visible.
  • Young people need to have an opportunity to develop attitudes and beliefs not based in fear or ignorance.
  • Coaches are important figures in athletes’ lives. Coaches are responsible for teaching more than sport skills and strategies. We are also responsible for setting examples for athletes about tolerance of differences.
  • A Department of Health and Human Services study reported that up to 30% of suicides among young people are lesbian and gay youth who are so isolated and depressed that they kill themselves. College and high school coaches are working with this age group.
  • Statistics show that hate crimes and harassment directed at many minority groups including lesbian and gay people are often committed by high school and college aged young men. Coaches can provide leadership to stop this violent behavior.
  • Discrimination against lesbian or gay coaches and athletes is often unaddressed because they are too afraid to protest or there is no legal protection in place.
  • Because there are few LGBT coaches or athletes who feel safe enough to disclose their identities, other athletes and coaches often believe that destructive stereotypes of LGBT people are true.
  • Naming LGBT people in athletics as the problem rather than homophobia perpetuates ignorance, fear, and bigotry.
  • LGBT athletes learn to feel shame and self-hatred and hide their identities at great psychological cost.
  • Heterosexual young people are defensive and fearful about LGBT people because their prejudices against them are not challenged.
  • Homophobia constrains the behavior of heterosexual young people because they are afraid of being perceived as LGBT. They restrict extracurricular interests, career choices, and friendships to avoid association with being lesbian or gay.
  • Homophobia is used as a way to limit and marginalize women’s sport. Many women do not choose to participate because they fear being associated with the lesbian label.
  • Homophobia is used to make men and boys fear expressing feelings and interests that are outside rigid traditional conceptions of masculinity.
  • Unless coaches take action against homophobia, the next generation of young coaches will inherit the same prejudices many of us who are coaching now have lived with.
  • Because it is the right thing to do.


© PGriffin. May reprint with permission.