A few weeks ago, after a victory over the Orlando Magic, Toronto Raptors teammates Reggie Evans and Leandro Barbosa held hands as they walked to the locker room. The clip landed on YouTube, and people didn’t know how to deal with it.
YouTube comments are generally the place for the lowest common denominators, and this was no exception. Barbosa is gay. Evans is gay. And you can’t be gay if you play basketball. That’s not allowed. That was the general reaction, just with more misspellings, grammar mistakes, and off-color language.
As we’ve talked about before, sports might be the least gay-friendly corner of our society. There are no openly gay players in any of America’s four major sports. In the NBA, John Amaechi came out after his playing days were over, but that’s it.
This is a league where players play in sleeveless shirts and chest bumps and butt slaps are common. But it’s also league where star players have to say “pause” whenever they mention something with the slightest hint of “gay.”
Of course, there are definitely gay players playing in the NBA right now, but they’re unlikely to come out, due to a lack of “comfortable space.” Marc Lamont Hill of the Philadelphia Daily News writes:
From my own experiences as a writer and close observer of the NBA, I could name at least five gay NBA players in the league, none of whom would be a surprise to most players. Unfortunately, the world of pro sports, which is motivated exclusively by profit, does not create comfortable space for the highly unprofitable gay athlete to exist in full public view.
Also, NBA locker rooms, like everywhere else, remain largely hostile to gay athletes. This is why gay athletes never come out of the closet while they’re still playing. It’s why former Mets catcher Mike Piazza and former Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart, who were both on the receiving end of countless rumors throughout their careers, used to hold annual press conferences announcing that they still weren’t gay.
Lamont Hill goes on to talk about how we still feel the need to define masculinity within such a small space: “violence, coldness, misogyny and hypersexuality.” Realizing that there are gay players in the NBA—and even gay gangster rappers—should expand our conceptions of masculinity, but progress has been slow:
Unfortunately, this kind of reimagining is difficult, given our society’s deeply entrenched beliefs about masculinity. From a very early age, we create a very rigid script for how males can navigate the world. We paint our sons’ rooms blue, refuse to let them play with dolls (unless we put guns in their hands and call them “action figures”) and discourage them from crying, all in an attempt to prepare them for their lives as “real men.”
In truth, we produce a species of humans who too often see violence, coldness, misogyny and hypersexuality as the only models of existence.
We can only guess how many more poets, painters, or peacemakers the world could produce if men weren’t constantly forced to adhere to the unwritten but very clear rules of masculinity.
Also, by policing the boundaries of masculinity, society denies men the tools to deal with their feelings in a healthy way. As a result, far too many men are unable to develop strong friendships, positively resolve conflicts or effectively deal with any emotion other than anger.
That’s spot on. The thing is, masculinity isn’t something to be defined. It’s only defined in that each man is able to define it for himself, in his own way. There’s no wrong or right way to be a man. Unfortunately, we’re still a ways away from guys on YouTube or in NBA locker rooms realizing that.