Dear anyone who has a problem with female athletes (and those associated with them) celebrating, and even flaunting, their femininity,
I don’t understand why you are often so quick to accuse those who celebrate the feminine female athlete of being homophobic, and trying to rid women’s sports of "big bad lesbians". They are not always the same thing!
We are female before we’re athletes, and we will still be female when we’re done being athletes. Wanting to wear make-up and dresses doesn’t mean someone hates gay people. Neither does embracing other traditionally female images while playing sports. It just means she likes makeup, dresses, and such, like many other girls do! Heaven forbid.
You are not helping women’s sports, or female athletes, by yelling “sexism” or “homophobia” every time someone highlights how hot and feminine a particular athlete is. Don’t you see…you’re making the problem worse for all those girls that aren’t gay and really want to play sports. Girls that desperately need the lessons, guidance, and benefits of playing sports, yet don’t want to feel they have to dress and act like boys, or forfeit all dreams of ever having a boyfriend, to get them. You can choose to make this a never-ending campaign defending the right for gay girls to be who they are, but in doing so, you’re hurting other girls that just want to play.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had young ladies tell me their classmates call them “dykes” just because they play sports. Most of them don’t appreciate the assumption that playing sports makes them a lesbian (even if they are one!). But just because girls don't want to be stereotyped that way, doesn't mean they hate lesbians. It just means it's important to reassure girls that they can be feminine AND play sports to combat the messages they’re getting from other places. If they feel forced to pick one, most will pick being feminine, and in doing so, miss out on the countless benefits sports offer them.
Furthermore, the gay crowd includes some of the most confident, self-aware people I know, who have no problem celebrating who they are. Gay pride parades, gay clubs, the women’s Final Four, wherever the venue, they are not shy. Yet some feel forced into the closet because of prejudices and societal norms. It’s not right but sometimes you have to play a role to get what you want. Having been in the public eye for so long, I understand that more than most.
Still, is criticizing an athlete for celebrating (and even flaunting) her natural femininity any less wrong than the ignorant people who criticize homosexuals for being who they are? When programs say they have a "Christian atmosphere", or show their coach with his or her "traditional family", let's not automatically assume it's about trying to bash homosexuals on the sly. What if it’s about celebrating their beliefs and showing off their family to people who want and/or have the same things?
Truth is, most girls want a "traditional family". And even if they don't, most of their parents want to believe they do. So selling that to your audience doesn't mean you hate lesbians. It just means you're selling to your audience. And just like I cheer for the Lakers without bad-mouthing the Celtics, you can also highlight what some people see as a positive without talking bad about anyone else.
Just because it sucks that most gay coaches feel like they can't celebrate who they are without damaging their careers, doesn’t mean straight people shouldn’t be able to celebrate who they are without being accused of homophobia. Don’t try to force straight and/or feminine women into the closet because some gay people choose to, or feel forced, to stay there. Plus, there are a lot of gay, feminine athletes. So what’s their angle? Are they only “acting feminine” so people won’t figure out they’re gay? Of course not.
Do I wish publicity was based more on skill and less on looks in women’s sports? Sure I do. Despite being a kick-ass skier, Lindsey Vonn wouldn’t have gotten half as much publicity if she weren’t hot. And there are great Olympians whose names we’ll never know because they aren’t as hot as she is. Same thing with Becky Hammon or Maria Sharapova. But life isn’t fair. So instead of complaining that the athletes who aren’t feminine and/or pretty don’t get any pub, and insisting it’s because everyone is homophobic, chalk it up to men preferring to look at pretty, feminine women, or the fact that most little girls still grow up wanting to look like the girls in the magazines. Sports and sports coverage is still, after all, a business.
Of course there’s prejudice and homophobia in women’s sports. But crying foul every time a female athlete is photographed in a dress, or even a bathing suit, is unproductive. One, its not always true. And two, it will damage credibility next time the issue really is about sexuality. The big picture is that in this country, the definition of beauty is dangerously narrow. And the more female athletes that appeal to the mainstream, the closer we get to showing people that strong, aggressive, and good at sports doesn’t automatically mean manly. As long as she can be feminine without compromising her skill (i.e. Jenny Finch, Candace Parker, Lisa Leslie, etc.), who really cares?
So, let’s just support female athletes in general--the pretty ones too--and stop throwing the term homophobic around so freely within our circles. Thanks in advance.
An athlete who believes we should be able to check both the feminine AND the athlete box without being criticized
P.S. In my upcoming autobiography, I address this issue as it pertains to my own experiences, with more honesty and candor. But these are my thoughts for now. I’ve always lived my life out loud to an extent, and I think other people should be able to also, whether they’re straight, gay, or otherwise.