Stereotypes in Sports
Raymond Lew provides an overview of the impact of stereotypes in sports.
Sports competitions are exciting and interesting, but they come loaded with some baggage in the form of stereotypes. Two specific areas of sporting stereotypes that are important to address are gender and sexual orientation. In recent years, these topics have been pulled and spun into narratives, and it is important to enter the realm of sports conversations with marginal knowledge of the stereotypes surrounding these topics.
Prominent stereotypes emerge when examining the differences between women’s and men’s sports. The overarching stereotype in sports is that women’s sports require less effort and deserve less respect as a result.
It is easy to see the results of such a line of thinking when examining the level of support issued to female sports. This stereotype negatively impacts the collegiate, professional, and Olympic levels, where women’s sports are often relegated to worse time slots, smaller audiences, and lower pay. That’s not to mention that women’s sports teams are provided with training rooms far lower in quality than those for men’s teams.
Some believe that these slights are tied simply to the number of people participating in the sport or consuming media that features the sports. Certainly, some sports draw bigger crowds than others because of the difference in the level of skill required, but that should not dictate the pay provided for entertainment or the quality of services available to members of the same sport where the only difference is the gender of the players.
These stereotypes are perpetuated by companies seeking out male sports stars to represent their brand rather than women. That widens the pay gap, siphons viewers away from paying attention to women’s sports, and provides women with fewer opportunities to negotiate for better pay or standards.
The stereotype concerning a skill gap between men and women has led to disinterest in some sports, creating an interesting yet somewhat pathetic dichotomy. On the one hand, women’s sports are some of the most successful in terms of international competition. Take the U.S. female soccer team and gymnastics squads, for example. On the other hand, female athletes are routinely bashed for what is perceived as a low barrier of entry into women’s sports.
Thus, the stereotypes are outright sexist and form a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts where people ignore the accomplishments of women until they can celebrate their victory for their country while ignoring female sports at all other levels of competition.
Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual People in Sport
The LGBT community faces unique challenges in terms of how they are perceived in sports. In this case, we are going to explore lesbian, gay, and bisexual athletes’ struggles. It would seem that the most significant problems exist about male sports because of the macho culture that permeates male sports.
Although a sports player could be just as skilled and effective as another on the team, people will often think less of a man involved with bisexual dating. Bisexual men could be as private about the topic as they like by using dating services to meet matches. And it's understandable why they want to keep their online relationships and personal lives locked away from everyone.
The minute that they are found out to be bisexual, their teammates will usually treat them differently, avoiding physical contact, making fun of them outright, or expressing concerns that their teammate might become sexually aroused by them while changing or showering.
In many ways, this mimics the same problems that gay athletes face. According to a report from Scotland, LGB people are far less likely to participate in sports due to existing homophobia at every level of competition. While some brave people are starting to get involved with sports despite the challenges posed by their teammates and the overall sports establishment, the number is small.
Even those successful LGB members of the professional sports realm are often pushed aside in favour of more “acceptable” ones when it comes to leadership roles, sponsorships, and the spotlight in general.
With whom exactly people date should not influence the attitude towards them in sports. It's great that LGB people are gaining more people to look up to in modern sports, but every time a star rises, it seems to be quickly torn down. Megan Rapinoe, Michael Sam, and many others have faced severe criticism and scrutiny that would not have been levied at players if they were straight.
In short, members of the LGB community are suffering due to homophobia and intolerance, and sports are missing out on great players and people as a result.
What Should Be Done to Make Sports Space More Open and Friendly?
The solution is obvious. The very philosophy that governs team sports needs some changes and action. This must be supported by a coaching philosophy that preaches acceptance and fairness on a team no matter the sexuality or gender of any player on the team.
A potential solution would be to create media that could explain to players the harm they are doing to their community, team, school, or country by being outwardly homophobic. Reaching out to “out” professional members to talk about their experiences with homophobia could help change people’s hearts and minds so that they think twice before making a joke about someone’s dating partner or acting in such a manner that would deter LGB people from joining their team.
Other methods for improving sports so that they are more open and friendly exist, too. Showing support, punishing homophobic players, working against female sexual harassment in sports, and taking the concerns of LGB players seriously from the coaching and organizational perspective are all important.
Another element of the conversation about the role of men and women in sports is how do we make it more equitable for transgender people to participate in sports, both amateur and professional? Although we did not explore the “T” aspect of the LGBT community, this is a group of people with extreme difficulties in the present. The conversations about the role of trans people will dominate the future of sports.
Stereotypes have caused a great deal of damage to sports at all levels. Schools, universities, and organizations are continuing to fail women’s sports while LGB people are making strides in some respects but failing at others. Education is a cure for ignorance, and stakeholders in sports need to take such matters into their own hands to provide a better environment for all people to participate in sports.
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About the Author
Raymond Lew is a freelance blogger.