Simon Dunn, the first openly gay man ever to make it onto Australia’s bobsledding team, may have retired from the sport in 2016 (he now plays on the gay-friendly Sidney Convicts rugby team), but he still has plenty to say about homophobia in sports. Most notably, he thinks it’s selfish for people to expect closeted gay athletes to come out.
The career impact on gay athletes coming out
In a recent interview with the Evening Standard, Dunn acknowledged that there are no openly gay players in the Premier League (England’s soccer league) and said that homophobia still pervades the sports world.
Dunn came out in an 2016 interview, but even so, he said that it’s unfair for anyone to expect gay athletes to come out considering the negative impact it could have on their careers:
“Everybody’s coming out is personal and in their own time. It is selfish for our community to expect someone to do it because of their public profile. Given the sporting culture, coming out could seriously affect their career. I myself was already out when I joined the Australian team, but from my own experiences I can understand why someone wouldn’t come out, let alone someone earning and risking millions of pounds.”
Homophobia discourages athletes from coming out
Dunn is correct. Players who come out — like Michael Sam, the first openly gay player to be drafted into the National Football League (NFL) — risk being overlooked by teams as a “media risk;” after all, teams want to focus on the game, not the attention of having a lone gay player.
The first international study on homophobia in sport, published in 2016 and written by two members of the Sydney Convicts (coincidentally), said that a majority of gay men (83 percent) and lesbians (63 percent) remain in the closet to their teammates and roughly half of gay and lesbian athletes feel personally targeted for their sexual orientation.