Cultural mind games or good science? The first openly gay male high school sports coach in the US is now a sociologist in England, where European football rules the sports pages, and has done a study concludng that a lot of former American football players are not necessarily gay, but they have had sex with other men anyway. And they're now cheerleaders.
“The evidence supports my assertion that homophobia is on the rapid decline among male teamsport athletes in North America at all levels of play,” writes Dr. Eric Anderson, of the University of Bath in his study, ‘Being masculine is not about whom you sleep with…Heterosexual athletes contesting masculinity and the one-time rule of homosexuality’. It will be published in the journal Sex Roles in January.
The catch? The study only used 47 men. 19 of these former football players who were now cheerleaders had taken part in acts intended to sexually arouse other men, ranging from kissing to mutual masturbation and oral sex. This sex came in the form of two men and one woman, as well as just two men alone. He said that the sexual acts described differed from acts of ‘hazing’ or team-bonding that often include pretend-homosexual acts.
The 47 men, aged 18-23, were all American Football players who previously played at the high school (secondary school) level but had failed to be picked for their university’s team and were now cheerleaders instead. They were at various universities from the American south, Mid-West, west and north west.
He said the study was not biased by talking to sportsmen who were now cheerleaders, which is often seen as a feminine activity. Those he interviewed were selected to represent men that considered themselves traditionally masculine, typical American Football players.
“These finding differ from previous research on North American men who have sex with men, in several ways. First, previous research describes heterosexual men in heterogeneous group sex as men symbolically engaging in sexual practices with other men. However, I find informants actually engage in sexual activity with other men. But this does not mean that they are gay.
“Second, my informants do not feel that their same-sex sex jeopardizes their socially perceived heterosexual identities, at least within the cheerleading culture. In other words, having gay sex does not automatically make them gay in masculine peer culture.”
Dr Anderson, of the University’s Department of Education, said the same situation was also true for the UK.
He believes the positive portrayal of homosexuality on television, the ease with which homosexuals could gradually ‘come out’ by using the internet, the ability for straight men to talk with gay men on the internet, and the decline of religious fundamentalism has made homosexuality and homosexual acts considerably less controversial for university-aged men. This had made revealing the fact they had engaged in homosexual acts easier.
Dr Anderson was the first openly gay male high school sports coach in the US. He left coaching after one of his students was assaulted because it was assumed that he was gay. Dr Anderson is now working in the field of sport sociology at the University of Bath, and is the author of In the Game, Gay Athletes and the Cult of Masculinity.
“Men have traditionally been reluctant to do anything associated with homosexuality because they feared being perceived gay,” he said. “There has been pressure on them to conform to the notion that being male is about having traditionally masculine traits, in terms of dress, behaviours and sexual activities.
“But as more men are open about their varieties of sexuality, it becomes less stigmatized to be gay or to have sex with men. It is increasingly not a problem to act in otherwise non-traditional ways.
“I see this in other areas of my research too, including how men behave in straight nightclubs, where I find that university-aged men dance as much with each other than with women, and how heterosexual men are increasingly free to wear clothing styles or colours that once were taboo for them.
“This isn’t something that would have happened ten or twenty years ago. Times are changing and they are changing rapidly for men of this age.”
- University of Bath