The 10 Percent: Tackling a taboo subject in sports

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Editor’s note: Brian Ratto, 27, is a Manteca native living in Stockton. He’s also a gay man. Ratto came out more than a decade ago. In doing so, he joined an estimated 10 percent of the country’s population as a homosexual. This column is written from his perspective and does not reflect the opinion of The Collegian staff.

Mixing homosexual individuals and organized sports is something of a taboo.

It’s such an issue that on the Public Television Network show “In the Life” a show that showcases the life of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) people recently had an episode discussing homophobia and sports.

I’m not saying homosexual individuals don’t play sports.

As a child, I played T-ball, and my brother played Little League baseball. I enjoyed playing and watching baseball. My T-ball team never had to deal with homophobia My brother’s team did.

A member of an opposing team was called a derogatory term every time he came to bat.

The coaches stood by and let the child get teased, only once did I recall them telling the bully to stop. This irritated me.

Should a child be made to deal with this? No, they should not.

LGBT athletes have shown they are good at sports.

Two female players are notable in this regard.

Tennis-player Billie Jean King is an example of this. Former WNBA basketball player Sheryl Swoopes announced she was gay in 2005, though news reports now say she is engaged to a man. Swoopes’ career is defined my wins, Olympic medals and accolades.

Yet, the LGBT community doesn’t have a male voice in major league sports. Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League and the National Basketball Association have no openly gay athletes.

That could explain some of the homophobic outbursts in recent years from athletes and coaches involved in these organizations.

Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant called a referee a “f&*$g F&*%got” once when he was ejected from a game.

His punishment? He paid a fine.

Atlanta Braves Coach Roger McDowell was caught calling San Francisco Giants fans homophobic slurs. He was placed on administrative leave, but stayed on as a coach. That is not enough.

If these terms are being thrown out so flippantly by straight coaches and athletes, it begs the question: Do LGBT individuals stay away from professional or even organized sports because of the risk of homophobic criticisms?

A 2009 National School Climate Survey done by Gay and Lesbian Education Network (GLSEN)  showed that the locker room and gym class were the most feared places for LGBT Youth.

My experience with teachers and homophobic bullying in gym class aligned with these fears. My locker was three feet from the homophobic bully in gym class. He would taunt me, by calling me names and pushing past me, there was nothing I could do to get him to stop.

Despite being taboo, change is being made.

Los Angeles-based photographer Jeff Sheng has developed the “Fearless” project, which showcases out high school and college LGBT athletes.

The San Francisco Giants and other national baseball teams are creating “itgetsbetter” videos, in support. Itgetsbetter is a project born in 2010 after a string of LGBT youth committed suicide due to homophobic bullying.

Have we been heading in the right direction? Is there anything more that can be done to solve this problem?

There needs to be more openly gay athletes in professional sports.

Homophobic remarks must be more harshly punished. If not we are telling the world it is ok to attack LGBT people.